Division 5: Consumption patterns between differentiation and inequality

The division on the subject of consumption is assigned to four work packages. The content is coordinated by the Institute for Social Science Research (ISF) in Munich. Differentiation and inequality of consumption patterns will be systematically introduced to the socio-economic reporting with this report division. For this purpose, the topic is to be regarded as broadly as possible in order to correspond to the concept of welfare production and the objective function of participation. The conceptual framework which was developed for the focus on "Sustainable Consumption" in the context of social-ecological research of the BMBF may serve as an initial orientation. According to this, possessions, use and consumption of products, services and infrastructures are “instrumentally related to needs” (Di Giulio a.o., 2011: 48). The use of consumer products, that is, their conversion to welfare effects, has both a technical-functional as well as a symbolic-communicative function, and individual consumer behaviour includes socially embedded acts of choice, acquisition, use or consumption, disposal or transfer of goods, and in the case of personal services, their co-production as well (Kaufmann-Hayoz a.o., 2011: 89ff). The socially and culturally embedded consumer action is therefore part of the welfare production of households, and "consumers are not passive, but active subjects in the creation and distribution process of goods" (Di Giulio a.o., 2011: 47f.). The correlation between the individually selected set of features in consumer behaviour and the consumption of resources is not technically determined but depends instead on social conversion factors. To evaluate the participation results of consumer behaviour in this conceptual framework, a common consensus on the definition of “need” in this case must be agreed upon. This term should be based on the society that is being researched and should adapt to the concept of realisation. If consumer behaviour is to be rated according to its sustainability, it must be differentiated according to environmental, social and economic sustainability. 

Whilst the development of standardised mass consumption contributed decisively, under the conditions of Fordism, to a convergence of lifestyles – evidence thereof furnished by theories of a "levelled middle-class society" – all work packages of this division expect a further pluralisation of consumer behaviour, which is based partly on expansion and partly on increasing inequality of choices. The scientific objective of the division is therefore to observe social determinants of consumer behaviour, to be able to distinguish the social differentiation of consumption patterns and social-structural inequality of consumption opportunities and to standardise consumption patterns.

All work packages of this division are involved in the development and micro-foundation of two alternative macroeconomic consumption scenarios. In division 4, work package 14 takes up some of these issues for the ageing population. The work packages 15 and 16 edit the economic side of consumption, while consumption as a social practice is the focus of work package 17 and 18.



Di Giulio, Antonietta/ Brohmann, Bettina/ Clausen, Jens/ Defila, Rico/ Fuchs, Doris/ Kaufmann-Hayoz, Ruth/ Koch, Andreas (2011): Bedürfnisse und Konsum – ein Begriffssystem und dessen Bedeutung im Kontext von Nachhaltigkeit. In: Defila, Rico/ Di Giulio, Antonietta/ Kaufmann-Hayoz, Ruth (Hrsg.) (2011): Wesen und Wege nachhaltigen Konsums. München: oekom Verlag. 47-71.

Kaufmann-Hayoz, Ruth/ Bamberg, Sebastian/ Defila, Rico/ Dehmel, Christian/ Di Giulio, Antonietta/ Jaeger-Erben, Melanie/ Matthies, Ellen/ Sunderer, Georg/ Zundel, Stefan (2011): Theoretische Perspektiven auf Konsumhandeln – Versuch einer Theorieordnung. In: Defila, Rico/ Di Giulio, Antonietta/ Kaufmann-Hayoz, Ruth (Hrsg.) (2011): Wesen und Wege nachhaltigen Konsums. München: oekom Verlag. 89-123.

Coordinated by:

The Institute for Social Science Research (ISF) in Munich