The Economics of Abundance
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The Economics of Abundance

Affluent Consumption and the Global Economy

Brendan Sheehan

This book addresses the challenge posed by J.K. Galbraith over 50 years ago to make a constructive contribution to a different style of economic analysis – the economics of abundance. It identifies a system of abundance inhabited by the ‘people of plenty’ and illustrates that the driver of growth in this system is spending by affluent consumers. This timely book provides essential heterodox economic theory to explain this spending and explore its key drivers and constraints.
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Chapter 3: Socio-cultural Consumption

Brendan Sheehan


A. INTRODUCTION All acts of consumption have social and cultural dimensions. In the system of abundance this means that all spending by the people of plenty is subject to processes of socialisation and enculturation. Consumer spending in other words is influenced, to a greater or lesser extent, by powerful socio-cultural forces. Socio-cultural consumption is a heterogeneous category. There are three drivers of socio-cultural spending which all share a common bond – they all have a group-based dimension. The first driver is ritual-based consumption which involves collective acts of consumption, conducted with and for others. The second driver is conspicuous consumption, first made famous by Veblen and then amended by Bourdieu. The third, less well known, driver is inconspicuous consumption, first identified by Katona. Both conspicuous and inconspicuous consumption can, in the right circumstances, be ratcheted up through the dynamic of emulative spending. However, the socio-cultural dimension of the human condition also imposes a potential socialised constraint on spending – the ascetic morality of restraint; this constraint applies with force to societies where an ascetic morality is widely accepted. To analyse socio-cultural consumption a distinctive conception of the consumer is required based around the epistemological insights of George Herbert Mead. The consumer is a socialised individual who has personal agency, but whose feelings, thoughts and actions are subject to a range of socio-cultural factors. Socialised consumers act collectively with others in groups. The desire to belong to a group, and to feel, think and act collectively, is a very strong human urge. Socio-cultural...

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