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Soziologisches Institut

Newly published chapter in "The Routledge International Handbook of Economic Sociology"

What is consumption? And how can consumption be explained sociologically?

Jörg Rössel, Patrick Schenk and Sebastian Weingartner have published Chapter 26 in "The Routledge International Handbook of Economic Sociology" titled:

"Sociology of consumption, leisure, and lifestyle. What is a theory of consumption a theory of?"


This chapter provides an overview of the major social scientific strands of theorizing about consumption. We distinguish (1) the individualist tradition prevalent in social-psychological and economic approaches to consumption, but also in the more analytical realms of sociology, (2) the socio-cultural approach to consumption, strongly influenced by philosophical and sociological accounts of modern, contemporary society, and finally (3) practice theories, which have become the most widespread theoretical approach in the sociological analysis of consumption. For each theoretical perspective, we discuss its treatment of three central aspects of consumption (acquisition, use, and disposal) and its performance as a scientific theory (e.g., function, clarity, testability). It is clear from our discussion that individualist theories adhere strongest to a classical idea of explanation and empirical testability, whereas the other two strands of theorizing often lack in analytical rigor and empirical generalizability. Socio-cultural theories provide formidable accounts of how needs have changed historically, which is a precondition for explaining acquisition. Individualist theories have studied in detail the act of purchasing (acquisition). Theories of practice are particularly well suited to theorize the actual use of products, that is, the particular ways in which goods are appropriated. However, individualist theories neglect the formation of needs and the use of products. Socio-cultural theories undertheorize the actual act of purchasing. Practice theories have largely neglected the disposal and to a certain degree also the acquisition of consumer goods. Therefore, for each theory exists uncharted territory to be tackled in the future.

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