Chapter 1Production and Consumption
Production and Consumption in Modernity
The Development of Capitalist Industrial Production
Industrial capitalism is distinguished by its focus on production. The economic strategy concentrates on a form of production which maximises the profit for the entrepreneur with minimal cost expenditures (Harris 2001 [online]).[see references]
Marxist (Fetscher 1983) criticism of capitalist production is expressed through an exploitation of the work force. In contrast to any other raw material, the value added to a product by the workforce is unique. Only labour can be exploited effectively to produce surplus value. The work force can be motivated and persuaded to work harder and longer in order to gain an extra value for the benefit of the entrepreneur. In addition goods are no longer produced for their utility value rather than to gain an exchange value in the form of money. This indicates an alienation in production as well as in consumption. Marx names that as commodity fetishism, where goods are no longer defined through their ‘real’ value, they would gain from their pure utility - rather than an ‘artificial’ value supported in capitalist society. In this way the value of a product is not defined through the material worth and the labour cost but by the meaning the product has in capitalist society. Since in the capitalist economic system goods are no longer exchanged directly but sold for money, the original value of the product fades into the background (Fetscher 1983/Harris 2001 [online]).
In this sense the only purpose of production lies in the creation of goods to gain the exchange value of money in contrast to a form of production that focus on the fulfilment of meeting purely utilitarian needs. This leads to a disconnection between the producer and the product which Marx (Fetscher 1983) understands as a ‘zweckentfremdung’ of work and so production. Following this not only does the product become reduced to a commodity, but the worker or producer too. Ironically the value of the worker decreases reciprocally to the worth he produces. Marx (Fetscher 1983) explains that the different layers of alienation in society are the result of work not belonging to the nature of the worker which means the work is external. Work is reduced to the mere purpose to earn money in order to survive, so much so that there is no longer a connection between the worker and his work. Consequently the worker does not gain any satisfaction through the production process which is understood as an alienation of work. Ideally a worker could gain satisfaction from a freely chosen work as well as through the awareness to contribute through the work to the whole species. Marx (Fetscher 1983) names this ‘the double affirmation’ of work. Similarly with the alienation of work, people become alienated from their real nature and eventually from their real self and their species; since the character of the human species is distinguished through a freely chosen work task. The purpose of work is reduced to the maintenance of physical existence and the individual becomes separated from the whole species as well as from each other (Fetscher 1983).
Marx (Fetscher 1983) points out the importance of having control over and an affirmative attitude towards one’s own work to gain satisfaction through one’s own creation and production; in addition to the satisfaction that the produced commodity will serve as a real contribution to society. Consequently this leads to a contribution to the species as a whole and as such to the experience to be a part of society (Fetscher 1983).
As an application, that goods are no longer produced to fulfil a utilitarian need as a commodity but to obtain their symbolic value (money), the consumer of a product measures the product only by its monetary value - in isolation to the producer - and not for its purpose, which is understood as commodity fetishism. This development characterises the Western economic world, where products are only produced for their exchange value (money) in order to gain a surplus value (Fetscher 1983).
Weber (Ritzer1993/1996) identifies that the success of the capitalist economic system strongly relies on the control and rationalisation of labour. The Protestant belief system, strongly influenced by Calvinism had a crucial impact on the development of capitalism. Protestant values and doctrines delivered the basis for a rationalisation of work which kept people from sins and named work as a God given duty which operated as an indicator for religious piousness (Harris 2001 [online]). Through the rationalisation of work, people could become controlled and exploited (Ritzer 1993).
Weber (Ritzer 1993) described the characteristics of the development of rationalisation in capitalist production as an increase of formality and bureaucracy, which eventually results in the ‘iron cage’, where the individual is fully controlled and regulated. One method of rationalisation was the introduction of assembly line work in which a complex work process is broken down into simplified steps of production in order to achieve maximum efficiency (Ritzer 1993).
