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The transcending power of goods: Imaginative value in the economy

  • Beckert, Jens

What do we value? For markets to operate and for economies to grow, producers must attract purchasers to the products they offer. In advanced capitalist economies, market saturation and decline of demand are constant threats to markets. But how do we understand why actors desire the things whose value they reveal in the purchase? In this article I distinguish between three types of value: Physical value, positional value and imaginative value. Based on Durkheim's sociology of religion, I argue that imaginative value emerges from the imaginative connections made between goods and socially rooted values, as well as the aesthetic ideals held by the purchaser. The article explores how the connection between objects and their symbolic meaning is created and maintained, and why the symbolic valuation of objects changes. By arguing that the imaginative value of goods is closely linked to social values, I suggest that consumption is not the expression of a hedonistic individualism but inherently connected to the social and moral order of society. Durkheim's sociology of religion is thus read as a sociology of valuation.

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Paper provided by Max Planck Institute for the Study of Societies in its series MPIfG Discussion Paper with number 10/4.

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Date of creation: 2010
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Handle: RePEc:zbw:mpifgd:104
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  1. Ulrich Witt, 2006. "Evolutionary Economics," Papers on Economics and Evolution 2006-05, Philipps University Marburg, Department of Geography.
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