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Ian Woodward, Consumption as Cultural Interpretation: Taste, Performativity, and Navigating the Forest of Objects, pp. 671-697 in Alexander, Jacobs, and Smith, eds., The Oxford Handbook of Culture Sociology (2012)



THROUGH its varied theoretical and empirical contributions, cultural sociology shows that myth and narrative are elemental meaning-making structures that form the bases of social life. Collectively experienced and personally felt, they allow social structures to find an internal life, compelling and committing us to the diverse things we hold sacred. We interact with these meaning-structures in a variety of ways, but one of the most important is through the material and objectual forms with which we engage.We reside within a forest of objects (d. Turner 1967). Most of .'these objects have not been directly made or produced by us, but through visual, corporeal, and imaginative engagements, we negotiate and construct their meanings, using them to make ourselves and, in turn, a larger universe of meaning. Rich with symbolism, demanding our attention, sparking our imaginations and bodies, rife with possibilities for pleasure, devotion, distinction, and play, we revel in and among this material forest (Bollas 2009). Material objects constitute much of what we as members of a society know and are also the means by which we come to know it. Materiality, the substance of consumer societies that needs to be analytically and morally disentangled from the trait of materialism, becomes a basic means for immersing ourselves within this forest of meaning.




Perhaps the most important contribution of consumption studies within the last few decades has been to bring these objects into the center of any analysis of sociality. Social actors are not just immersed in a material world where objects are mere scaffolds or props that have silently enlisted them-nor are they oppressed or alienated by them-but they actively seek out objectual engagements and put these objects to a variety of social uses. Through various scenarios of consumptionwhere people use goods or services not just as a practice in the world, but as a means to understand and construct the world and their place in it-social life is inescapably object-oriented. Engagements with consumption objects bridge physical,pragmatic, psychic, and cultural imperatives, connecting us to a world of meaning through everyday practices, such as shopping, eating, playing or watching sports, driving a motor vehicle, or listening to music. Put simply, consumption studies deals with the processes, practices, and outcomes of people's use of, and engagement with, objects. In focusing on processes of objectification-the way meaning is materially created and communicated and the way social action is materially mediated-consumption studies has allowed sociologists to explore questions of reception and use in the commodityworld and the material world broadly. Beyond this, as the classicalstatements. in economic anthropology have reminded us, the economic activities of exchange and consumption actually constitute the circulation of cultural ideals (Douglas and Isherwood 1979; Mauss 1954; Sahlins 1974). What is valued, exchanged, and used are not just "commodities", but material containers of cultural meaning. From a cultural point of view, what we call "the economy" is fundamentally a networked system of symbolic exchange, rather than a merely field of social action defined by models of instrumental rationality and commercial contract. In the United States especially, sociologists have often ignored consumption and have come to appreciate its sociological significance later than their British and European counterparts (Zukin and Maguire 2004). Much of modern life and the type of sociology it required and encouraged was devoted to understanding the problems of production within industrial societies. Questions of labor, industry, production units, social, legal and economic institutions, technology, and social class were the core stuff of mainstream social inquiry through much of the twentieth century. In mainstream sociology, consumption was, for most of the discipline's history, simply not a relevant analytic category. Or, if it was contemplated, it was ' predominantly configured through discourses of triviality, excess,vulgarity or cultural superiority, and domination. For example, as much as sociologists are likelyto profess enjoying Veblen's (1899) caustic dissection of the leisure class of nineteenthcentury America, his work has in fact done much to segregate consumption to the arena of individualism, emulation, and competitive display. Rather than assigning consumption to limited realms of social action, in the last few decades, researchers have increasingly situated practices of consumption and a consumerist ethic as central for understanding broader social and cultural change. There is ample theoretical and empirical warrant for this, as consumption is identified as being increasingly central to diverse aspects of social life. This increased sensitivity to consumption patterns and processes has impacted on the way sociologists have conceptualized

such diverse areas of social change as cultural and economic inequality, urban and spatial development, identity and selfhood, gender relations and performativity, media and advertising, and eating and dining practices. So, in significant ways, the move to bring in consumption has been a recent revolution in the cultural sciences and has led to the consideration of topics that were previously marginalized, and indeed not even conceived of, in mainstream sociological theory. The profusion of consumption studies is evidenced by the fact that-after only a little more than a decade of intensive research and focus within the social and cultural sciences-Miller (1995) declared consumption to be "the vanguard of history."His proclamation celebrated the profusion of groundbreaking, predominantly theoretical work in that era, and the subsequent paradigmatic consolidation of the field in the decades of the 1980s and 1990S. Within the field of consumption studies-and also to a significant degree within the discipline of object studies more widely (see Knorr-Cetina 1997; Latour 2007;Pels, Hetherington, and Vandenberghe 2002)-it seems apt to observe that materiality, objects, and "stuff" are the new frontier, as sociologists position questions of materiality and object-based practices of consumption at the forefront of their studies (Appadurai 1986; Miller 1987; Dant 2005, 2008; Swedberg 2005). In reflecting on the consequence of these changes, we can identify that the development of the field of consumption studies has been significant within the larger intellectual field of sociology in a couple of ways. First, it offered a correction to the entrenched productionist, materialist, and institutionalist tendencies inherent within mainstream sociological and cultural theory; and in this context can be considered more generally as part of the cultural turn in sociological theory. In addition, this new field has opened up fresh thinking on the lives and biographies of commodities, person-object relationships, and meaning-making processes with objects and materials. By emphasising the cultural bases of economic and commercial activity, consumption theory defines the world of goods in cultural terms. Furthermore, it has increasingly pointed out that it is not just what we consume which is cultural, but what is produced (du Gay and Pryke 2002;Jameson 1991). In addition to merely the consumption side of economic activity, forms of cultural expertise and planning begin to shape the production process and influence the form and content of economic activity, including consumption.



In this chapter, the current state and future of consumption studies is considered through the lens of intersecting research vectors in the fields of consumption studies, taste, and materiality. These latter two concepts are fundamental dimensions of most consumption practices. To have a "taste" for certain objects, experiences, and




