Symbolic value as destruction of wealth - Are Bataille´s concepts and insights relevant to the sociology of consumption?
SIFO National Institute for Consumer Research - SIFO Oslo, Norway
The paper explores whether Georges Bataille?s rather eccentric writings on economy and consumption might give fresh insights to modern consumer studies. Building on material presented in Marcel Mauss´ study of The Gift, Bataille turned economy on its head, and claimed that the most important problem in the economy was overproduction/surplus rather than want. Even without accepting his general view on economics (which obviously is linked to his thinking and writing at large), we might use fruitful and relevant elements and aspects of it in order to - if possible - improve the theoretical status of the sociology of consumption.
The basic idea of Bataille, developing Mauss and related to, but perhaps not referring to, Veblen, is that symbolic goods, or symbol value, reflects different ways of destructing value in its more traditional sense. Potlatch rituals were status competitions where the winner was the chief who could afford to loose most. Similarly, the price of certain art objects is so high that they remove the owner´s wealth from the productive arena, ?destroying? value for a completely useless object. A Lois Vuotton bag mainly carries the signal "expensive", giving it symbolic value for the amount of money it destroys in the price difference between a plastic bag and a designer bag.
These ideas seem relevant and under investigated in modern consumer studies.