The Rise of the Prosumer
On December 11th, 2009, the latest in our regular series of video conferences took place at the HSE Department of General Sociology as part of the Master’s programme in ‘Sociology of the Public Sphere and Social Communications’. George Ritzer, a prominent sociologist, was the speaker. You can watch a video of the event here .
This time we connected to the University of Maryland and the topic under discussion was the phenomenon of ‘prosumerism', a word made from combining ‘consumerism'and ‘production', a new area of analysis in the sphere of consumption. The main guest, the well-known contemporary sociologist George Ritzer, read a short introductory lecture which was followed by a discussion with colleagues and postgraduate students invited by the professor.
According to Ritzer, the term ‘prosumer'was invented by Alvin Toffler in his book ‘The Third Wave'. Prosumerism originally referred to pre-industrial societies where a product's producer was at the same time its consumer. The ‘second wave', the industrial revolution, radically separated the functions of production and consumption. But, during the ‘third wave', reintegration of these functions and 'the rise of the prosumer'has taken place. Continuing, A. Toffler's thought, Ritzer said that the modern concept of computerized and digital prosumerism is built on a new basis.
Firstly, contemporary capitalists are unable to directly control contemporary prosumers, whose ability to resist intrusions have obviously risen.
On the other hand, are capitalists exploiting prosumers? I.e., in the fast-food industry consumers do for free the work that could be done by paid (although often low-paid) employees such as waiters. Another example is Web 2.0 (Amazon, Wikipedia, Facebook):the consumers are also the producers here, providing reviews and information but at the end of the day the profit (or its potential) belongs to the corporations.
Obviously, there is the possibility of a whole new new economic form (or ‘structure') developing. If classic capitalism is focused on receiving profit, this new economic model (currently encapsulated in Web 2.0) is oriented to production - mainly of information - which has a free and open nature.
In addition, we can also see a new balance of focus:abundance versus deficit and effectiveness versus efficiency.
You can find out more about the discussion that took place by watching footage of the video conference. You might also be interested in these two articles, which were used as the basis for the lecture and discussion.
Video of the discussion with George Ritzer