The increasing rationalisation and thus bureaucracy of production, leads in turn to an optimisation of efficiency, calculability, predictability and control of the production as well as the work force itself. In addition the use of machinery supports the profitability of production. This leads to an alienation and exploitation of the work force (Ritzer 1993).
In the early 20th century, Henry Ford applied the rationalisation of production to his car manufacturing business. Assembly line production and division of labour enabled the mass production of affordable cars. In order to create a consumer market for his mass produced cars, Ford paid his employees higher wages to enable them to purchase the produced cars. Gramsci criticises this obvious exploitation of the working class and names this capitalist form of mass production and mass consumption as ‘fordism’ (Bocock1993). This example indicates how consumerism became integral to production.
However in the beginning of the 20th century the working class was widely ignored as a potential market for mass consumption. Later in the post war period there was an upswing in fordist alignment of mass production and consumption. As a result of the economic growth in the post war years, an environment was created where the majority of people saw their standard of living and dispensable income rise. This environment did not exist before. The change in production and emergence of working women allowed the majority of households not only to satisfy their basic needs of food and shelter but to fulfil wishes of luxury and comfort. These wants and needs of the working class became strategically targeted and used through advertising and marketing. New desires were evoked and encouraged. The standard of living of the individual reached unprecedented levels. This era is distinguished through the emergence of widespread ‘luxury’ goods, which exceeded mere necessity and survival (Bocock1993).
History and Development of Advertising
To gain additional profit, consumers need to be constantly motivated and persuaded to purchase unnecessary goods in order to ensure the ongoing success of the capitalist system. In this way consumers were influenced and seduced through marketing and advertising. Hence modernity is distinguished through mass production as well as mass consumption. The success of industrialisation was strongly reliant on fordist work forms like the separation of work steps and the introduction of assembly lines. This form of production allowed mass production and maximised the profit of the entrepreneurs. Equally the consumption of mass products needed to be directed to ensure economic success and growth. As a result marketers enhanced the desire for mass products and created artificial needs as well as the wish for a higher standard of living (Bocock1993/Packard 1957).
Since the capitalist system would not function if goods are only purchased if really needed, marketers introduced seductive strategies to enhance the purchasing rates of products as well as the creation of new desires. One way achieving that is through branding, where additional attributes are developed around the product (Kotler 1991). Marketers add additional value and meaning to the product. This added value is then communicated through advertising, thus a product is basically wrapped by additional meanings and values. Through branding, a customer is assisted in distinguishing a certain product from a range of competitive products and to identify it as more desirable and irresistible (Ind 1997).
Many products are very similar in production and function and not to say their raw materials, thus the only way to indicate their ‘uniqueness’ is through covering them with a developed image (Williamson 1978). Consumers will then identify with an image of a product and favour a particular brand without any relation of the actual quality of the product. This could be observed in an experiment where smokers, with a strong preference to a certain brand, were asked to identify a cigarette of their brand among others with the result that only 30% were able to select successfully. Hence it was argued that probability would always lead to a certain percentage of positive outcome (Packard 1957).
This indicates that advertising goes far beyond highlighting the advantages of a product; adjectives are added to a product which enhances the meaning of the product that goes far beyond its original utility. Furthermore the relation between a product and the consumer becomes redefined (Davidson 1992).
The first approach in analysing what the impact of advertising has on the consumer, were focused on the examination of marketers’ strategy using the psychoanalytical theory. This refers to the conveyance of a message directly to a person’s unconsciousness in order to manipulate their shopping behaviour (Bowlby 1993). This approach is been overtaken by semiotics, which will be discussed later in this chapter.
Packard (1957), a pioneer of the psychoanalytical approach, describes the added personality of a product as an early step of symbolism in consumption which leads to a conditioning of the customer who will visualise this personality when seeing the product. In this way a ‘self image’ of a product is created.
