School of Sociology and Social Policy

The Bauman Institute

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Consumption Perception in Turkey within the context of Globalisation

1. SUSTAINABILITY of CONSUMPTION AND CAPITALISM

The phenomenon of consumption has played an important role in the development of capitalism. Consumption, which has been shaped to the requirements of capital accumulation, remained at a limited level with the effect of Calvinist thought at the early stages of capitalism in order to provide capital accumulation.

Capitalist economic system comes into existence with a mass consumer need that can be guided. Marx expresses this situation as “capitalist society naturalizes needs and causes humans to be alienated to the things they have created.” According to him, in “the society of joint producers”, human possesses things as much as he needs them, whereas in this society not the needs related to material things but the needs that are directed to the other people have priority (İnsel, 1990; cited by Şentürk, 2008:230-231). Consumption is an important complementary component in sustainability of modern capitalism because in order to make profit, it is necessary that the produced goods be sold. “Unless a good is consumed and a profit is gained, it is clear that there is no point in continuing to produce that good” (Bocock, 2009: 43). In this context, production, circulation and consumption are the most important components of capitalist social relations. “Both production stage and stages of circulation and consumption essentially take place through a series of social relations” (Ercan, 1997: 8). The factor that makes globalization stage clear in social sense is “consumption society”.

The consumption society is a kind of society in which individuals are always encouraged to consume regardless of whether or not the consumption satisfies the basic needs. In this new stage along with technological developments, the individual’s needs vary and differentiate, and the life of goods and services decreases on a mass scale as well. In this context the emerging consumption culture constitutes the backbone of new life styles of not only developed countries but also developing countries. This situation is a result of the target of creating a single World market, in which the whole humanity forms the customers of a common consumption culture. The only condition of accessing to this market is being able to have enough consumption power (Sapancalı, 2005: 139). In this context, consumption is a functional instrument of new capitalism. New capitalism performs the manipulation of masses through consumption. This manipulation is fulfilled by media, advertising, entertainment sector and fashion etc. Thus, the target of profit maximization gains a functional infrastructure by shaping the consumption perception of the mass. It also makes consumption existential for the mass/individual by substituting its own hedonist ethics and institutionalizing it instead of the traditional puritan ethics, in which prudence is at the heart (İlhan, 2007: 294-295).

“The new capitalism glorifies consumption, blesses purchase and sale and uses the support it gives to production processes now in maximizing consumption. There is a strong capitalist culture at the background of consumption/consumer society and this culture puts consumer reflexes, consumption-related brands and symbols in the focus of life, and constructs life styles and identity structures around this” (Aytaç,2006: 29). On the other hand, the meta-culture has a function of facilitating individual identities’ integration to capitalist system. “ As a consequence of individualization, members of lower and middle classes are alienated from developing a holistic class awareness” (Bıçakçı, 2008: 8). Thus, social problems are gradually being perceived as individual problems

According to Galbraith, the fundamental problem of modern capitalism is the contradiction between a potentially unlimited productivity and selling the goods in the market. At this stage, it becomes vital in terms of the system to monitor not only the production instrument but also the consumption demand and not only the prices but also the ones to demand at these prices. Therefore, the fact that the individual’s behaviours comply with the market and the social attitudes comply with the needs and aims of the producer is a natural quality of the system (Baudrillard, 2008: 81-82). Advertisement, which is one of the tools that are directed to achieve this aim, also sells an identity to people together with the goods. While people are buying any good that is being advertised, they pass to another dimension also in the intellectual plane. The thing which is being advertised is associated with any other social phenomenon. In this context, the aim of advertisements is not to promote the goods, but to create a need. Then this need is responded (Yaylagül, 2008: 146). Constantly encouraging consumption prepares the frame that is required for reproduction of capitalist relations. The phenomenon of consumption, which is seen as a relation between goods, in fact has a social character as well and the style and rate of individuals’ consuming the things as a whole support the reproduction mechanism of the system (Ercan, 1998: 125).

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