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Consumer Society: Theoretical Model And Russian Reality

русская версия

Опубликовано на портале: 31-12-2010
Мир России. 2005.  Т. 14. № 2. С. 3-40. 
Consumer society is a totality of social relations, in which individual consumption, mediated by the market has the key importance. The result of this is a new attitude toward «human resources». Z. Bauman writes: «A method, by which modem society «forms» its members, first of all dictates the duty to play the role of consumers». Such a society is a natural result of mature capitalism. It is obvious that the basis of any society is both production and individual consumption. But only at a particular stage of development individual consumption is exposed to deep institutionalization and becomes the key factor of the economic development of the country. On the one hand, it is deeper and deeper mediated by the institute of market, and on the other hand, the existence of the market, relatively independent from individual consumption, is impossible. Consumer society emerges as a logical result of the development of capitalism. What are the most important characteristics of the model of consumer society? Mass production allows to draw into active consumption, which exceeds the limits of the struggle for physical survival, not only the richest classes of the society, but also the absolute majority of the population. Production becomes not only mass (conveyer), but also flexible; and this fact allows the consumers to construct their individuality by means of goods. As long as the opportunities of production appreciably surpass the opportunities of individual consumption, advanced by natural needs, there occurs marketing revolution, the result of which is marketing orientation of firms. Revolutionary changes in the organization of trade and service sphere take place in consumer society, The key positions are taken by shopping centers, supermarkets, which turn into places of leisure, museums of modem culture of consumption. A special social stratification is formed; it is based on the differences in the opportunities of access to the space of consumer society. Networks of cafes, beer bars, restaurants, night clubs etc. flourish. They satisfy not so much the need for food, but the need for communication outside domestic problems. As a result changes in the culture of consumption and communication are more and more evident. With the beginning of the epoch of consumer society there occurs a real cultural revolution, during which the transition from everyday culture of classical capitalism to modem consumerism takes place. The revolution in the means of communication greatly influences the character of communication. A new information space emerges, where the traditional notions about space and time do not work. Very different social networks are formed in this space and are supported through it: family, friendly, professional and so on. Communication turns into chargeable service: one cannot imagine modem interpersonal relations without the mediation of a provider. Such universal forms of human relations as love and sex also more and more often obtain the form of market services, turn into the forms of consumption. Acquaintances, marriage are often provided by the services of firms-mediators. The role of a consumer in the economic system is fundamentally changing. According to Z.Bodriyar «The system is more and more in need of them (people) as consumers». The change of the role and the place of consumers in the economic system essentially changes its character: it is deeply intertwined with the culture of consumption, which turns into material economic force. The economy of the consumer society rests upon a new type of individual. Its key characteristic is the inclination for consumption as the method of building up personal identity. Full satisfaction even of basic needs becomes thereby impossible, because the identity requires everyday reproduction. Hence we have the paradox of high labour activity of a person, who is already well-fed, has a dwelling and possesses a sufficient number of clothes. Consumer society gives rise to mass necessity of individualization. The competition of producers finally leads to the competition of consumers. The main form of freedom in consumer society is the freedom of consumer choice. The democracy of consumers rules here. There appears a developed system of credit, various forms of electronic bank cards, that sharply accelerates the process of decision-making concerning more or less large purchases and reduces to minimum time for consideration. The system of mass consumer credit transforms into the basis of the new form of social control, which turns out to be more effective than repressive methods. Everyone has something to lose. And the system of mass credit makes the risk of loss especially sensitive. Advertising becomes, on the one hand, the key factor of market success, and on the other hand, - one of the most widespread phenomena of mass culture. The most difficult thing is not to produce goods, but to persuade a consumer to buy them. The structure of the cost of goods and services is changing radically. The symbolic cost, which plays a more and more appreciable role in the price formation, is added to traditional exchange (market) and consumer forms of costs. In other words, goods are valued more as means of communication, allowing to transmit to those around the information about the social status, individuality, fashion and other important features of its possessor. That is why consumption has a tendency to transform into a process of exchange of texts. The result of the production are not only and sometimes not so much the goods, which have some functional characteristics, but also the brands — trade marks, which turn into phenomena of mass consciousness (images, estimations, expectations, symbols and so on). Production and selling brands are becoming effective forms of economic activity, because people pay for their own notions. As a result of the globalization local market is transforming into one of the subsidiaries of the world market. Each local producer somehow competes with producers from other regions and countries. This leads to the radical change of both the consumer