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By Kaj Illomen

Kaj Ilmonen was once a pioneer within the 3rd wave of the sociology of intake. This book provides a balanced assessment of the sociology of intake, arguing that the keenness of 'the 3rd wave' exaggerated the function of the symbolic and imaginary on the cost of the materiality of human societies.

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In the national accounts it is reflected in consumer demand, for individual citizens it is reflected in the relationship between incomes and commodity prices. However, there can be no demand for commodities unless they are perceived by consumers as objects of their needs, as use values. The use value of a commodity, whether real or imaginary, can only be harnessed to the consumer’s purposes after exchange has taken place. It follows that use value is not an economic category in the first place, but it attaches consumption to civil society – its everyday activities and varied social microspace.

This, in Aristotelian terms, combines the final and formal reasons of the product. While economics is chiefly interested in the economic aspect of consumption, the main concern for engineering, physics, nutrition science and consumer policy is the technical/functional side of consumption. The technical/functional side of consumption does not, however, cover every aspect of use value, although this is the commonsensical understanding. The use of a commodity also depends on the context of that use.

Freedom of exchange nevertheless remains at the core of Friedman’s neo-liberal thinking. Freedom, he maintains, is guaranteed by the existence of other producers. Producers, for their part, are protected by the existence of consumers who always use their products. There is no real threat of purchase boycotts. The freedom and independence of employees from employers, then, is guaranteed by the existence of other companies in the marketplace who are always willing to purchase their labour power. The market, in other words, ‘gives people what they want’ (Friedman 1982, 15).

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