RN5 - Sociology of Consumption

RN coordinator:

Margit Keller, University of Tartu, Estonia



Changing consumption in a global context: Imagining new forms of inequality


The world has seen two opposing trends: following the economic crisis growing inequalities in consumption inside countries and on the other hand there is a growing equality of consumption between countries. The global spread of companies, sometimes referred to as McDonaldisation, is one of the reasons for the worldwide convergence of consumption practices. Probably more important, however, might be the emergence of a global market for culture, where music, art, and movies, low- and high-brow culture alike, has become a source for identity projects in countries all over the world. This tendency is further re-enforced by the rise of the Internet, which constitutes an environment that is the same all over the world. Viral videos for example are fast spread around the globe. But how similar this environment in different cultural contexts is after all? On what do we base our observations of social equality and inequality?

The sociological focus on equalities and inequalities has been putting its emphasis mainly on financial and participatory factors; this at the same time has shaped our specific scientific gaze. It enables us to study and identify certain differences, but overlook others. Our research network wants to elaborate at the ESA’s next conference what could be new ways of conceptualising equality and inequality in the sociology of consumption? Where, when and how does consumption divide and unify different ages, regions, nations, centres and peripheries, genders and income groups? Could the sociology of consumption serve as a workshop for imagining innovative ways of looking at our society in general and advance the sociological methodology? Beyond that we seek to shed a fresh light on potentials of critique within the sociology of consumption, from multiple theoretical and empirical traditions, both for interpreting and affecting differences and social inequalities, in line with the ESA general conference call for 2015. Our Research Network invites papers that deal with the above and other various aspects of the sociology of consumption.


Possible session themes include but are not limited to:

01RN05.          Food and consumption

02RN05.          Ethical and political consumption

03RN05.          Consumption inequalities and exclusions

04RN05.          Sustainable consumption

05RN05.          Material culture

06RN05.          Sociology of taste

07RN05.          Markets of consumption

08RN05.          Cultural stratification

09RN05.          Arts participation

10RN05.          Consumption and the body

11RN05.          Problematic forms of consumption

12RN05.          Theories of consumption

13RN05.          Gender and consumption

14RN05.          Consumption and different generations

15RN05.          Structural and institutional conditions of consumption

16RN05.          Sociology of Consumption (open)



Joint sessions

1) Joint session with RN 30 (Youth and Generations)

Young people as consumers in leisure society

The lives of young people are embedded in a large variety of available goods, ICT technologies, and leisure activities on the market. Contemporary culture strongly encourages the development of hedonistic attitudes and immediate gratification via the purchase of goods and leisure services. All media contents (TV-channels, magazines, internet contents) targeted to young people are increasingly commercialized, encouraging hedonistic and consumerist lifestyles. The culture of amusement is strongly connected to the entertainment industry, and the development of digital technology changes lifestyles. However, young people are not always aware of the potential risks they might encounter in this context. What are the consequences and potential hazards young people might face? In addition, a large number of youth engage in risky behavior and activities, such as drug consumption, binge drinking, gambling or spending too much time in online environments. Are young people victims or competent actors in consumer society? What message their behavioral practices convey?


We encourage the submission of empirical and theoretical papers addressing issues related to:

-Consumption and in changing youth cultures

-Young people’s leisure time consumption

-Young people, media and advertising

-Young people and virtual/ICT consumption

- Young people’s risky consumption (drugs and alcohol consumption, gambling, engaging in illegal

2) Joint session with RN09 (Economic Sociology)

Coping with the crisis: economic shocks and changing patterns of consumption

We invite papers to a joint session held between RN05 (Sociology of Consumption) and RN09 (Economic Sociology) focusing on different experiences and coping strategies of consumers in relation to economic shocks, like the financial and fiscal crises of the last years.  Consumers’ everyday lives have been affected by the crises on multiple levels – from job loss and decline of household income to increasing austerity in social policies. This joint session asks, what has been the interaction between the macro-level, global and local economic phenomena, policy measures responding to the crises and the individual and household coping practices with disruption. We invite papers from different parts of Europe and beyond, where the unfolding, duration and recovery from the crises has had different paces and intensities, from severe downturns to quick recovery or stagnation. In addition, we welcome papers that deal with changing patterns of economic exchange, like share economies, gift giving, innovative and alternative ways of consumption and prosumption, bridging consumer and producer roles. Moreover we are interested in papers addressing what lessons have been learned from the crises so far – for consumers and market economies at large.

