Rhizomatic human communication and constructed social representations as determinants for consumption preferences
Meyenburg, Imko Tjado
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The background of this research is the observation that mainstream economic theories cannot present an adequate explanation for emerging and changing consumption preferences in dynamic social systems. Scholars among the field of institutional economics, for instance North (1993), Boulding (1986), Sen (1977), and feminist econimists such as England (1993) and Nelson (1993), have analysed and criticised neoclassical economics for this omission. Pluta (2010) points specifically at the hedonistic and utilitarian emphasis in mainstream economic theory and speaks of “an embarrassment to the mainstream” due to the lack of “an empirical verified 'balancing of forces'” in equilibrium models that “assume consumer rationality and maximization of utility” (p. 1155). Furthermore, Fehr and Schmidt (1999), Frey and Oberholzer-Gee (1997), Frey and Meier (2004) and Kahnemann (1994, 2002) present empirical evidence that refutes the neoclassical assumption of consumer rationality. Finally, Dolfsma's (2004) study on preferences regarding pop music in the Netherlands emphasises that “behaviour and valuation need to be understood as institutionalized expression of underlying socio-cultural values” (pp. 48-49), and this idea serves as a main reference for this thesis. Thus, the aim of this research is to analyse the advent of consumption preferences in social systems and institutions, including their change over time, with a synthesis of three theoretical frameworks: the social construction of reality by Berger and Luckmann (1966), communication in complex social systems described by Deleuze and Guattari (1987, 2004 ) as rhizomes, and social representation by Moscovici (1994, 1998) and Moscovici and Marková (1998). The potential benefit of this research is its contribution to the field of institutional economics through the development of a theoretical explanation for the complexity of social interactions, institutions and human behaviour and how they influence one of the most important economic issues, namely consumption preferences. Finally, a case study of the German soft drink company Bionade Corporation is used to apply and evaluate the combined theoretical framework.