In addition consumption can be used as an indicator of the position one takes in the social hierarchy. A particular preference to certain consumer goods is adapted to achieve approval in society and to denote belonging to a certain social class (Lunt et al 1992). This form of consumption is influenced through advertising as well as lifestyle magazines (Nava 1991). Even further expensive items like ‘posh’ cars and interiors indicate a belonging to a higher social status group even if one cannot really afford those luxuries (Packard 1957). In this way consumption impacts strongly on the personality (Edwards 2000) and the way one communicates through signs with the environment.
Other forms of persuasion in advertising use emotional insecurities or create fear as a tool to guide purchasing habits (Packard 1957). In this way consumption can be understood as a function to control unresolved feelings. Supermarket chains offering self-service seduce the consumer to purchase randomly while strolling around the shelves (Packard 1957).
Packard (1957) identifies specific population groups such as young people and women as more receptive to advertising. However this view will be challenge later in this chapter where it will be argued that the most sophisticated consumers are among these population groups (Nava 1991/1992). Packard (1957) points out that in particular for women consumption can operate as a replacement for unfulfilled wishes and as a compensation of frustration and the lack of sexual fulfilment. In addition women can access an area of dominance in their life through purchasing. In particular for housewives consumption provides a purpose that is motivated through the desire for self realisation. Alternatively advertising stimulates sexual desires which then are combined with a product to persuade purchase (Packard 1957).
Another example of an underlying psychoanalytical motivation for consumption can be pleasure experienced through the purchase of goods as a form of tension release (Nava 1991). This is explained by psychoanalysis theory, in that the unconsciousness causes tension which can be temporarily eased through the experience of pleasure which operates as a substitution of unexpressed not tolerated desires of the childhood that can be compensated in this way (Nava 1991).
Furthermore consumption cannot be fully understood without the context of ‘intrapsychic, biographical, family, gender and cultural forces’ (Lunt et al 1992:85).
It is highlighted that consumption gained importance in more and more areas in contemporary life. People are no longer defined by their position but through what and how they consume; in this way consumers are approached and ideologies or facilities are sold to them. This could be observed in the Thatcherite rhetoric where people were categorised as consumers of the health service or education (Bowlby 1993).
It can be argued that advertising had a strong impact on consumer behaviour in the era of mass consumption. Marketers strategically used psychological tactics to influence customers. However the advent of mass media (like television) made it difficult to highlight products in the very competitive marketplace. Customers became far more skilled in consuming as well as in resisting advertising which indicated the need for a change in strategy. A new way of targeting the customer audience, called life-style marketing, concentrates more on certain identity models and the type of person one wants to be (Kotler1991/Leity 2001). This strongly impacts on consumption in the way that goods are not only purchased to cover a need or desire for a certain product but to obtain the attributes associated with the product. Consequently consumption is extended from a socio-hierarchical indicator to a new area which delivers the opportunity to play with different personalities expressed through the way one consumes. This development might highlight the decline of importance of traditional social groups and the lack of stability in current lifestyle.
As a contrast, Marcuse’s (1972) point is that people are not manipulated through advertising rather than through the society and life-style. He points out that life is predetermined in the post war era by desire and the satisfaction of the former defined as consumption of repressed needs (commodity fetishism) in contrast to real needs (i.e. food or shelter).
In application to Marxist theory Marcuse (1972) maintains the notion of commodity fetishism. He states that the individual is tricked by the massive choice of the free market place, although the decision is only about what to consume but not if. The whole process is aimed to consumption.
The change from production towards consumption put the consumer in the centre of attention; people now are enabled to decide who they want to be through commodities and consumer items. Yet this kind of freedom is merely reduced to a freedom about what to consume hence the desire for happiness will remain unfulfilled (Baumann 1992).
The individual identifies with this form of existence with the restricted purpose of satisfying repressed wishes (Marcuse 1972). This indicates the new (one dimensional) world (consumer world) where people live in a ‘progressive state of alienation’ (Marcuse 1972 :23). The individual is conditioned by society and perceives the limited one dimensional world as the ultimate truth (Marcuse 1972).
