Putting the ladder back

There’s some concepts that have arisen over the last few years in consumer research, especially in the pages of Consumption Markets Culture and the Journal of Consumer Culture, which have been nagging at me – notably prosumption, liminality and vulnerability. I think I figured out this morning what it is that gets my goat. I’ll try to illustrate it with prosumption.

These concepts prioritize the relationships between to things: production and consumption in the case of prosumption. This is no bad thing. Of course – it’s PoMo dude. But what I’ve noticed is that researchers use such concepts to argue against the very things the concepts relate to. So, we see Ritzer and Jurgenson arguing in numerous papers that production and consumption are no longer valid terms because we are now “prosumers”. What’s a prosumer, you might well ask. Simples. It’s someone who links consumption and production. But wait, aren’t they no longer valid terms… erm, yeah but no. Hang on.

So, it seems to me that such concepts are the best argument against themselves. If you ask taxing questions such as (which the peer reviewers at the above mentioned journals presumably haven’t): “what?”, “really?”, “are you sure about that?”, “what evidence do you have?”, concepts like prosumption end up reinstating the importance of the terms they rest on. But the authors use them to argue the opposite: that the concepts destroy the foundations on which they rest.

So, I can’t help but feel I’m missing something.  These are smart people but this just seems moronic to me.

If I were a kind man, I’d say that these are clever tactics to open up more and more social interactions to the gaze of consumer researchers. But I think it’s actually just desperation to come up with a sticky term (I call it “the MacDonaldization of conceptual thought”) and poorly applied social theory. I’d love to be proved wrong.

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