Consumption, mass consumption, and consumer culture are a growing focus in contemporary life as well as in social science theory and research. Daniel Miller in "Acknowledging Consumption" , even suggests that consumption is replacing kinship as the central theme in anthropology. Consumption is the most basic of these concepts, but not the least contentious. From the Latin 'consumere' , to take up, consumption means to acquire. But other meanings include using up, burning, wasting, and decaying. In the first case consumption adds; in the others it subtracts. In current practice, the term may refer either to using an object or to both acquiring and using it. In the broader usage, consumption also includes such supporting activities as attending advertising, shopping retail displays, interacting with salespeople, engaging in word of mouth, and searching online for a good or service. This more common view holds that consumption consists of activities potentially leading to and actually following from the acquisition of a good or service by those engaging in such activities. Tangible goods can be acquired and stored for future consumption, but most services, including surgery, stage plays, and haircuts, must be acquired and used simultaneously. The prototype of current consumption involves searching for, purchasing, and subsequently using a branded product. We generally think of consumption as something that benefits individuals. When one person eats an apple, no other individual person can benefit from that apple. We also tend to think of consumption decisions as being made by individuals and families, and not so much by businesses, governments, or other organizations. In contemporary economies, however, consumption decisions and consumption benefits are more complicated than this individualistic picture implies. The fact that individuals always live in society complicates the discussion of consumption. Consumption of a public good, like a pleasant city park, can be experienced by many people at the same time. Decision-making about whether to build a park is done at a community level, not by an individual. Even within a household, both decision-making and enjoyment of consumption may involve more than one individual. Adults may negotiate about what to produce or purchase. The heat from a home furnace is a small-scale public good, since everyone in the household benefits from it. Many goods and services are also consumed by people while in their roles in business or other organizations. For example, some employees are given opportunities to satisfy their individual needs for food and entertainment through business lunches and employer-sponsored sports outings. In practice, however, economic analysis concerning consumption tends to focus on the consumer as the unit of analysis. The individual decision maker is assumed to be making consumption choices for himself or herself or on behalf of his or her entire household. Imagining the consumer to be an individual economic actor, such analysis ignores both the larger issues of social consumption and the complications of decision-making and enjoyment within households. Limiting analysis to the individual level is a useful simplification for some purposes. In other articles we examine two major theories about how individuals make consumption decisions: the marketing view and the utility theory view. We also examine the issues of consumption viewed at a society-wide scale and the effect of consumption on human well-being.
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