standards and the range of goods. The space of consumer freedom is considerably expanding. Fashion transforms into a driving force of production, because it secures the moral ageing of goods much earlier than their physical deterioration. Goods are depreciating like money during the inflation. And quite a well-to-do person always feels symbolically miserable to a greater or lesser degree. Packaging is one of important characteristics of goods. Without a package even a very good thing remains unnoticed against the background of innumerable competitors. Quite often it serves as a factor of market success or failure. Aesthetization of consumption takes place, which sharply increases the role of design. Education (especially higher education) plays a role of a service, purchased on a mass scale on market grounds. The subject of consumption is an individual, who makes a decision about the purchase of a service according to his own notion of personal needs and prospects on the labor market. With the advent of television virtual reality is being formed; it is parallel to common reality and competes with it. Internet and computer games expanded the borders of virtual world, pushing aside the real world. Politics obtains the form of political marketing. A dialectical contradiction may be observed in the most developed western democracies: on the one hand, like in ancient times, state management remains in the hands of a narrow political elite, and on the other hand — developed mechanisms of formal democracy demand the confirmation of the right of the elite to authority through the system of overall elections. At the same time the consumption is gradually transforming into the object of political struggle, and consumerism is transforming into the core of political ideology. The struggle for an elector, which is in the center of the western democracy, is impossible without the straggle for his interest as a consumer. At the end of the XXth century consumerism penetrated the programs and contents of political campaigns of the western political parties. The most important manifestation of political freedom for citizens is the choice of sources of information and models of explaining the political reality. A citizen plays a role of a consumer of a special good. The main form of the existence of sport is the consumption of sports performances, which fills the leisure with strong emotions and provide the formation of identity around the names of countries and clubs. Sport is professionalized, it transforms into a form of business, mass culture and politics. Physical culture has a role of a market service (season tickets to gyms, consultations of specialists with the help of literature, mass media and so on). These exercises are not only an investment into personal health, but also the formation of social identity (belonging to the group of modern and successful people), this is the creation of a text in the genre of prestigious consumption. Since the motive of health is insufficient for involving broad groups of the population and especially young people into the consumption of the services of sports centers, actively cultivated aesthetic values come to the forefront: body is an instrument of social communication and the success in life depends on its beauty. Medicine transforms into a strong branch of economy. Its driving motive consists in getting the profit by means of rendering medical services and selling drugs. More concern for health is, on the one hand, the key factor of the development of the branch, and, on the other hand, it is constructed by the labour market, which constantly generates the risks of social exclusion of physically weak and sick people; a huge role in this process is played by the advertising of medical drugs and services. Consumer society generates fantastic tension in the relations between people and nature. This contradiction has two dimensions: a person and environment, a person and his health. Unrestrained consumption has a destructive effect on both the environment and the health of the people. The perception of these dangerous contradictions generates two different directions in the ideology and everyday practice. On the one hand, there exist slogans for the limitation of the consumption, calls for being closer to nature and so on. On the other hand, a developed consumer society changes its evils into a source of new consumer needs, transformed into market demand in various countries this process of the formation of the consumer society was developed in different time: in the USA — straight after the war, in Western Europe – depending on the reconstruction of economy, mainly since mid-1950s. Post-Soviet Russia is in a controversial situation. On the one hand, it is a transforming crisis society, which is considerably inferior to the developed countries of the West in the level of social and economic development. On the other hand, the formation of capitalism is taking place in Russia. But its main contours considerably distinguish it from those models, which are typical of developed market societies. Western culture of consumption is coming to the country on a mass scale, there occurs a revolution of consumer claims, a new system of means of consumption is forming, which copies foreign models, there appears a noticeable stratum of people, who due to their material opportunities can afford the reproduction of life-styles of well-to-do groups of the developed countries of the world. However the majority of the population is kept outside the space of consumer society. For these people there exist virtual (mass media) and secondary consumer societies (the market of second-hand and fabricated goods). In other words, this majority lives in the shadow of consumer society: they feel it but can use its goods in very limited and ersatz forms. However the oasises of consumer society are a source of desires, hopes, illusions and motives for the huge part of the population, and especially for the youth. Russian capitalism resembles ersatz of the western capitalism, and Russian consumer society, having the key characteristics of the theoretical model, is distinguished by a rudimentary condition of many of its attributes and oasis form of existence.
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