Consumer Society: Theoretical Model And Russian Reality
Опубликовано на портале: 31-12-2010
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
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
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
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.