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List of things which are neither production nor consumption

Economic anthropologists have long debated the nature of Value and economic activities such as Production[?], Consumption, and Exchange. Traditionally, anthropologists accept Karl Marx's definition of production as the transformation of nature through human activity. Yale anthropologist David Graeber has pointed out a tendancy in the literature to define consumption as "any activity that involves the purchase, use or enjoyment of any manufactured or agricultural product for any purpose other than the production or exchange of new commodities."

Graeber has recently argued against this idea of consumption, insofar as it undergirds an image of "society as a gigantic engine of production and destruction in which the only significant human activity is either manufacturing things, or engaging in acts of ceremonial destruction so as to make way for more: a vision which in fact sidelines most things that real people actually do and insofar as it is translated into actual economic behavior, is obviously unsustainable."

However, other anthropologists such as Bruce Owens have argued that many economies are characterized by objects that neither circulate nor are consumed.

For reference purposes, it seems worthwhile to have a list of economic activities which might not fit comfortably into the dichotomy between production and consumption. Note that if consumption is any activity using things that have been sold or exchanged, except for the use of making things for sale or exchange (which is production) then virtually all activities undertaken by individuals living in a built environment would be slotted into one of these categories.

The ensuing list explores the in-between areas in this grid.

One heuristic principle for inclusion might be to think of an activity which if undertaken 200 years ago would not be considered consumption, but in current discourse might be classified that way.

Here are three more formal criteria:
1) It is an economic activity (not any old noun, like a 'rock')
2) It is not consumption, in the narrow sense of simply purchasing something.
3) It is not production, in the sense of being intended for sale or exchange as a commodity.

Comments on applicability can be included paranthetically.

The List

  • Cooking a meal (production of finished goods from raw materials, consumes energy) (isn't this transformation of nature through human activity?)
  • Extinguishing a fire (isn't this transformation of nature through human activity?)
  • dressing and undressing (consuming, that is, using clothing: both actions)
  • Applying makeup (consuming make-up, going from a non-used state to a non-reuseable state, becoming a commodity (something to be consumed))
  • Watching television (consuming electricity and often times commercials, depreciating phospors in the TV)
  • Playing in a band (with musical instruments that have been purchased?)
  • Falling in love
  • Reading (can be considered consumption of commodities)
  • Listening to music (can be considered consumption of commodities)
  • Going to a museum or gallery (consuming items of value due to light destruction, albiet very minor, very long-term destruction)
  • Taking a photograph (consuming film - can also be considered an act of production in the finished photograph)
  • Gardening (isn't this transformation of nature through human activity?)
  • Writing (on paper, consumes ink and paper, on a computer consumes electricity as well as depreciation of computer's value)
  • Conducting a coming of age ceremony
  • going window shopping
  • doing sports
  • acting
  • teaching
  • having an argument
  • playing games
  • having sex (unless you produce children or consume bodily fluids)
  • attending a religious service (but some Communists states ban such activities)
  • looking at old photos
  • aimlessly surfing the Internet (Freud would say nothing is aimless)
  • waiting for something to happen or for someone
  • add more here

See David Graeber, Towards an Anthropological Theory of Value (ISBN 0312240457)

Owens, Bruce McCoy "Unruly Readings: Neofetishes, Paradoxical Singularities, and the Violence of Authentic Value," in Ethnos 64(2): 249-262.



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