Regulation, retailing, and consumption
In this paper the interplay between regulation and consumption is explored. Questions are posed about the regulation of consumption by the state and by private retail capital, and the way in which consumption relations influence the operation of the state either directly or through the mediative role of the retailers. We argue in general terms that, since the 1980s, it is the consumption nexus rather than that of capital and labour which has increasingly provided the most attractive location for the abstraction of surplus value and for capital accumulation; that the state had increasingly become an active agent in class formation and class relations through the sphere of consumption; that consumption processes have increased in significance in the legitimation of the state; and that, particularly in the United Kingdom, the major food retailers have played a critical role, not only in delivering new and revised 'rights to consume' to empowered groupings of service-class consumers, but in defining consumption interests around their own particular notions. As a result, we argue that regulation by necessity has become far more embedded than hitherto in the consumption process, and that a consideration of the regulation of retail capital offers particularly valuable insights into the regulatory influences shaping the extraction of profits from the 'situation of exchange'. Above all, our aim is to inject a 'political economy of consumption' perspective into the increasing and diverse debates concerning cultural aspects of consumption. We argue, in conclusion, that it is necessary to explore how the political economy and cultural aspects of consumption interact, and how social and political practices embody both. To this end, we conclude our paper by posing questions about the next steps in what we believe is a vitally important emerging dialogue and integration between these two perspectives.
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