goods is an elementary cultural trait, rather than a preserve of any particular social class.Cultural tastes reflect necessary,inevitable, and active orientations to the social world in the form of culturally structured, personally felt, and aestheticised preferences. As Bourdieu says:"Taste is the basis of all one has-people and things-and all one is for others" (1984: 56). Materiality, likewise, is a foundational mode of human experience. It is an element of all material-based consumption practices, though not a.universal component of consumption, as people also consume services or engage cognitively with aspects of consumption via desire, daydreaming, or idealization. The central contention of this chapter is that the potential of this new consumption studies to be fruitful has been obstructed by the manner in which the study of consumption has been theorized and carried out by some, though not all, of its leaders. In particular, in this chapter, I take up the following arguments about the state of research in the field. First, I argue that sociologists have typically not gotten to the core of consumption as a cultural phenomena because they have been overly concerned with customary sociological questions of class, status, and social inequality. As a relatively new field, consumption studies have tended to draw on traditional sociological approaches and concepts. Important advancements have been made, for example, within the oeuvre of postmodern studies of consumption in the 1980S (e.g., Featherstone 1987; Jameson 1991); in studies of the production and circulation of consumer objects (e.g., Molotch 2003; Foster 2006); in material culture studies (Appadurai 1986; Miller 1987, 2008) that emphasizes the culturalanthropological dimensions of objects; and more recently in areas such as the practices and pragmatics of consumption (e.g., Dant 2008; Shove and Southerton 2000; Warde 2005;Watson and Shove 2008).Yet, the overall pattern is that studies of consumption have inherited less useful features of customary approaches that tend to comprehend consumption through particular frames and that encourage a less sensitive understanding of consumption practices. For example, despite a couple of decades of intensive research on consumption, the fundamental question of why people have continuously revitalized appetites for consumer objects remains relatively unaddressed in both theoretical and empirical terms. Historically, the sociological focus has been on questions of systemic alienation and consumer exploitation, on distinction and emulation, or on coordinating systems of consumer practices. Second, I suggest that in largely neglecting the meanings actors attribute to their own consumption practices, sociologists have assumed an outsider stance and have never been able to bring themselves to fully account for the attractions and seductions of consumption experienced by most everyone else.This has been to the r detriment of a culturally informed theory of consumption that is able to understand the deep relations between social actors and objects, and indeed the agentic capacity of the objects themselves. Moreover, much sociological research effort goes toward addressing the distributions and outcomes of consumption practices; essentially,what comes after consumption, or its distributed social effects.This is in con- . trast to actually understanding its basis and nature as a culturally and materially

structured form of social action. As I will elaborate in this chapter, this pattern of inheritance is particularly evident in sociological studies of taste, where patterns of tastes are frequently studied as distributions of variables representmg preferences for cultural objects. Here, we can visualize the social distributions of certain taste preferences and surmise the role they might play in social reproduction, but we cannot get a sense of the cultural qualities, feelings, performances, and practices that inform, accomplish, or construct these tastes. Third, in developing a program for a cultural sociological approach to consumption, I argue that sociologists would profit by reconceptualizing consumption as a universal practice of cultural interpretation where social actors seek ritualized, enchanting engagements with objects that originate across the economic and cultural spectrum and which are perceived to symbolize variegated ideals such as goodness, beauty, authenticity, or truth. To adopt this principle is not to deny that much consumption is about mundane utility or the transitioning of daily needs. But, even here in what we might think of as the most mundane field of provisioning, notions of care, love, and, truth are found to structure consumption activities and practices, linking everyday provisioning practices to the deepest human needs, motivations, and desires (Miller 1998).Likewise, even in the most aestheticized and identity-driven fields of consumption, such as new technologies (Belk and Tumbat 2005), motor vehicles (Cardenas and Gorman 2007), clothing, food, and drink brands (Holt 2004), research shows that consumers of these goods connect to deep, fundamental cultural narratives through their relationship with these objects. We cannot assume either category of consumption is "shallow" or "deep." Rather, all types of consumption, be they reflexive or banal, routinized or thrilling, are sought out by us for the purpose of experiencing and delineating that which is good, beauor sacred. In fact, we might even say that our economic system is organized m such a way as to produce and distribute these elementary culture-structures in material form (Alexander 2008b). There is accordingly a dialogic process which connects cultural discourses of sacred and profane with the sometimes mundaneand sometimes rousing-engagements with objects, experiences, and places that we call "consumption." It might even be, as Callon, Meadel, and Rebaharisoa (2002) that consumers and producers are reflexivelyinvolved in a type of tryst which bnngs these good and services into being. In the final section of this chapter, I point to ideas about materiality, civility, and consumption etiquettes to seek potentially fruitful links with work in economics and economic sociology where researchers are trying to integrate culture into their accounts of consumptive economic behaviors. Within sociological studies of consumption, three main sub fields have been prominent over the last few decades. First, there have been the bodies of literature associated with theories of postmodern cultural change and associated literatures . on the cultural turn. In countering the dominance of critical theory through the twentieth century, this work emphasized the relative freedoms of consumption through tropes oflifestyle, the flexible construction of self-identity, abundant commodity culture, and principles of variety, choice, and novelty (Featherstone 1990;



Jameson 1998 Lash and Urry 1994). The second oeuvre derives from the work of Bourdieu (1984), whose studies of the social structures that both form, and derive from, certain varieties of consumption emphasizes the role of consumption for reproducing social inequality. Bourdieu's work has inspired a large volume of research into the way cultural consumption relates to social difference and inequality. Recently, his legacy has coalesced in a large body of research on cultural omnivorousness and its relationship to changing status systems (Emmison 2003; Petersen and Kern 1996;Van Eijck 2000; Warde, Wright, and Gayo-Cal2007). Finally, recent strands of research have emphasized the materialized nature of consumption and the way people use objects of consumption. In the section that follows, each of these major theoretical schools is critically investigated.



To a significant degree, the theoretical innovations enabled in postmodern theory challenged hitherto productionist and materialist logics, showing the centrality of consumption to both the economic logics of"late capitalism" and affixing to identities and lifeworlds a consumerist and individualist core. In doing so, its impact on the field was alternately liberating and exciting, reductive and misguided. Baudrillard's (1996,1981) early structural theories that posited consumer objects as the "scaffolding" of contemporary society were an important point of inspiration for the postmodern account of consumption. Fundamental to Baudrillard's progress toward a political economy of consumer objects is the realization that in contemporary society continual inroads are made by commodification processes to the extent that consumer objects are now primarily things acquired and used for symbolic value: "Signs (culture) are produced as commodities" (Baudrillard 1981: 147) Social actors are "symbol processors;' a point of view vigorously taken to extreme positions by scholars, influenced by postmodernism, through the next few decades. Featherstone's (1991,1992) account of the contours of contemporary consumer culture is perhaps the most significant within this oeuvre, and is principally indebted to the theoretical work of Jameson (1991), Lash and Urry (1987), Harvey (19 89), and the pioneering semiotic analyses of Barthes (1957) and Baudrillard (1996). Featherstone's analysis of the move to a postmodern consumer culture finds the concept of lifestyle to have particular salience in a postmodern regime of consumption. Featherstone (1990) emphasizes the role of pleasure and desire in framing current consumption practices, centralizing the notion oflifestyle that he argues should not necessarily be seen as a form of play outside of any social determinants, rather it "should be regarded merely as a new move within it" (1991: 84). The development of a postmodern consumer culture rests on an assumption about the widespread use of goods as communicators of lifestyle, rather than merely being utilities.

