Consuming Individuals, Consuming Societies: Theories of Consumption and the Wider Economy
Politics and International Studies The University of Warwick Coventry, United Kingdom
Theories of consumption have been mainly concerned with the micro and meso levels of analysis and have shed significant light into the individual meaning of consumption as well as into the different consumption patterns between ethical, sexual and socio-economic groups. However, and partly because of the nature of the academic field and the training of the practitioners, sociologists have been reluctant to build theories that investigate in more depth the constitutive nature of consumption to society. This paper argues that the discipline of sociology, due to its distinct tools of inquiry, has a lot to say about macro aspects of consumption, and should boldly do so. So far, economists have offered a poor record of tracking human behaviour realistically, and political economists have largely focussed upon the structural aspects of socio-political phenomena. Rejecting a rational choice view of the individual and critiquing a quasi-Sayian approach to the functioning of the economy, this article makes a strong claim for the mobilisation of sociological concepts when investigating consumption issues. In order to gain more insight into the interrelatedness of consumer phenomena and the wider economy, it is essential to adopt a dual focus on micro and macro levels, a matter that sociologists are in a particularly well position to meet. Starting from the intertwinement of structure and agency, this paper argues that disciplines like International Political Economy (IPE) or Economics can better understand the link between individual behaviour and collective institutions if they adopt a weltanschauung that is close to sociological methods of investigation. After a methodological part, this paper goes on to give an example of how IPE scholars have started to introduce sociological notions and how they can keep on doing so in order to enrich the debates around ?Varieties of Capitalism? in their own discipline. The sociology of consumption thus not only holds essential keys to the development of what has been called ?Everyday IPE? but also to the question of convergent or divergent European societies. In this regard, this article favours cross-fertilization between social studies disciplines.