Scope and Definition
Overview Essay by Neva R. Goodwin
of this volume must depend, in part, on how we define
the subject with which we are grappling. What is
the -- or a -- Consumer Society? Let us start with
a smaller part of that question: what is consumption?
and Other Views on Consumption
In the Introduction
to this volume we said that we would restrict our
exploration to the economic concept of "final" consumption,
most often associated with households (as distinct
from, for example, the consumption or use of materials
by firms, or by governments). This accords with
most economic theory and modeling, which is concerned
with the consumption of goods and services that
have been purchased from a "producer" and are then
in some way used by the "consumer". The conventional
view of consumption in economics presents it as
a simple, individual, readily quantified process
of satisfying well-defined needs. This section will
consider some alternative views which have recently
gained prominence, diverging from mainstream economic
theory in two different directions.
view" (held by others as well as sociologists) emphasizes
the social and symbolic meanings of consumption.
The "environmentalist view" emphasizes the material
implications of consumption, in light of potential
ecological limits to growth.
point for the sociological view has come from economics.
Kelvin Lancaster pointed out that what we seek when
we set out to make a purchase is not a good itself,
but rather its characteristics. Along similar lines,
Harry Johns on has noted that what we actually consume
may or not be the good, but will, in any case, be
the "service" that the good can provide. For example,
when we buy a hat we are seeking the characteristics
of style, warmth, rain or sun protection, etc. We
won't actually consume the hat, but will consume
the services contributed by its characteristics
(e.g., the feelings. See section 6 for the Muth/Becker
use of this concept, and for the summary of Lancaster's