Featherstone (1992) sees this trend as one component of what he has labeled "the aestheticisation of everyday life," for in a society where the commodity sign dominates, by default, each person is a symbolic specialist. Having outlined three senses in which the concept of aestheticization has been employed, there are two relevant applications of Featherstone's (1991) discussion of the concept that are applicable to consumers, or at least some social fractions of them. The first is where life is conceptualized as a project of style-where originality, taste, and aesthetic competence are measures of individuality (1991: 67)-and thus becomes important in shaping social action. This is a project that is not merely accomplished by the outlay of sheer sums of disposable income. While Featherstone assigns the avant-garde and intellectuals an important role in the dissemination of new consumption ideas-and he also endorses Bourdieu's (1984) emphasis on the new middle class as the fiscal backbone of the consumer economy-all classes are held to approach the project Of lifestyle with an outlook that Featherstone labels as "calculating hedonism, a calculus of stylistic effect and an emotional economy" (1991: 86). The notion of "having a lifestyle" is particularly useful for Featherstone's formulation of consumer culture because it suggests how people across the social-cultural spectrum act as symbol processors through the coherent and meaningful deployment of "economies" of commodity objects that may not necessarily act as social communicators (though they could), but more centrally they afford people various capacities with which to navigate objects, people, and events:
Rather than unreflexively adopting a lifestyle, through tradition or habit, the new heroes of consumer culture make lifestyle a life project and display their individuality and sense of style in the particularity of the assemblage of goods, clothes, practices, experiences, appearance and bodily dispositions they design together into a lifestyle. The modern individual within consumer culture is made conscious that he speaks not only with his clothes, but with his home, furnishings, decoration, car and other activities which are to be read in terms of the presence and absence of taste. (Featherstone 1991: 86)

The background to this body of work as it emerged in theoretical expositions of the 1990S is that consumption has been aestheticized and semioticized by economically configured processes of hyper-commodification (Featherstone 1991; Jameson 1991; Lash and Urry 1994;Lury 1996). The logic behind it is a flight from critical versions of consumption theory built on the substantial body of literature that has emerged in the 1980s and 19908 concerning social and economic processes of spatialization and semioticization associated with what have been labeled "late" (Jameson 1991) forms of capitalism (see also Beck 1992; Harvey 1989; Lash and Urry 1987,1994; Soja 1989). The scene-setting for this approach rests on the identification of a variety of fundamental transformations in the circulation of global capital and on an array of associated cultural changes that include shifts in the way consumer objects are produced and consumed. A principal claim advanced in this literature is that the nature ofconsumption has changed as capitalism spatializes and semioticizes in unique ways at an accelerated pace; and as a corollary, consumption is commonly



theorized as an important sphere for reflexively monitoring self-trajectories. The predominance of commodification processes and the cultural dominance of consumption are intrinsic counterparts to these processes emphasizing the "culturalizing" of the economy. Jameson (1988,1991) was one of the first to highlight the incorporation of aesthetic production into commodity production, a trend that signifies postmodern tendencies regarding the breakdown of distinctions between high culture and mass culture. Thus, objects that circulate in consumer society, including the examples used by Jameson of clothes, furniture, and buildings (1983: 124),are aestheticized as new waves of consumption and are framed through design, style, and art. The quantitative change in this sphere has been an "immense dilation in the sphere 'af commodities, and a quantum leap in the aestheticisation of reality" (Jameson 1998: 124). From the 1980s onward, the postmodern-inspired position became something of a mantra and thereafter extremely influential as a point of reference for studies of consumption and, to some degree, studies within the related field of material culture studies. At its basis is a broad historical contrast: If consumption could ever be characterized in historical perspective as predominantly utilitarian, then by contrast in the postmodern era, it is characteristically constructive-identity-forming, reflexive, expressive, and even playful. Taken at face value, such a position seems revolutionary, and it certainly performed an important paradigm challenging function at the time. As an historical proposition, however, it is undoubtedly a myth because the degree to which we can ever divorce meaning, reflexivity,and symbolism from consumption and object relationships-postmodern or premodern-is dubious. Furthermore, though it dresses itself up as a cultural account, this position is based on a type of old-fashioned economic determinism and offers only a partial insight into the nature of consumption practice. Jameson presents a clever twist on economic materialism, but one where the cultural realm remains overdetermined by shifts in economic structures. Granted, ideas on the incorporation of the aesthetic into economic production and questions of post-fordist regimes of production and consumption are observable and important macroeconomic shifts. However, we cannot read from them assumptions about the nature of consumption nor can we use the insight to develop a theoretical model of consumption, for we . would alwaysbe looking to larger social and economic changes as explanatory models, rather than looking into the autonomous structures of consumption processes themselves. The positive theoretical shift enabled by the postmodern move was to suggest a radical separation of consumption from production and a certain freedom for consumers from the determinants and fixities of class, social location, and ascribed identities, offering an analytic scheme that empowered their creativity and flexibility. Though it may ultimately have overemphasized the degree of such freedoms, largely ignored questions of materiality and, in addition, framed consumption as dependent upon processes of economic flexibilization rather than conceiving it in culturally autonomous terms, in doing so it offered an extremely important historical corrective.


One of the primary points of contention surrounding the discourses of consumption centers on questions of individualism and hedonism, and the extent to which consumerism is culturally and socially divisive or constructive. As we have seen, the postmodern turn in consumption studies has been essential in redirecting the course of contemporary consumption studies, though its focus on hedonistic, individualistic, and fundamentally differentiating dimensions ignores the collective, civil, and socially expressive bases of consumption. Bell's (1976) work-though influential amongst social scientists and general readers alike-constitutes a characteristically shortsighted reflection on hedonism in relation to consumption that rests on a narrow view of the socially corrosive consequences of consumption. In doing so, it reproduces some of the myths of critical theory and sits with a cache of well-known authors from Erich Fromm, John Kenneth Galbraith, Christopher Lasch, and E. F. Schumacher who have in various ways constructed consumer societies and consumption as against sociality and the principles of informed citizenship. Bell'smaster thesis concerns what he labels a "chiasmus in culture:' the cultural contradiction of contemporary society, and "the deepest challenge to its survival" (Bell1976: 480). Bell claims a fundamental disjuncture between the systemic social imperatives of rationality, productivity, and efficiency,and the rising cultural impulses of lifestyle, hedonism, and freedom. As a consequence, he fears the loss of a transcendent ethic in then emergent post-industrial society to guide a common framework for social values.At the heart of this anxiety is the apparently hedonistic regime of consumerism, which "fosters the attitude of carpe diem, prodigality and display, and the compulsive search for play" (Bell 1976: 478). Ironically-for these values are based most commonly within the middle class-such values undercut traditional bourgeois ways oflife and thus represent a challenge to the most virtuous features of modernism. In Bell'sview, they have tipped the social balance in favor of depthless, corrosive, and individualistic consumption habits. Bell'sthesis fallsshort of a full understanding of the nature of hedonism in relation to consumption. He sees it as essentially unproductive and potentially damaging, both socially and psychologically. Realistically, and in contrast to Bell's view, hedonism should be understood as one dimension-but not a singular one or necessarily of central dimension-of the ongoing generation of a robust ethic of consumption, meaning that to assign hedonism as a defining component of consumption is misplaced. Working from Miller's (1998) ethnographically based proposal of a theory of shopping-based on notions oflove, sacrifice, and devotion-it . is possible to see the aspects of material culture and questions of taste based on a logic quite different to that expected by the theory that gives priority to hedonism and individualization. In fact, it may be that while hedonism-understood generally





