Symbolic dimension of the economy. Operating principles

And today, the game "as if" works in the practice of giving gifts (the habit of taking the price from the gift although everyone knows what it is). But what is essential is to maintain and strengthen the symbolic dimension of the economy. But unlike the "economy of symbolic exchanges" through gifts, symbolic economy has other principles.

In our opinion, these could be:

a) The principle of inversion. In terms of "economy economic" the products (goods and services) are created for their directly value of use. When I produce or buy a sweater I do considering its use to keep people warm in winter. If this property is not ensured, the sweater has no usable value and it is not sold.

But if someone buys the same sweater for other services that he can bring the usable value does not matter. A sweater can be bought and worn for creating various services such as: enjoyment of beauty, pleasure of wearing something new, the desire to make aesthetic taste, social status demonstration (to buy an expensive sweater from a luxury store). The markets no longer divide priority on economic criteria. A large market in which is operating the principle of massification - products are sold to the extent they are cheap and durable, even if they are standard and a market "unjust for luxury consumption - but on the varied sociocultural criteria, lifestyle" (values, preferences, profession, way of spending free time, availability for consumption or investment).

b) The principle of negotiation. Transmission of symbolic messaging by product involves a social relationship. The one who wants to signal, for example, the wish to move into a higher prestige category can start by behaving similarly to those who are now recognized as part of the group. He wants to convince that it is worthy of the "target group" by behaving according to its rules (which American sociologist R. K. Merton named "anticipatory socialization"). But what if the desired group rejects him? The symbolic practice is not so powerful. A process of tacit social "negotiation" occurs for the symbolic dimension to work. As negotiation to take place, the symbolic meaning of behavior must be clear. Therefore, the one who is practicing the anticipatory socialization will accompany the data signals with a series of explicit practice: speeches, contacts with representatives of the target group.

c) Principle of the alternatives of decoding. In symbolic consumption the ambiguous, vague sense was the game basis "as if" because each part (the one who offers a gift and the one who receives) decodes similar the meaning. In production and generalized consumption, the symbolism is alternative. In other words, in standardized mass production, occur other social processes particularly important.

The one who produces, let's say, a "prewashed" pair of trousers does not refer to a specific client. The client may be a protester, a young man who used to be a "fashionable," a poorer buyer for which the trousers are taken for their value in use, a man who will use the product only for execution of work so it can be dirty. He will buy the product "attached" to it as a sense. Other people offer, however, different interpretations of "others"' behavior. Some will see the use of "prewashed" pants a fact "that frustrated" (blatant affirmation of "originality"), others will approve (doing, "perhaps the same"), will be those who think that they are dealing with a "poor," some will think that something "bad taste," etc. The economy is thus interpreted symbolically and does not realize the symbolism as they would prove of general value.

d) The principle of symbolic change. Due to interpretable character of symbolism, this changes over time due to various factors. Pants of "jeans" type were used, at the beginning with the symbolic function protest, then this function is lost, being now buying to mark other meanings.

What is now considered "makeup" appeared symbolizing the place of the person in the social hierarchy of tribes. The wig could be worn at first only by some people with noble "rank," today is worn often only for its use value. A certain clothing (material quality, color, tailoring, etc.) was strictly regulated on social categories symbolizing the social status and marking the "social distance," today "democratization" of consumption deleted any "border" in the symbolism of clothing.

e) Principle of symbolic structurality. Since the symbolic dimension of production and societal consumption (generalized) is subject to processes of interpretation, how to practice this symbolism has a structured and structuring character. In other words, there is a socio-cultural model that generates the selection of symbolic alternatives, a correlation (rather severe) between the meaning of a person's behavior to different circumstances in which is. A person who buys an expensive sweater to mark, let's say, his status (communicate "I have money") he will seek to be observed with the same behavior when he buys food (more "special" products), he will seek to have a newer luxury car etc. In other words, there is a system of symbolic behavioral expectations that help to "predict" how someone would behave in one situation or another. But may be cases of "originality," when a rich person, who uses expensive products is presented in "public" with a "mass" clothing to "shock" to draw attention to him (in the case of artists). To buy from a luxury store for "using" the label, the desire to expose the social protest (wearing worn clothes, even broken by the hippy movement to show that, in fact, children with rich parents should not be judged by clothes they wear), reporting profession or job in an organization (uniform) etc.

