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From Value to Consumption. A Social-theoretical Perspective on Simmel's Philosophie des Geldes

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Abstract:

Re-interpreting Simmel's work on money as an attempt to develop a critical sociology of consumption from a relativist theory of value, this paper illustrates the extent to which it may be seen as something more, and different than, sociological impressionism. The modern social space of valuation is chiefly defined by the development of money economy within metropolitan settings. This allows for the public commensurability of values and pushes for their private incompatibility. Subjectivism is heightened in so far as individuals' capacity to sustain difference is vital to social, objective exchange. Contrary to neo-classical economics, the appreciation of individual choice entails for Simmel a critical appraisal of the social conditions of its existence which results in a discussion of the risks associated with the pressure to perform as autonomous choosers. The paper concludes with a view on what may be a Simmelian sociology of consumption, one which enriches the classical focus on social distinction with a critical concern for the modern conditions of valuation and self-constitution. Fashion and style may be conceived of as techniques of consumption that, embodying particular combinations of difference and indifference, help govern the modern world of goods. In this view, these mundane practices have the potential to function as a balancing practice of self-constitution, taking place between the indifference of the market which allows individualization, and the risk that the individuality thus constituted remains empty, a reproducer of commensurability unable to bestow value on things.

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/00016990050156675

Publication date: September 1, 2000

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