as pleasure-seeking through consumption-is an important historical discourse in consumerism, such a discourse exists alongside a counterbalancing and complementary discourse. If left unchecked, the identification of hedonism is frequently perceived by consumers to be counterproductive and personally destructive. There is evidence of growing consumer reflexivity in this regard (e.g., Soper 2007; Wilska 2002; Woodward 2001, 2006). This accounts for the checks consumers impose on the expression of their individual taste narratives and consumption desires. Thus, the existence of a hedonistic attitude to consumption-that is unlikely if considered a general, universal feature of consumption, but believable as a style of consump, tion sometimes adopted by allpeople-has a complementary, disciplining discourse of restraint to keep it in check. This discourse of restraint, self-discipline, and delayed gratification is, in part, provided for by the construct of taste that should be seen as a type of etiquette of consumption. This etiquette is identifiable in commonsense notions of "too little" or "too much:' "appropriateness:' "consideration:' and a multitude of other concepts used to make judgments about consumption, taste, and material culture (see Woodward and Emmison 2001). Consumption and judgments of taste are not merely individualistic and hedonistic; and even if they sometimes are, they are bound by their own cultural rules and forms of personal and social discipline. These etiquettes of hedonism serve to morally discipline people's consumption choices within meaningful frameworks enabled by the contexts of their choices. By providing rationales, narratives, and texts, they frame individual choices as edifying, life-sustaining, and generally"good." This helps people define themselves not as desiring subjects, but as seekers of experiences, objects, and practices which improve and sustain the self (Woodward 2001,2003). This etiquette of disciplined hedonism is a robust ethic of consumption because it servesto orient and position the individual to others through a collective sentiment. The notion of taste as an orientation to others is apparent in the way acting in good taste is commonly conceptualized as an attunement to others that, in turn, relies on a disciplining or "tempering" of the self (Miller 1993) to fit in and a general respect for other people, especially those who are alike. Centrally, it involves questions of individual conscience and prudence in relation to one's judgment about collectiveprocesses and interests (Miller 1995; Schudson 2007). As a form of pleasure-seeking social behavior, consumption is in some ways and circumstances hedonistic. However, to characterize it as this solely is misleading. Hedonist desires might account for some of the drive to consumerist practice, though consumption is tempered by counterdiscourses of consumption that include the etiquette of taste and the goal of living the authentic, sacred or "good life:' however that might be defined (Soper 2007). Consumption practices, understood through frames of taste via complexes of other related practices, thus offer a concrete point of connection for people to their cultural values through a variety of leisure, aesthetic, and material practices, whether they be woodworking, billiards, car driving, shopping, or fashion. Consumption thus cannot be strongly contrasted with notions of citizenship-the former coded with negative traits of individualism, materialism, and selfishnessand the latter a positive modern political ideal separated

from the realm of consumption. Such a reading fails to acknowledge the way consumption-in whatever seemingly insignificant way, or in ways some may perceive to be commodified, tasteless, or trivial depending on their own taste judgments-can be a political act, an act of refusal and individual empowerment, fueled by discourses associated with social participation, equality, or inclusivity (Schudson 2007). This isnot to argue that consuming will alwayshave positive effects on such matters, or that it is some type of panacea, but that participation is in itself a matter of importance in establishing part of the contour of civil affiliations and belonging. Bauman (1988), for example, has also pointed out that the ability to consume is implicated in social inclusion and exclusion, being an important dimension of contemporary citizenship and belonging. Campbell's (1987) thesis on hedonism and modern consumption is a more promising attempt to account for the rise and endurance of a consumer ethic of hedonism. Campbell identifies the basic problem of modern consumerism to be that the gap between wanting and getting a consumer good never closes. In contrast to economic, utility-based theories of consumption, he finds the basis of modern consumption to be a form of pleasure-seeking based in emotions rather than in physical sensation. As such, his thesis is now likely perceived by some as outdated and out of fashion due to its "immateriality:' but I maintain cultural sociologists need to look to his work to combine materiality-inspired approaches with the emotional and cognitive realms. In his model, the pleasurability of consumption is the manipulation of psychological desire and meaning inherent in goods, rather than in their actual, physical consumption-"wanting rather than having is the main focus of pleasure-seeking" (Campbell 1987: 86). The irony of contemporary consumerism is that hedonism isn't actually about consuming particular objects, but the pleasurable mental dramas associated with pondering how the consummation of desire might alter one's reality. Hedonism is thus predominantly autonomous and imaginative, involving fantasy, daydreaming, and imagination. Much of the attention given to consumption in the last few decades has been directed toward theorizing it as zeitgeist-a defining gestalt of the era. Such a position has flagged consumption as a crucial domain of the contemporary lifeworld. However, the downside of this grand levering of consumption "as a more general trope for assertions about the so-called postmodern world" (Miller 1998: 164) is that theoretical adumbration has been more common than empirical investigation, especially as it has played out in the British social theory tradition. The established view of recent accounts is that consumerism is the most visible element of the historical trend toward individualization. Further, consumerism is readily identified as the most empty, shallow manifestation of the trend to individualization and is held to be indulgent, hedonistic, and socially divisive. While the social and environmental implications of some forms of Western consumerism are to be acknowledged . and should not be ignored by scholars, close sociological attention to the meanings and motivations of consumers has shown that consumption and matters of taste are more complex than ideologically motivated accounts of "consumerism" have imagined and that to understand consumerism, we need better theories of consumption,




Denition of TASTE 1

including sensitive accounts of its attractions. As Schudson (2007: 248) comments: "We need to move from moralism and complaint to analysis and action where the necessary and often enjoyable acts of consuming are appreciated-but where the political structure that makes those acts possible is made visible." Tastes can be said to be consumption patterns enchanted and enveloped by narrative. It is by carrying out some reconceptualization in the field of taste studies that we can make some progress along the path suggested by Schudson.