We see that the same product can signal different meanings but also the same meaning may be indicated by different products (the desire to mark the social prestige can be achieved by luxury clothing, attendance at expensive restaurants, travel to countries known for high prices charged, providing large sums to charities, etc.).

f) The principle of symbol "levels." Production and mass consumption, standardized occur on the "surface" by the prevalence of the use value but "in depth" is performed symbolically. In this sense, the whole mass economy is subject to symbolic interpretation. Those who buy the products based on mass economic criteria (low price, product resistance) establishes, first, a direct relationship within the "economy and economic" between him and the seller. Apparently, no matter what "the others may say." He values the direct use value and use the product. Yet there is also a symbolic reference, because through my behavior I am exposing my social position, the place where I belong in the social hierarchy.

Big department stores have appeared, at first, as an expression of mass consumption, when the one who "enter" it to "recommend" as being part from the "basic social strata."[1] The one who wore "non-customized products" (standardized, massificate) is expressing the state to "others" and was "interpreted" by "others" through the mediation of his clothing. The reaction to this hierarchical consumption was the move to "democratized consumption." With little money we can buy products made in small series, with very different models and changing. It is about products with "secondary innovation" (the product itself remains unchanged but minor changes are made: (buttons, collars, special pockets on the same pattern of dress).

But this stage is about to be replaced with a new product symbolism: "products with a high degree of customization." This model ("Anthropocentric Production Systems") was initiated (in a special program) of EU in 1990, as promoting an "anti-Taylorist paradigm." The one who launched the new vision was Peter Brodner. The "anthropocentric production demonstrates a fundamental and universal alternative for manufacturing and engineering design work. This means, among other things, that it can incorporate different levels of technological and organizational development and not only works as a solution to develop the unsolved construction of the 'factory without people.'* This development can be seen in terms of competitiveness and (...) with greater economic effects than technocentric production when its fundamental principles expresses all the advantages."[2]

By customizing (consumers, producers and products), the economy gain a deep symbolic character (as shown above). A "narrow" segment (but growing) of markets practice a "conspicuous consumption"[3] representing the consumption aimed at highlighting the social status of an individual or express affiliation to a group. The luxury should not be taken for conspicuous consumption. Luxury consumption is marked by decency and good taste. The conspicuous consumption wants to shock: (diamond bracelets worn on foot, dresses with diamonds, jewelry for pets etc.). But there is a kind of conspicuous consumption to mark belonging to a group (which aims to shock), how was "legitimized" the "hippies" movement. There are various theories that try to explain the symbolism by product, such those that start from collectivist- objectivist vision or, conversely, from the individualistic-subjective.

The theories collectivist - collectivist start from the analysis of symbolization as a collective movement that would be guided by "common shared values" (T. Parsons). Social order is based on these values and, through them, by rules, which require, it generate generalized symbolic meanings. Who will violate the symbols will be considered "deviant." Thus, Parsons spoke of "integration of individuals against a common system of values, manifested through institutional legitimacy standards based on common goals, the ritual and different modes of expression. All these phenomena can be subsumed under a single emergent property of systems of social action, which may be called 'integration in the common values'"[4]

Based on common shared values, people "attach" similar symbols and behave in accordance with the rules. "Same systems of value standards are institutionalized in social systems and internalized in personalities and they in turn guide the actors in terms of orientation to the purposes and regulations of the means."[5] The complementary vision (individualistic-collective) is expressed very well in Weick's theory on "establishment." The theory - of constructivist style - is based on the thesis that reality refers to people who make social life, symbols are created by the people. "When people act, they orient the variables, introducing ordering directions, and literally create their own constraints."[6]

However, each individual can give his own symbolic interpretation, which would diverge or conflict with others. It is established a process of "sorting" by which society creates a set of "standard standards" on which ensure a dominant symbolic interpretation. We cannot, however, reduce the problem of values to that of symbols ("symbolic reductionism"). So that the symbols can function socially effectively, they must overcome personal subjective interpretations and be based on values - as the standards of social value. As Berger and Luckmann showed (in the theory of symbolic interactionism), "you can preserve your self-identification as a remarkable man only in an environment that can confirm this identity."[7]

Obviously, there are various "audiences" in relation with criteria defining my identity through products. As the definition that I want is deeper, it correlates with significant dimensions of human personality, with such the audience is (should be) wider. Hippy protest movement through clothing to show that "clothes do not make the man" supposed a larger audience than the signal I want to show by wearing a sweater and showing I have aesthetic taste. It is required to see what kind of public aims a man's behavior and what public is willing to capitalize this behavior. I may target the public that will reject me (do not appreciate the value of the signals that I give) and be accepted by a different public. In this way, the symbolic economy is a macrosocietal cultural building.