However it is argued that the consumer society at present is far more sophisticated in perceiving advertising and therefore cannot be manipulated and directed as easily. In this way consumers are far more active in their purchasing behaviour and use it as a way to gain pleasure and tension relief (Nava 1991). Furthermore from a marketing point of view advertising only attempts to persuade the consumer that a certain product will fulfil an already existing wish rather than creating demands (Kotler 1991).
The Shift from Production towards Consumption
The development of advertising as well as the cultivation of the consumer market indicate a shift in the orientation of capitalist economy from an exclusive focus on production to an orientation on strategies to use consumption as a means to increase profit (Ritzer 1998).
The importance of consumption in the economic world is described in Ritzer’s McDonaldization theory (1993/1998), where the rationalisation process of production can be observed in consumption too. Ritzer (1993) applies the rationalisation model of Max Weber to analyse the strategically directed mechanism that lies behind modern consumption. Ritzer argues that the core principles in the rationalisation process can be observed in the way global corporations direct consumer behaviour. This phenomenon is named McDonaldization which can be identified in many areas of modern life, like for instance in fast-food chains (such as McDonald’s), the use of credit cards, in the media (easy digestible ‘McNuggets News’), the tourist industry (Disney) as well as in big shopping malls and universities. Ritzer (1996/1998) points out that in all these areas of consumption a significant increase of rationalisation takes place which is indicated through standardisation of products or services (calculability), the predictability of the product and its environment (for example the interior of a McDonald’s restaurant or the overdraft of a credit card), the efficiency of time used to process customers (which downgrades the customer to just another function in the process) and the control over consumer behaviour. It is argued that as a result of McDonaldization in society the consumer no longer purchases a product for the original purpose rather than consuming an underlying experience which is associated with leisure indoctrinated by the environment. Examples for this can be seen in the McDonald’s restaurant (where unhealthy food is consumed as a form of leisure) and big shopping malls (where consumers feel inspired to purchase unnecessary goods) or the use of credit cards (which allows consumers to gain control over an amount of money they might not be able to pay back). All these examples highlight the manipulation of the consumer for the sake of profit for global corporations.
Equally the consumption of the environment becomes significant and operates as a stimulation to purchase goods (Ritzer 1998). However this phenomenon is of increasing importance in postmodernity, yet it does not necessarily involve shopping but the mere consumption of the environment without purchasing anything (Edwards 2000). Fiske (1989) argues that there can be resistance observed when visitors to shopping malls consume the environment but resist in purchasing, i.e. young people ‘hanging out’ in a shopping mall consuming alcohol but without the intention of purchasing anything.
In addition Kellner (1999) suggests that the phenomenon of McDonaldization has to be examined through a postmodernist or even multiperspective approach since Weber’s theory of rationalisation is embedded in an early modern form of capitalism yet the McDonaldization theory delivers plenty of postmodern aspects as well. In fact many global corporations operate with fordist as well as post-fordist strategies.
Consumption in Postmodernity
Postmodernity is distinguished through a lack of stability of traditional norms and values (Miles2001). Juxtaposing movements in various areas of culture create a difficulty to define a consistent definition for postmodernity (Feathstone1991).
Whereas in modernity the capitalist economic system concentrated on the exploitation of labour and optimising production to maximise profit, organisations now pay attention towards directing the consumption. Ritzer (1998) describes that ‘the focus of capitalism has shifted from exploiting workers to exploiting consumers’ (Ritzer 1998 :121).
This indicates the shift in the capitalist system from production to consumption (Ritzer 1997). It is argued that the consumer society is congruent to postmodern society (Featherstone 1991/ Ritzer 1997). Yet it would be simplistic to explain the occurrence of consumer society only through the influence of marketing and advertising, rather it has to be analysed through the new means of consumption and the underlying signs (Ritzer 1997).
‘It should be pointed out that I [Ritzer] …tend to look at the new means of consumption in a very material (Marxist) sense, but most postmodernists …tend to focus far more on the signs associated with such phenomena and their places in the code’ (Ritzer 1997:222).