Denition of TASTE 2



Tastesrefer to the range ofsensual and cognitive techniques for evaluating the universe of people, objects, events, and experiences to which people are routinely exposed. When measured in the traditional sociological way-by preferences for, and knowledge of, particular cultural goods-tastes can be shown to be intricately structured and patterned according to particular social variables. This is the principle contribution made by sociological studies of culture in the field of aesthetic tastes. But, there is a different route to take.As Mary Douglas has perceptively expressed it, the contemporary problem of taste and aesthetic choice is not so much knowing that people have unique preferences that can be mapped according to certain theoretical principles to form social patterns; but it "is to get at some underlying principle of discrimination" (Douglas 1996: 62). As opposed to tastes understood in ways which privilege the will to develop models ofstructure, we should be focusing on tastes as ways ofbeing in the world. Bennion (2007: 98) has argued that social actors immersed in the to-and-fro of the flow of objects, images, and people do not routinely think of people or things as having "tastes:' This is because tastes are in fact a processual and experiential dimension of everyday life;they are performed and have a performative quality. Tastes are felt rather than thought in the first instance, and reflexivelyexercised via continually unfolding experiences that bring people and objects together and where principles of evaluation and satisfaction come into playas a matter of course. For cultural sociology then, the most relevant aspect of tastes are the ways in which they combine feelings for things and styles of interaction with objects and people-with the senses of taste, touch, hearing, and sight-to draw or repel people to various objects. To tackle the standard models for addressing the question of taste, we must look principally to the work of Bourdieu. It is Bourdieu's cultural strand of critical materialism that is embodied in a number of his key empirical works but most notably in Distinction (1984), which has most effectively challenged the Kantian notion of a pure aesthetic judgment. Bourdieu's powerful thesis-which is strong on distributions and socioeconomic matrices, but rather weakly articulated in terms

of cultural interpretation-is impelled by a complex theoretical armory and the particular idea that a pure, disinterested judgment of taste is erroneous. Moreover, Bourdieu maintains that because taste judgments are based on the unequal distribution of quotients of cultural capital that have been sanctioned by socially dominant classes,aesthetic distinctions are both generative and reproductive ofsubstantial social cleavages. Tastes-again, at least in the way they can be measured and represented in social surveys and statistical analysis-are thus essentially differentiating containers of economic capital that have been converted into culture. There are two critiques I wish to make of Bourdieu. The first relates to his methodology and the aspects of taste that such an approach reveals and, inevitably, obscures. The burden associated with the application of survey methodology to studying tastes is its focus on "objective,"variable-friendly measures of taste as stated preferences in art, music, literature, and the arts ofliving. While numerous studies of the social distribution of these objective tastes in different domains can be foundand much empirical debate and specification continues in this field-there is a relative indifference to the actual logics that inform and, perhaps, even constitute these patterns. In their aggregate form and treated primarily as symbolic markers of a social position, as displays of status and distinction, these objective "judgments of taste" have become reified or objectified and severed from their underlying lay conceptualor discursive moorings (Woodward and Emmison 2001). Leaving aside the substantial question of whether cultural tastes, differences, and modes of evaluation are important generative resources for social differentiation-and it is reasonable to think they probably do matter in important ways-the attention to the notion of cultural dominance in Bourdieu's work is at the expense of uncovering in a systematic way the everyday, discursive cultural schemes of taste used by actors to accomplish a position on taste (see Woodward and Emmison 2001). In this sense, Bennion's (2007) reflection on the sociological study of tastes as a type of performative search is constructive. Not committed to a strong version of actor-network approaches, but nevertheless focusing on the performative elements of people-object engagements, he argues that "taste" refers to the way in which individuals deal with the diverse array of objects, events, and people that they face in everyday settings. Tastes discriminate; they also agitate cultural performance and classification. There is another serious gap in Bourdieu's program for a sociology of taste. Bourdieu is so determined to demonstrate his point about tastes being resources for social differentiation and cleavage that he fails to engage with earlier classical conceptions of the social meaning of tastes that was developed in the work of Simmel and Blumer, and which were apparent-though in ways overlooked by Bourdieu-in Kant's Critique ofJudgement. In Bourdieu's (1984) influential model of taste and aesthetic judgment, morality and ethics play an insignificant part in strategies of distinction. Bourdieu overlooks the collective and moral dimension of taste because his .survey method predominantly affords an account of the social distribution of culThere is little or no methodological opportunity for him to develop tural insights into the moral and collectively contoured dimensions of such preferences, a point which forms the basis of Lamont's (1992) important study of the moral basis





of modes of interpersonal evaluation. Bourdieu's conceptual model is thus primarily based in the domain of private, individual preferences rather than public, civilexpressions, where we could expect collective and moral dimensions to be exercised. In contrast, the studies of Halle (1993), Miller (2008), Riggins (1994), and Woodward (2001,2003) begin to account for the diverse forms of "astructural" knowledge associated with tastes-the realm of emotion, identity, meaning, and narrative. This does not mean that this type of approach could not be consistent with the development of structural accounts, but that such methodologies and approaches afford insight into a more diverse range of aesthetic expressions and experiences and a consideration of their socially productive effects. The language of these studies is grounded in concepts-such as contemplation, meaning, intimacy, kinship, and emotion-as opposed to Bourdieu and his intellectual predecessors in this vein, Veblen and Simmel, who focus on dynamics of status, prestige and emulation. While both of these bodies of work-postmodern studies of consumption and Bourdieu's cultural materialism-have been extremely important in energizing contemporary consumption studies, neither has been decisive in addressing central problems relevant to understanding contemporary consumer culture. The former has usefully emphasised freedom, play, and self-identity, and to a large degree is responsible for contemporary assumptions about consumption as an active process of symbolic interpretation and manipulation. But, it has largely ignored the anchoring culture-structures which animate and make sense of consumption. The latter of these influential oeuvres within consumption studies is inspired by the work of Bourdieu. Though this body of research is apparently empirically sophisticated, along the lines of methodological positivism, it can be criticized as reductivist and unidimensional because through its focus on the distributed patterns and effectsof consumption, it has largely ignored questions of meaning, interpretation, and performance; the things that comprise and constitute the very social efficacy of tastes. Bourdieu's ouevre-and the subsequent work it has inspired-is largely a variable-centered approach; useful for establishing benchmark patterns and the socioeconomic correlates of consumption patterns; but it obscures as much about consumption and tastes as it reveals. For various reasons then, which are discussed further in this chapter, recent sociology has been unable to answer basic questions about the fundamental cultural characteristics and dimensions of consumerism as an aesthetic relationship to the world of commodity objects.



More recently, and happening somewhat in parallel to the development of these two fields,there has been a growing interest in materiality and material culture. Attention to objects as rudimentary elements of consumer culture has acquired renewed, and

