A Social and Economic Theory of Consumption by Kaj Illomen

By Kaj Illomen

Kaj Ilmonen was once a pioneer within the 3rd wave of the sociology of intake. This book provides a balanced assessment of the sociology of intake, arguing that the keenness of 'the 3rd wave' exaggerated the position of the symbolic and imaginary on the rate of the materiality of human societies.

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According to those generalizations, independent households used to produce goods and services that they exchanged for various other goods and services by negotiating with other households. Exchange only took place if both parties benefited. Cooperation, therefore, was achieved without coercion (Friedman 1982, 13). Friedman’s idea is that this simple and individual exchange can be generalized to the complex system that is market economy, but only providing that business enterprises are privately owned and that individuals are free to enter or not to enter into exchange (Friedman 1982, 14).

The Trobrianders were engaging not in an exercise in economy but in the maintenance of social relations (see Graeber 2001). Malinowski’s observations from the Trobriand Islands are not unique nor of course can they be generalized to Europe. To be sure, some mechanisms of exchange have evolved even among the Islanders with the growing division of labour – but we must not make the same mistake as Ludwig von Mises, Herbert Spencer and Walter Lippman and confuse the existence of a division of labour with exchange and exchange trade.

8 If those conditions cannot be specified, the outcome is always political, not economic. In this situation some businesses suffer more losses than others. The Hobbesian problem of social order consequently moves centre stage in the economy but apparently not in economic theory. In general the market cannot, in itself, maintain social order. In the end the pursuit of private interests always has unintended consequences – most notably the growth of economic uncertainty. This undermines the social system outside the market, as for instance the growth rate of private business output exceeds that of consumption and as the macroeconomy is consequently thrown into disequilibrium.

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