In contrast the structuralism theory of modern consumption reinterprets the analysis of consumption. Attention is paid to the deep unconscious structures of the language and images and their signs and symbols which is examined through semiotics (Bocock 1993).
In this way postmodern society is distinguished through an increasing orientation on ‘sign value’ – defined through Baudrillard - in consumption rather than on the utility value of the product (Edwards 2000).
Williamson (1978) explains the motivation which lies behind consumption as ‘totemism’ of products. A certain product represents a significant subject for the customer and through the purchase the consumer gains the status given by the product. This can be observed in the area of alcohol or cigarette consumption where a brand conveys a particular lifestyle, for instance the Marlboro man represents freedom and adventure. Other examples are found in the perfume and fashion industry which deliver prestige and luxury, where a relatively average quality product is charged with a relatively high price. Equally top-priced cars are purchased with six-figure sums (Edwards 2000). This indicates the importance this extra value represents for the consumers. It can also be seen in the case of Coca-Cola who established their brand name to such an extent that makes it almost impossible for other companies to invade the market.
An alternative to the careful construction of an image around a product brings one to the example of the ‘swoosh’ logo of Nike, where the actual image stands for critique and outbreak of the world of fetish of commodities, however one can only gain this freedom by purchasing the product (Goldman et al 1998). This example might indicate the sophistication of capitalism where consumer resistance is strategically re-incorporated in order to serve the organisation.
Ritzer (1998) supports Baudrillard’s (1983) view that consumption becomes a kind of labour in a world where the same product is endlessly reinvented and the environment is predetermined by hyperreal worlds (i.e. Vegas, shopping malls). The intensity of an experience is increasingly important which consequently leads to a bombardment of signs, ‘…that everything is available for communication, signification, banalization, commercialisation and consumption’ (Baudrillard 1983 :125) .
Similarly Eco (1993) describes Disneyland as ‘an allegory of the consumer society, a place of absolute iconism…’ (Eco 1993:205). He points out the effectiveness with which every single spot on the site is created to communicate as well as to guide and control the visitor like a robot or any other animation in order to ‘have fun’.
For Baudrillard the stability of meaning is lost through an endless reproduction of signs, simulations and images (not only to sell goods but for their own sake). Culture is reduced to a shallow consumption and consumers are manipulated through sign value and commodity-signs communicated through the modern mass media (Baudrillard1983, 1993, 1998). He describes postmodernity as a ‘world full of tourists, strollers, players’ (Baurillard 1998:88) yet this indicates that there is a certain amount of freedom at least in what is consumed and therefore it enables people to play around with their personalities and who they want to be. This point could be set in contrast to Weber’s (Ritzer 1993) theory of the ‘iron cage’ thus a totally rationalised restricted society.
Featherstone (1991) describes contemporary society as distinguished through the culture of consumption. The dimension of economy and consumption is crucial. Goods, demands as well as their supply are used as communicators thus a form of symbolism. In addition Lyon (1994) highlights the shift of culture where pleasure is more and more interlinked with consumption and where the latter is becoming a leisure activity (i.e. shopping malls). He argues even though there are differences in culture eventually everything can be reduced to consumption. In addition consumption is less an issue that can be analysed on a national level but has to be analysed in a global sense (Lyon1994).
Featherstone (1991) suggests that cultural goods and lifestyle are woven into each other and that consequently the original purpose of goods fades into background. In fact the whole economic system impacts on the current culture with the result of a lack of freedom in a world full of signifiers. Consumption is a lifestyle, even a culture, yet which is less class divided. However the individual has to ‘work hard to enjoy, experience and express it [pleasure in life]’ (Featherstone 1991:86).
Similarly Lyon (1994) points out that leisure is a central element in contemporary society in contrast to modernity. This is highlighted through the pleasure involved in purchasing and consuming goods in a created environment (Nava 1991) as the examples show that visiting a big shopping mall serves not only the purpose of everyday shopping yet offers the escape in a designed postmodern environment or the visit to a McDonald’s restaurant is not only to ease one’s hunger (Ritzer 1993). In this way purchasing and consumption can be described as a leisure activity.