now rather central, status in sociocultural accounts of consumption processes in late-modern societies. While sociologists and social anthropologists have historically had an enduring concern for the material constituents of culture (Goffman 1951; Mauss 1954; Simmel 1904; Veblen 1899), the recent interest in objects has developed in the context of prominent sociocultural accounts of modern consumerism, and, in turn, the emphasis these have given to the material basis of consumption processes (Appadurai 1986; Douglas and Isherwood 1979; Miller 1987; Riggins 1994). This field of work began in recent cultural anthropology, especially in the work of Miller (1987), but also the earlier influential study combining anthropological and economic perspectives by Douglas and Isherwood (1979) and Sahlins (1974), both of whom, of course, looked in no small part to Levi-Strauss and Durkheim for inspiration. The dominant approach to theorizing consumption processes that was foundational in the sociology of consumption has arisen through theoretical frameworks generated by the core motifs of conventional sociological practice: Constraint and opportunity, and freedom and fixity. Broadly, questions of consumer consciousness, the political nature of consumerism, and the relative power of the consumer vis-a-vis the structural forces of capitalism have been the primary concern for this approach. The principal feature here is the positioning of consumption within a social-structural context, informed by an understanding of issues such as media, marketing, and social class. The organizing themes which frame consumer practice in this approach are centered on background models of political and economic power, choice and constraint. At a more abstract level,they are grounded broadly in questions of agency and structure. This reliance on dichotomous theoretical metaphors is what led Miller (1995) to summarize this type of sociology of consumption as encouraging the reductionist myth that consumerism was either "good" or "bad:' rather than a complex, multidimensional process. The lineage of these approaches can be traced from Marx, and through twentieth-century varieties of critical thought, such as Lukacs,Marcuse, Horkheimer, and Adorno. In contrast, the "object turn" in studies of consumer culture transfers attention to the intrinsic materiality of many consumption processes. Particularly, it has suggested a role for objects in generating cultural meanings; in doing social and cultural work through processes .of differentiation, objectilication, and integration (Appadurai 1986; Baudrillard 1996; Douglas and Isherwood 1979). While the material culture approach to consumption retains a concern for consumer practice and ideation-as the foundational studies of consumption had previously emphasized-it devotes particular attention to the object of consumer interest as "the visible part of culture" (Douglas and Isherwood 1979: 44) that serves to animate practice and evoke feelings in consumers. The field of material culture studies has provided perhaps the most promising and culturally sophisticated approach to consumption, emphasising symbolism, . ritual, and meaning as the basis for defining consumption as a type of cultural interpretation. Yet, while this body of work coming under the rubric of material culture studies has been extremely valuable in a range of ways, again it has not been decisive in addressing basic questions about consumer culture. Often, it has led to





methodologically reflexive, locally contextualised studies of the uses of objects within small cultural groups and by individuals who have demonstrated agency, emotionality, and complexity (Warde 2005), but done little to expose the cultural structures that are at the core of the cultural sociology approach. A more recent and related development-that looks to move beyond material culture studies but still deals with materiality-comes largely from sociological studies of science and technology and has been expressed recently in the form of studies of consumption practices and pragmatics. In social theory, this focus on "assemblages of materials" has been associated with actor-network theory that deals with collapsing the distinction between people and material objects and the formation of material assemblages. In new studies of objects as "actants"-inspired by ideas of relationality and pragmatics and blended with new ethnography in the work of Latour and then also a cache of writers who have extended and applied his insights in very useful ways (e.g., Law 2002)-the "material" element has been the subject of much research and theoretical interest often at the expense of the "culture" aspects. What comes first are the material interlinkages of person and object, rather than questions of meaning, narrative, and interpretation. To some degree, this is compatible with the most exciting anthropological work in the tradition of Mauss, Durkheim, and Gell, but in sociology, it has been used most frequently in relation to technological systems, assemblages, and engagements, and indeed has eschewed questions of human motivations and meanings that would seem central when one wishes to understand consumption. It has also been represented in emerging studies of the "practices" of consumption (Dant 2008;Warde 2005; Watson 2008; Watson and Shove 2008). Here, too, though coordinated networks of people and things are given priority in organizing social life, questions reside with material pragmatics and networked relationality more than actual consumption practice, obviously leaving significant cultural elements relatively unaddressed. To some, this focus on practice seems productive because it does not presume or speculate about cultural categories, meaning, or symbolism but identifies how "consumption occurs within and for the sake of practices" (Warde 2005: 145).The appeal of attending to such consumption practices seems to be that they are universal, habitual, and continually unfolding within interrelated networks of other practices and hence have an apparent recursive material quality. But, this view also offers a rather restricted and truncated account of consumption, leaving out questions of cultural complexity, interpretation, and meaning. Such a view is in danger of radically selling short the cultural realm, despite Warde's suggestion that culture has received too much emphasis in studies of consumption (2005: 147).Warde even goes so far to state that "it is the fact of engagement in the practice, rather than any personal decision about a course of conduct, that seems to explain the nature and process of consumption" (Warde 2005:138). A whole body of work within sociology and consumer behavior studies enables a more complex picture to be drawn (see, e.g., Belk 1988; Belk and Tumbat 2005; Holt 2004; Kleine and Kernan 1991; McCracken 1988; Richins 1994) Warde further states that most consumption is directed toward the "fulfilment of self-regarding purposive projects" (2005: 147),which itself suggests we need to look

well beyond the realm of pragmatics of material interactions to understand consumption. In short, this is not to suggest that the physical, material, and sensual components of various modes of "doing"-driving a car, drinking wine, hitting a ball, preparing food-are not important, but that the risk with the "practices" approach is that we develop distinctly thin accounts that attend to systems of coordinated perceptions and physical manipulations and lose much of the cultural context that could afford us a stronger theory of consumption as an enduring cultural-economic activity. To do this must involve using ideas of taste to think more deeply about the nature of "self-regarding purposive projects" to which Warde (2005) refers. Interest in the capacity of objects to afford movement between pragmatic, aesthetic engagements "at the surface:' and the depth of meanings within things, is one fruitful way to overcome the deficiencies of the practices approach. Though not originating from a pragmatic basis, such an approach nevertheless deals with matters of materiality and surfaces, but seeks to connect them with the social discourses and narratives beneath. Alexander's (2008b) study of iconicity, for example, models the exchanges between social actors and objects. He shows how objects afford movement from surface to depth via a form of "immersion." Immersion involves a dual process: one called "subjectification" where people are able draw an object into themselves, transforming it from object to subject and allowing it to take on a life whereby one no longer sees the object itself, but "oneself, one's projections, one's convictions and beliefs" (Alexander 2008b: 7). Simultaneously, through a process called "materialization:' a person is drawn into an object, effectivelybecoming it, or what it is seen to stand for.Via immersion, what exists is not an object, nor a person, but a oneness of material and human, united by a material-affective-rather than merely mechanical or pragmatic-connection. Such connections with consumed, material objects are the basis for the performance and learning of norms and ideals and-through the use of typifications and iconic representations-the foundation for our collective life. Though not all engaging with ideas of iconicity, Swedberg (2005), Benzecry (2008), and Miller (2008) work from similar assumptions and connect material culture to questions of narrative, belonging, myth, and discourse.

