2003 volume 21(3) pages 341 – 357
doi:10.1068/d353

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Sayer A, 2003, "(De)commodification, consumer culture, and moral economy" Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 21(3) 341 – 357

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(De)commodification, consumer culture, and moral economy

Andrew Sayer

Received 4 November 2001; in revised form 19 September 2002

Abstract. In this paper I attempt to develop understanding of commodification and consumption by relating ideas from the moral philosophy of Adam Smith and Alasdair MacIntyre to recent research on consumer culture by Pierre Bourdieu and Daniel Miller. I focus on how commodification affects how people value things, practices, themselves, and others. It is argued that, although traditional critiques of consumer culture have often been both elitist and weakly supported empirically, some of their normative distinctions can be used to illuminate more positive aspects of consumption. In particular, the distinction between internal and external goods enables us to appreciate that much consumption is not primarily a form of status seeking but a means to the development of skills, achievements, commitments, and relationships which have value regardless of whether they bring participants external rewards. Although Bourdieu's analysis of inequalities and the struggles of the social field misses this distinction, use of it helps to illuminate how the struggles are for internal goods as well as for status and power. Finally, by reference to recent work by Miller on altruistic shopping, I question the common related criticism of consumer culture as individualistic, and conclude.

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