Skip to main content
Social Sci LibreTexts

7.3: Consumption

  • Page ID
  • \( \newcommand{\vecs}[1]{\overset { \scriptstyle \rightharpoonup} {\mathbf{#1}} } \) \( \newcommand{\vecd}[1]{\overset{-\!-\!\rightharpoonup}{\vphantom{a}\smash {#1}}} \)\(\newcommand{\id}{\mathrm{id}}\) \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\) \( \newcommand{\kernel}{\mathrm{null}\,}\) \( \newcommand{\range}{\mathrm{range}\,}\) \( \newcommand{\RealPart}{\mathrm{Re}}\) \( \newcommand{\ImaginaryPart}{\mathrm{Im}}\) \( \newcommand{\Argument}{\mathrm{Arg}}\) \( \newcommand{\norm}[1]{\| #1 \|}\) \( \newcommand{\inner}[2]{\langle #1, #2 \rangle}\) \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\) \(\newcommand{\id}{\mathrm{id}}\) \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\) \( \newcommand{\kernel}{\mathrm{null}\,}\) \( \newcommand{\range}{\mathrm{range}\,}\) \( \newcommand{\RealPart}{\mathrm{Re}}\) \( \newcommand{\ImaginaryPart}{\mathrm{Im}}\) \( \newcommand{\Argument}{\mathrm{Arg}}\) \( \newcommand{\norm}[1]{\| #1 \|}\) \( \newcommand{\inner}[2]{\langle #1, #2 \rangle}\) \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\)

    Consumption is defined as the use of a food, good, material, or service, while a consumer can be defined as the person or entity that uses the product. Most anthropologists agree on the fact that consumption is the third subdivided phase of economic activity, the first two being production and distribution. It has been suggested that the priorities of consumption determine the production and exchange patterns, not the other way around. There are two types of consumption: personalized consumption is knowing the person who produces the goods to meet your needs, and depersonalized consumption is when a vaguely understood global system produces goods that meet your needs. There is also the difference in market and non-market based consumption. A market based consumption creates perceived needs and wants for what the market has to offer. A non-market based consumption targets satisfying minimum needs or requirements for survival.

    Some economists define consumption much more broadly, as the aggregate of all economic activity that does not entail the design, production and marketing of goods and services (e.g. "the selection, adoption, use, disposal and recycling of goods and services").[11] America is the world's largest consumer in regards to an individual's consumption rates. In fact the world’s richest 20% account for 76.6% of total private consumption, while the poorest 20% account for 1.5% of total private consumption.[18] These statistics clearly indicate that wealthier individuals have more disposable income, allowing them to consume in larger volumes.

    Ecology and consumption

    Ecology is defined as the way a species can correspond to each other and their surroundings. These surroundings are separated into different ecozones that represent the different plants and animals that live in the area. To adapt to an ecozone, species have to create an econiche. These are the plants and animals that the species live on. People called socioecologists are the ones that study and explore the ecozones. They try to clarify why animals act the way they do in each different environment. An example would be how deer from different area act differently than others, especially the group that lives near humans.

    "Cultural ecology", a section of consumption ecology, is where anthropologists try to use socioecology to explain humans within their societies. The cultural ecologists can find patterns within humans and their consumption along with the production and distribution. These can be explained through the attributes of the ecozones they live in. All humans need to learn to use the different resources that are accessible in their ecozone in order to survive. Ecology is directly related to consumption in that the ecology of different species affects the consumption of that species. So, different species and even humans in different areas consume differently depending on where they are or where they are from.

    A form of agriculture known as agroecolgy implements the ideals of ecology into the science of agriculture. They prioritize keeping the process of growing and producing as natural as possible. This, however, doesn't mean that an agrocologist wants to remove all technology from agriculture, but rather an balance of technology. This would mean using technology, yet still preserving the natural process of growth. By understanding that there is no one true way to grow agriculture, agroecology allows for context based solutions, varying widely. This has led to disputes among agroecologists over what the real meaning of agroecology is.

    Agroecology is partly responsible for the recent boom in popularity for sustainable agriculture. This accounts for naturally grown food, organic food, and locally grown food, all focusing on environmental health, and economic productivity. The rise of sustainable agriculture started in the past few decades, with many farmer's markets arising in towns, supporting suburban areas with food while also supporting local farmers. Also, with the prominence of industrial agriculture in modern society, people wanted an alternative to genetically modified foods. While sustainable agriculture has gotten more attention in the last decade, the agriculture sector is still the most energy hungry sector in the world. Farming will not be able to support our population if our food production does not double up by the time of 2050.

    Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\): Graph of calories consumed in different countries

    Why Do People Consume What They Do?

    Pentagon city mall.jpg
    Figure \(\PageIndex{2}\)

    Consumption is usually referred to as the using up of material goods, and materials necessary for human survival. At a minimum these goods are food, drink, clothing, and shelter. Anthropologists have typically dismissed the study of consumption saying that there are no interesting questions to be asked about it. Even though this consumption of goods is the main drive of economy, it may not be in anthropologists' best interest to study it. The reasons for consumption are simple: either people need something—food and drink—or they want something—like material possessions. Both of these, they thought, weren’t likely to reveal any interesting patterns. However, for the few anthropologists who did look at consumption across different cultures, they found distinct patterns in the way humans consume.

    One approach they have taken to try and understand these patters is the Internal Explanation. This explanation comes from the work done by Bronislaw Malinowski. He believed that every social practice a society had was done to support the basic human needs. Malinowski said that basic human needs could be biological or psychological. He proposed them to be nourishment, reproduction, bodily comforts, safety, movement, growth, and health. In order to satisfy each human needs proposed, corresponding practice such as food-gathering techniques, kinship, shelter, etc are essential.

    The last key point in Malinowski’s explanation was that humans are solely dependent on the physical world to survive. Even though westerners see the way more primitive cultures utilize the physical world as bizarre, they are still using the same physical world we are using, just in different ways. Unfortunately, Malinowski’s explanation falls short because it doesn’t explain why all societies don’t share the same consumption patterns and why some people eat wild berries and some eat processed wheat. Cultural ecology, the study of human adaptations to social and physical environments takes over and explains why these differences exist.

    Product consumption is also associated with social norms and values. If society is saying that in order to be happy, you need this, then people will follow suit and buy the product. People want to have it all and be happy, and so they willingly put their trust in the social media telling them what to buy. On the other hand, in rural areas, people consume what the social norm is. If a woman in a rural area has the norm of extravagant beads and dresses, then that is what they will get or make. Also to get people to buy products in certain areas companies will market their products to the people they want to sell their product to. They will often include the people they are marketing to in their marketing to get people to think that they are more included. For example kids cereal brands include kids eating their cereal. It is often happy children and they love the cereal. This often makes children who see the ad want to eat the cereal and ask their parents for it.

    7.3: Consumption is shared under a CC BY-SA 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Wikibooks - Cultural Anthropology.

    • Was this article helpful?