At a literal and mundane level,taste is the evaluation of things, such as matching colors, appropriate skirt lengths, or shoe heel sizes; the optimal way to spend leisure time; one's choice (or nonchoice) in lounge covering, preferences for antique or new furniture, how one's kitchen renovation was planned; and the search for appropriate,




beautiful, or functional things to fill one's house. But, is there a larger meaning to such minutiae of everyday aesthetics? The elementary place to start is with a bedrock ideas of good and bad. To judge something or someone as good or bad is a philosophical problem of substance, for it involves a series of thought processes that subsume notions of desirability, needs and wants, satisfaction, rightness, efficiency, pleasure, and obligation (Sparshott 1958). At the same time, from a sociological point of view, judgments of what is good and bad for us or others would seem to be routine, recurrent, and taken-for-granted elements oflife. However philosophically foggy and misplaced vernacular evaluations of good and bad may be in orienting tastes, they seem an inescapable component of social existence and can be found in myriad mundane feelings, such as:"eating something would be good;' "exercisewould be good for me;' "to buy a new shirt would be good:' Sparshott (1958: 122) outlines the simple meaning of good to be that which "is such to satisfy the wants of the person or persons concerned." While Sparshott does not concern himself with notions of bad things, it is reasonable to assume that bad things fail to satisfy the wants, or at least people believe that they will fail to satisfy particular wants. It seems likely that everyday notions of what is perceived as likely to satisfy, and what is perceived as likelyto fail to satisfy, are reflective of almost universal human habits and traits of judgment or evaluation. Such notions of satisfaction invariably carry references to a state of incompleteness, equivalent to Baudrillard's idea of lack, because there is an implied reference to a desirable "good" or undesirable "bad" object or person which has potential to satiate desire. Sparshott puts it this way in his inquiry into goodness, "desires and needs are alike deficiencies, and carry a reference to a perfected or completed somewhat" (1958: 133). Judging the ability of a thing or person to potentially complete or satisfyis an essential element of our culture-it is the basis ofthe act of consumption, and is a mandatory routine of our livesthat involvesnavigating myriad options in order to weighvalue, to find merits or deficiencies, and to decide in favor or against something (Sparshott 1958: 128). As Sparshott pointed out over half a century ago,we livein a culture of evaluation, and the notion of good-and by implication also the notion of bad-are universal binary operators in these everyday judgments: "Such arguments tend to present themselves in the form: good or bad?"(Sparshott 1958: 128). Durkheim and Mauss's (1963) theory of classification is an elementary theoretical signpost in considering this aspect of consumption. The deduction to be drawn from their work is that notions of aesthetic taste are primarily systems of classification and that these complex and nuanced systems of practice are related to the fundamental moral organizing notions of "good" and "bad." Thus, considering consumption, certain practices of taste, and particular types or styles of material culture (e.g., fashion and clothing, domestic objects, motor vehicles), come to be evaluated as "beautiful;' "timeless;' "elegant;' "vulgar;' "garish;' or "unsuitable"; but, in the end, are classified as in the realm of good or in the realm of bad. This is a simple, bipartite system of classification, and condensing the complexities of taste and aesthetic judgment to this binary scheme is a useful guiding principle of inquiry, rather than a strategy for directing empirical inquiry. However, it has the advantage of illustrating how such judgments come to acquire an ethical force and, hence, an

explanatory advantage. Aesthetic judgments are embellished with a variety of concepts and words and located within a range of discursive rationales, however, in the end, they are judged as satisfying or not, good or bad. One of Durkheim and Mauss's other principal insights is that classification is a process of marking-off, of demarcating things which are related but have distinct points ofdifference to another. These systems of ideas of relation and difference serve to connect and unify knowledge about the world. They build up a hierarchical system where ideas form chains of meanings, and these meanings come to be concretized in material forms. In The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life (1915), Durkheim extends this theory of classification to two important areas that are relevant. The first is to show that systems of classification have moral qualities. Classifications are not merely technical accomplishments, but come to obtain their cultural weight by virtue of a moral quality attached to their deliberation (1915: 451). In weighing up the world of objects, a moral force comes to be activated, and this, in large part, explains their robustness and depth. Merely pretty or sparlding surface is not enough, but such aesthetic qualities are united with the strongest cultural powers when they draw participants into the moral and aesthetic meanings of an object (Alexander 2008b). The Durkheimian tradition also establishes these material-moral systems of classification as evidence of the socialness of systems of representation. Systems of classifying people, objects and things are thus linked to a collective consciousness-they obtain meaning by reference to other socially sanctioned classifications. The sentiments of taste contained in aesthetic judgments are not merely representative of emptied-out, ersatz forms of individualism, nor are they merely distributed variables representing social structures of inequality, but have acquired a moral force that gives them durability and strength as principles directing everyday social action. Combined with this idea that consuming affords people entry to particular moral depths, ideas about social performance within cultural sociology offer a viable way to imagine consumption as an active and contextual process demonstrated through ongoing performances that fuse people with objects of consumption in particular social settings. Recent developments in performance theory within cultural sociology have emerged by fusing a range of theoretical traditions. Goffman (1959) used the concept of performance to explain the enactment of social roles according to the logic of status management. More recent developments in performance theory (Geertz 1973; Turner 1982; Schechner 1993; Butler 1997; Alexander 2004a, 2004b) seek to understand the performative character of identity by drawing on theoretical resources of symbolic action and ritual and social drama to show how social action is contingent on history and collective sentiments, but must be brought into existence by continuous performative acts that actualize and reproduce the identities of social actors (Butler 1997: 409). In his exposition of the elements of performance, Alexander (2004b: 529) defines cultural performance as
the social process by which actors, individually or in concert, display for others the meaning of the social situation. This meaning mayor may not be one to which they themselves consciously adhere; it is the meaning that they, as social actors, consciously or unconsciously wish to have others believe. In order for their



display to be effective, actors must offer a plausible performance, one that leads those to whom their actions and gestures are directed to accept their motives and explanations as a reasonable account.

Cultural performance models could be fruitfully applied within the field of consumption studies. They suggest that the way consumer objects acquire their cultural meaning is within local settings, where people confer consumption objects as social life through their use and by offering active, creative accounts, or narratives that link in some ways to autonomous cultural discourses. Such narratives are locally accomplished phenomena, existing within various social settings where individuals are called to offer a believable, convincing, or "fused" (Alexander 2oo4a) account of their relations with consumer objects. The performative model suggests there should be an aesthetic "fusion" between the material and discursive, articulation and reception: "A coming together of background meaning, actors, props, scripts, direction and audience" where performances are experienced as convincing or authentic by participants (Alexander 2004a: 92). Such a model suggests a useful way of thinking about consumption, integrating materiality with narrative, context, desire, meaning, and communication within contextualized settings.

Along with developing culturally sensitive empirical approaches that account for human-object interactions, cultural sociologies of consumption must begin to schematize the basic culture-structures that inform consumer practice. Here, an elemental structure needs reemphasis. The pursuit and evaluation of things that are perceived to satisfy or give pleasure is a basic human pursuit. Good things satisfy , and give pleasure. Bad things generate anxiety, contaminate, and offend. Deciding what is poor, polluted, bad, or somehow inferior, and hence to be avoided, and alternately, what is safe, pleasurable, good, and enhancing is a fundamental cultural trait. Skills of discernment and evaluation operate in numerous domains of life and are cultural proficiencies that are at the very heart of practices of consumer behavior, tastes, and material engagements. In fact, it may be correct to see that one of the reasons people become attached to having consumer "freedoms" is that these seemingly minor, routine choices become occasions for feeling the empowerment of one's discriminatory faculties and for seeking potentially ecstatic, transformative engagements with objects. It is in these engagements with the world of commodities-as we do such apparently mundane human things as nourish, entertain, decorate, play, and ponder-that we make culture. Norbert Elias pointed out in The Civilising Process that the character of human threats has undergone an historical change. For the most part, he pointed out, we no longer live in fear of physical threat or danger; but one threat we continually face is social embarrassment and shame that derives from a

