Edited by John B. Davis and Wilfred Dolfsma
Chapter 9: The socio-economics of consumption: solutions to the problems of interest, knowledge and identity
Consumption is a social activity. Although economics textbooks typically portray the choice of a consumption bundle simply as the solution to a constrained maximization problem with given preferences, social economists have variously expanded the basic theory of choice and offered alternatives to it based on insights from heterodox approaches and other disciplines. They have shown that consumption choices not only maximize utility but also display wealth, express beliefs and maintain identity. There are numerous comprehensive reviews of the enormous multidisciplinary literature on consumption. Rather than aim at a similar standard review of this literature, it would be more appropriate for this volume to adopt a distinct approach in evaluating socio-economic contributions. An approach that has been useful in studying various economic phenomena, helping to shed new light on old problems and to discover new problems for further exploration, is to view the economy as conversation. To sustain a coherent line of thought throughout the review, I adopt this approach in studying consumption and interpret previous social economic studies of consumption as investigations of behavior and institutions that contribute to these conversations. I organize these studies into a coherent whole and distinguish between conversations according to the type of problem they aim to solve. Identifying three types of conversations relevant to the study of consumption – solving the problems of interest, knowledge and identity – I discuss the main themes and important contributions in each category and offer suggestions for further research.
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