There are several "techniques" by which one can win the "public," it may provide recognition, preservation and strengthening of desired symbolic significance. Conversation is one of them. Through conversation we are seeking to decode the sign that the individual attached to the product, to make it "transparent" to others and gain recognition.

The credibility is an essential element in the functioning of symbolic economy. In economic economy if a sweater that I wear to keep warm keep me really warm, this is an empirical reality that cannot be questioned by anyone. In the symbolic economy, "reality" that sweater takes as a sign of the welfare state is questionable, negotiable and even questionable. In order the symbolic economy to function the signals should be mutually exchanged between the individual and the public to be credible and worthy of appreciation. Without this recognized likelihood, the "definition" of reality that the individual gives to the wear product cannot function socially. In this case, there have been interiorized and are constantly reaffirmed specific social sanctions against those who undermine the reality of doubt. One of these sanctions is ridiculing."[8] The ridiculing can be practiced by the public who reject as unlikely a "definition" that an individual gives to his conduct in respect of a product. If, for example, a man known to have a poor education, an uncivilized social behavior, a depraved life, etc., will wear clothes of "choice" that would "justify" its status (identity) of man "from high society," he will be rejected by the public and will be ridiculed (people will smile and say some" words "that will transmit signals of rejection).

Sometimes the rejection can be violent. In a tribe, it may be given corporal punishment if someone breaks the rules of tattoo and "puts his head" with tattoos that are not in his right. The permeability degree of a society plays an important role in symbolic economies. In a very hierarchical society, everyone has their "world" in which must live and to be alike. The servant that he would wear noble clothes would be severely punished. In a democratic society, the "alternative worlds" are available to individual for free. Recognition is not a selective criterion for prohibiting different symbolic behavior.

In the symbolic economy, behavior is not necessary to have an emotional charge. Behaviors related to products refer, for example, to the processes of secondary socialization. "In the secondary socialization, interiorization does not* need to be accompanied by an identification emotionally charged with significant others, the individual can internalize different realities without* identifying with them. Therefore, if in the secondary socialization there is an alternative world, the individual may opt for it in a manipulative way (...). The Individual internalizes new reality, but rather that it is his own * reality is a reality that it will be used by him only for certain purposes."[9] Consumer's behaviors are essential components of social processes, which, in turn, occur within given social structures. Symbolic economy works on the identification process (for gaining identity) of human.

  • [1] W. L. Warner gave a layering system in relation to income, profession, residential neighborhood, resulting the following stratification follows: three layers of basic subdivisions = lower-lower, lower-medium, lower-superior, medium-inferior, medium-medium, medium-superior, superior-lower, superior-medium, superior-superior.
  • [2] Brödner, Peter (2000), Fabrik. Berlin: Sigma Reiner, Balis Verlag. (English edition Shape of Future Technology, The Anthropocentric Alternative. Berlin, London: Springer Verlag, 1999, 8).
  • [3] Brémond, J., A. Gélédon (2002), Dictionaire des Sciences Economiques et Sociales, Paris: 2B82elin, 119.
  • [4] Parsons, Talcott (1937), The Structure of Social Action. New York: Free Press, 268.
  • [5] Parsons, Talcott, Eduard A. Shils (1951), "Values, Motives and Systems of Action." In Towards a General Theory of Action. New York: Harper and Row.
  • [6] Weick, Karl (1969), The Social-Psychology of Organization of Psychology. Mass.: Addison Wesley.
  • [7] Berger, Peter, and Thomas Luckmann (1999), The Social Construction of Reality. Bucharest: Univers, 179.
  • [8] Ibid, 182.
  • [9] Ibid. p.199 (x - emphasis in text)
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