breach of rules of civility. Elias highlighted the sphere of manners as a domain of etiquette that had potential to generate individual anxiety. But his historical, processualtheory suggests that the location of the source of threats will change, so that zones of experiencing shame continuously shift to new provinces of social life. The allied domains of consumption and aesthetic taste are contemporary fields for the negotiation of social acceptability, the exclusion, or minimization of contaminating material culture, and the striving for approval, individuality, and transcendence. In a society where commodities, styles, fashions, and taste proliferate to a degree beyond what could be considered general abundance, people's understandings of what constitutes good taste-and good more universally-become increasingly fixed on the navigation of a meaningful course through the forest of consumption choices. The activity of judgment and classification has a universal application to human culture. Assessment, evaluation, and discernment are routine elements of daily life-myriad choices confront people to which, in the interests of efficient, culturally acceptable social conduct, they must selectively acknowledge and make responses. The operation of judgment and the establishment of a choice is especiallysalient in an era where new consumption domains have emerged, being driven by the interplay of structural dynamics, such as aestheticization, commodification, and individualization. Though clear and unmediated symbolic communication should not be assumed in any culture where symbols proliferate and change meaning with speed, we can say that material culture-the objects, things, or commodities people purchase and use-affords symbolic evidence of a person's taste, and more broadly, is generative of their social identity. Yet, they communicate as much about oneself to oneself as they do to others. Further, notions of what is civil and uncivil, meaningful and meaningless, valuable and trite, are founded in part on the decisions a person makes in relation to what is worthy or suitable for wearing, watching, possessing, listening to, and eating. The market for commodities has thus become a sphere for the establishment of norms of civility. These cultural values become visible and expressed via material means. Explaining how commodities are important for realizing feelings of collective and civil belonging should be one concern of cultural sociological inquiries into taste and aesthetics. Studies of taste should be seen to constitute investigations of etiquette, and studies of everyday aesthetic judgment are not just about what is considered beautiful (contra Kant), but what is considered good. Accounts of civility, social inclusion and exclusion, boundaries, social etiquette, and the human desire for pleasure can be illuminated by studying everyday understandings of taste and their accomplishment through processes of judgment, selection, and justification. Seen in this light, the exploration of a consumption field is actually an analysis of the social boundaries of goodness, worth, and value, as expressed by the participants' notions of taste and the deployment of material culture. This line of argument is founded partly on the assumptions that decisions of taste and judgments of aesthetic value contain an implied commitment to a collective-but obviously socially variegated to some degree-notion of what is good and bad to consume. The deployment of the notions "good" and "bad" are not



experienced as philosophical conundrums for actors, as they become natural or taken-for-granted modes of interaction with the world. Judgments about people, their behaviors, and material culture happen routinely and are frequently based on this binary opposition of good and bad, helpful or harmful, worthy or worthless. While a collectivelyshaped notion of "good" and "bad" becomes the basis or master scheme for a retrievable complex of resources or narratives used in everyday judgments; according to variables such as age, class, peer group, and education level,we embellish these oppositions with a variety of words and concepts that give "goodness" and "badness" unique hues across different contexts. In this way,it is possible to see how the idea of distinguishing between good and bad types has particular relevance to the practice of consumption, for at its core, consumption is a process of selection or discernment of things that are perceived to satisfy. It is not correct that judgments of good and bad are always about civility and never about power, authority, difference, and inequality. In fact, these things are part and parcel of the establishment of such civilities. Clearly,consumption becomes a process of making and marking boundaries by materializing cultural categories. Yet, by insisting that acts of consumption and judgments of taste are worthy of sociological consideration in their own right-and that domains of consumption can be analyzed as an autonomous sphere of cultural activity-an alternative to predominant strands in the sociology of taste that privilege structure and status in accounts of aesthetic judgment can be posited. The etiquettes of aesthetic cultures constitute an important area for further research in the field of consumerism. If consumerism is identified as an enduring social, economic, or environmental problem or issue, then to understand why it is so robust, energetic, and appealing as a way of life, sociologists should direct attention to showing how it is internalized in the language, narratives, and dreams of people, objects, and events. Campbell's (1987) ambitious theoretical work on the possibility of an historically embedded romantic ethic of consumption seems to be , one of the most promising explanations ofwhy consumerism is such a robust ideol- . ogy,yet his work remains largely at the level of historical interpretation and theory... There is a need for studies of consumption that attempt to integrate culture and cognition in order to assess the role of fantasy, daydreaming, and other a culturally relevant psychosocial factors in generating cultural responses. Bourdieu, despite the flaws in his approach identified in this chapter, has perceptively pointed out that sociological understandings of taste are akin to psychoanalysis because they dwell. on the deep reasons why individuals are attracted to particular forms of culture (1984: 11, 77). A cultural sociological account of consumption can also help to shape aspects; of emerging theories within economic sociology. In the last few decades, cultural .. research, as well as work within the discipline of economics, has argued that ideall ized, abstracted models of the economic actor that dominate mainstream economic theory are too narrowly conceived to capture the complexity of economic behaviors. Questions of identity, social status, desire, group norms, and cultural catego- . ries are starting to become crucial for economists. For example, Akerlof and.

colleagues (Akerlof 1997; Akerlof 2007;Akerlof and Kranton 2000) have positioned cultural concepts such as identity and status perception at the core of these new theories, which seek generally to incorporate nonpecuniary motivations into accounts of economic behaviors. These groundbreaking efforts are closer to a sociological psychology than a cultural sociology,but better models of cultural-economic action can inform future modeling. Likewise, the field of economic sociology and cultural sociology have begun to address questions of price, value, preference, and utility from their own perspectives (e.g., Wherry 2008). The basic principle here is that economic action is culturally meaningful and culturally derived, rather than merely rational from an economic point of view. Here, literatures in the sociology of arts and cultural sociology that investigate the aesthetic surface of objects and their capacity not only to represent aspects of reality, but also to prompt reflexive, cognitive responses in actors and collectives are important (see Acord and Di Nora 2008; Alexander 200sb; Eyerman and Ring 1998; Eyerman and McCormick 2006; Swedberg 2005).Thus, economic actors orient their actions to goals that make sense not just in terms of price and utility, but in a range of other matters which are at the heart of cultural sociological investigation. The emergent cultural sociological approach suggests that we should think of the economic behaviors of individuals as guided by ideas, impressions, fantasies, irrationalities, asymmetries, perceptions of self and others, and impressions of "what is going on" with their own budget and the broadly configured "economy." All this is fueled by circulating texts within the economy including such things as product advertising, magazines, commodity branding, and the reporting of pronouncements from official economic bodies and economic commentators. As much as powerful economic modeling, the goal of generating a convincing theory of economic behavior requires a strong theory of culture and sensitive empirical approaches. As a starting principle, this research agenda requires a cultural sociological model that fuses performative understandings of the materiality and sensuality of consumption with consideration of the . power of myth, narrative, and meaning generation.



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