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Symbolic Consumption and the Social Construction of Product Characteristics

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  • Ulrich Witt

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Abstract

As recognized since long, consumption serving to signal social status, group membership, or self-esteem is a socially contingent activity. The corresponding expenditures are motivated mainly by the symbolic value they have for transmitting the signal. However, this presupposes some form of social coordination on what are valid, approved symbols. Unlike consumption not serving signaling purposes, the technological characteristics of the goods and services consumed may be secondary – what counts is their socially agreed capacity to function as a symbol. The paper discusses in detail the cognitive underpinnings of social agreement on consumption symbols and a model of their spontaneous emergence.

Suggested Citation

  • Ulrich Witt, 2008. "Symbolic Consumption and the Social Construction of Product Characteristics," Papers on Economics and Evolution 2008-15, Philipps University Marburg, Department of Geography.
  • Handle: RePEc:esi:evopap:2008-15
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Radner, Roy & Rothschild, Michael, 1975. "On the allocation of effort," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 10(3), pages 358-376, June.
    2. Kerwin Kofi Charles & Erik Hurst & Nikolai Roussanov, 2009. "Conspicuous Consumption and Race," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 124(2), pages 425-467.
    3. Saviotti, P. P. & Metcalfe, J. S., 1984. "A theoretical approach to the construction of technological output indicators," Research Policy, Elsevier, vol. 13(3), pages 141-151, June.
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    5. Sugden, Robert, 1989. "Spontaneous Order," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 3(4), pages 85-97, Fall.
    6. H. Leibenstein, 1950. "Bandwagon, Snob, and Veblen Effects in the Theory of Consumers' Demand," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 64(2), pages 183-207.
    7. Paul Windrum, 2005. "Heterogeneous preferences and new innovation cycles in mature industries: the amateur camera industry 1955--1974," Industrial and Corporate Change, Oxford University Press, vol. 14(6), pages 1043-1074, December.
    8. Pier Paolo Saviotti, 2001. "special issue: Variety, growth and demand," Journal of Evolutionary Economics, Springer, vol. 11(1), pages 119-142.
    9. Veblen, Thorstein, 1899. "The Theory of the Leisure Class," History of Economic Thought Books, McMaster University Archive for the History of Economic Thought, number veblen1899.
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    Citations

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    Cited by:

    1. Gowdy, John M. & Dollimore, Denise E. & Wilson, David Sloan & Witt, Ulrich, 2013. "Economic cosmology and the evolutionary challenge," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 90(S), pages 11-20.
    2. Kaus, Wolfhard, 2013. "Beyond Engel's law - A cross-country analysis," Journal of Behavioral and Experimental Economics (formerly The Journal of Socio-Economics), Elsevier, vol. 47(C), pages 118-134.
    3. Gräbner, Claudius, 2016. "The complementary relationship between institutional and complexity economics: The example of deep mechanismic explanations," MPRA Paper 75636, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    4. Wolfhard Kaus, 2012. "Beyond Engel s Law - Pursuing an Engelian Approach to Welfare A Cross Country Analysis," Jena Economic Research Papers 2012-028, Friedrich-Schiller-University Jena.
    5. Safarzyńska, Karolina, 2013. "Evolutionary-economic policies for sustainable consumption," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 90(C), pages 187-195.
    6. repec:spr:joevec:v:27:y:2017:i:3:d:10.1007_s00191-017-0498-4 is not listed on IDEAS
    7. repec:kap:mktlet:v:28:y:2017:i:4:d:10.1007_s11002-017-9428-3 is not listed on IDEAS
    8. Gräbner, Claudius, 2016. "From realism to instrumentalism - and back? Methodological implications of changes in the epistemology of economics," MPRA Paper 71933, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    9. João Bernardino & Tanya Araújo, 2013. "On positional consumption and technological innovation: an agent-based model," Journal of Evolutionary Economics, Springer, vol. 23(5), pages 1047-1071, November.
    10. repec:spr:joevec:v:27:y:2017:i:4:d:10.1007_s00191-017-0525-5 is not listed on IDEAS
    11. Steven D. Silver, 2016. "A QUAIDS Model of Need-Based Structure in U.S. Personal Consumption 2006–2012," Atlantic Economic Journal, Springer;International Atlantic Economic Society, vol. 44(3), pages 303-323, September.
    12. Liselot Hudders & Mario Pandelaere, 2012. "The Silver Lining of Materialism: The Impact of Luxury Consumption on Subjective Well-Being," Journal of Happiness Studies, Springer, vol. 13(3), pages 411-437, June.

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