Part 2 KEY SOCIOLOGICAL THINKERS
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In fact we can conceive of consumption as a characteristic mode of industrial civilization on the condition that we separate it fundamentally from its current meaning as a process of satisfaction of needs. Consumption is not a passive mode of assimilation (absorption) and appropriation which we can oppose to an active mode of production, in order to bring to bear naive concepts of action (and alienation). From the outset, we must clearly state that consumption is an active mode of relations (not only to objects, but to the collectivity and to the world), a systematic mode of activity and a global response on which our whole cultural system is founded. We must clearly state that material goods are not the objects of consumption: they are merely the objects of need and satisfaction. We have all at times purchased, possessed, enjoyed, and spent, and yet not ‘consumed’…Consumption is neither a material practice, nor a phenomenology of ‘affluence’. It is not defined by the food we eat, the clothes we wear, the car we drive, nor by the visual and oral substance of images and messages, but in the organization of all this as signifying substance. Consumption is the virtual totality of all objects and messages presently constituted in a more or less coherent discourse. Consumption, in so far as it is meaningful, is a systematic act of the manipulation of signs. Le Système des objets, Paris, Gallimard, 1968, pp. 255-83. Trans. J.Mourrain in Mark Poster (ed.), Jean Baudrillard: Selected Writings, Cambridge, Polity Press, 1988, pp. 21-2.