However this also indicates the notion that consumer culture is a fragmentation of various commercial items and images (i.e. Coca-Cola, McDonalds, Dallas) (Lyon1994).
Contrary to most other writers, Jameson understands postmodernism as a consequence of the development of modernity rather than as a rupture to a new era. He defines postmodernity as a late form of capitalism and treats it equivalent to commercialised culture (Miles2001). However this notion neglects the shift from production to consumption, as well as the blending between high and low culture (Featherstone 1991) and the importance of semiotics. In addition consumer sovereignty needs to be considered (Nava 1991) which will be addressed later in this chapter.
Baudrillard (1998) warns of the current development that almost everything becomes reduced to consumption hence the focus is much more on the production of demands than on the actual production in contrast to modernity. The development of a ‘sign value’ is of increasing importance where additional attributes and meaning is added to a product. In fact the purchasing decision is strongly determined by this sign value of the product which can be understood as commodity fetishism evoked through wrong wishes and desires. A powerful example of the creation of ‘sign value’ around a product as well as a whole brand is the corporate company of Nike (Goldman et al 1998) among others such as the Sony Walkman (du Gay et al1997) or the Disney corporation (Byrne et al 1999/Ritzer 1998).
Baudrillard (1998) emphasises the powerful and influential impact of the modern mass media on society. He argues that the strong influence of the media leads to a loss of reality (Baudrillard1983). Signs become increasingly important and the real world distorted to a simulation as well as a hallucination which is perceived as reality. People are slaves of fashion, lifestyle and consumption which makes them work hard to be happy (Baudrillard1983). However Baudrillard also predicts that the effort to communicate will end in exhaustion in his ‘fatal strategies’ (Kellner 1989/Rojek et al 1993).
The world becomes dominated by images introduced through the media which increasingly leads to a passivity and a lack of imagination. It is not the purpose of these to evoke imagination and reflection (Baudrillard 1993). Practically the audience is hypnotised by images which lack any meaning in contrast to traditional creations (i.e. drawings or paintings). Signs are mere simulations rather than representations (Baudrillard 1993). Baudrillard(1993) describes this disappearance of meaning as a degeneration of society, an aimed strategy to obtain control over the people. In fact meaningless images replace reality and become better and more than real (i.e. the cinema or the representation of a tourist resort in optimised conditions) which is understood as a hyperreality perceived as the real world (Baudrillard 1993).
It is argued that everything communicates to create desires. People become trapped in this world full of images and signifiers and are manipulated to an endless consumption hunting after a satisfaction through commodities they never will reach (Baudrillard1998). Baudrillard (1998) points out that culture is superficially consumed which suggests that humanity is reduced to a mere consumption of simulations.
In contrast Nava (1991) assesses the role of the consumer in a much more affirmative way. She stresses the consumer sovereignty and expounds the immense power people have as consumers which is shown through examples of consumer boycotts such as the issue of Shell, controversial Benetton ads etc.
In this way Nava (1992) points out the achievements of activists and pressure groups concerned with South African apartheid and green issues. Equally consumer associations pressurise government for new legislation on pricing, quality and consumer rights. She draws on her study outcomes that, for example, young people are far less influenced by advertising (as critisised by Packard 1957) yet they consume advertising but resist in purchasing. She suggests to reread and reinterpret the motivation that lies behind consumption. In addition Nava (1991) argues that the meaning that lies behind a commodity is much more self-induced by the consumer thus consumers are actively playing with the signs and use consumption as a form of pleasure or stress release and actual politics.
Lyon (1994) states that the impact of consumerism is widespread in more and more areas of life, like for instance, where traditional religion becomes questioned. Self-actualisation is increasingly important for the individual. This suggests that the society becomes secularised and religion is more and more treated as another consumer item.