Therefore, we encourage the submission of abstracts relating to the following themes:

- consumers and austerity policy

- impoverishment and coping; disruption of lifestyles

- alternative and innovative modes of consumption and prosumption

- share economies; alternative modes of economic exchange

- economic and policy interventions to deal with crisis and their repercussions for consumers

- different regional experiences of crisis

- different temporalities of crisis

- memories of past crises and present intergenerational coping practices, various forms of solidarity

- theoretical development of concepts that gained visibility during the crisis (e.g. security, insecurity, poverty, material deprivation, the ‘neither-nor generation’)

- consumers, creativity and improvisation in times of crisis


3) Joint session with  RN16 (Sociology of Health and Illness)

Food consumption, consuming health.

This is a proposal to bring together RN (16) (Sociology of Health and Illness) and RN (5) (Sociology of consumption) to jointly provide a session on the issue of “Food consumption, consuming health”.

A strong link exists between food production and consumption, eating habits and health. A constant amongst the socio-economic and cultural changes we experience in our European societies is that our consumption patterns remain an expression of difference and inequality. This is observable in food consumption, which is also influenced by a wide array of actors holding not only different but differing discourses on “food health” according to their particular interests (industrials, supermarket chains, local producers, nutritionists, public health authorities, consumer and patients associations, media, etc.). This cacophony of health messages and recommendations is widened by the role that Internet is taking in the field of health (online healthcare advice, forum, private clinics websites, personal blogs relating subjective experiences/opinions on health issues, etc. ). This is provoking paradoxical situations and zones of tensions, which may give some insights on how these array of voices on food health are stimulating self-reflexivity (or not) among citizenship, also democratizing (or not), both consumption and health caretaking. In the domain of “food health”, the dominance of medical professionals and public health authorities is indeed more and more contested as healthcare providers diversify their offer of health care and as “patients” are encouraged to be more active on their own health, especially in chronic illness caretaking. Moreover distinct -and sometimes opposing- messages on how to promote health or prevent illness complications coexist among health professionals.

The aim of this joint session is to understand how food consumption is involved in the creation, reinforcement, exacerbation and resolution of health inequalities. At the same time, attention will also be given to the ways in which different health conditions influence people’s eating habits. It will also focus on the ways in the disparity of norms on food health relates to the interest of ill-persons and citizens. Then, the session offers an opportunity to consider the relationships between food, health, difference and inequalities, and the social consequences of their interplay.

We invite empirical, methodological and theoretical papers addressing the following issues and other related topics

 - Food consumption, health and care

-  Eating in the situation of chronic illnesses

-  Sociological deconstruction(s) of “Food health” normative discourses

-  Health consumption and citizenship


Notes for authors

Authors are invited to submit their abstract either to the general session or any specific session. Please submit only to one session. After abstract evaluation, coordinators will have the chance to transfer papers between sessions where applicable.

Abstracts should not exceed 250 words. Each paper session will have the duration of 1.5 hours. Normally sessions will include 4 papers.

Abstracts must be submitted online to the submission platform, see below. Abstracts sent by email cannot be accepted. Abstracts will be peer-reviewed and selected for presentation by the Research Network; the letter of notification will be sent by the conference software system in early April 2015.

Abstract submission deadline (extended):                                                                                 15th February 2015

Abstract submission platform:                                                                                          www.esa12thconference.eu

If you have further questions on the conference, please visit the conference website. For further information on the Research Network, please visit www.europeansociology.org.