Things of Perec as a socio-economical laboratory: a critique of consumerism? - Université Paris Nanterre Access content directly
Conference Papers Year : 2018

Things of Perec as a socio-economical laboratory: a critique of consumerism?


This communication will attempt to reconsider the main critical arguments about consumption through an original sociological material, Perec’s novel Things: A Story of the Sixties (1965). Literature will be used as a sociological and socio-economic laboratory: the narrative could be an illustration of social theories and concepts but also a way to question the theoretical representations. First, Things could appear as a perfect illustration of many critical theories of consumption through social conditioning of needs, impact of advertising and even alienation and self-dispossession (Galbraith, Baudrillard, Marcuse, Adorno, etc.). But, secondly, the two main characters could also appear as a figure of the homo oeconomicus: they attempt to maximize satisfaction, to explore their own preferences, desires and dreams, to arbitrate between labor and consumption. Consumption and material life are the epicenter of the couple’s search of happiness and self-taking care. Critique of consumption must consider this ambivalence of consumption. Finally, critical approach of consumption and consumer theory could not only consider the conditions of satisfaction but should question the purposes. The main critical argument could focus on considering consumption as an end itself (as the economic consumer theory does) when labor is reduced to a mean. Thus, a critical form of life that reconsider the order of finalities could be introduced, labor could be central and consumption secondary -as a mean. Affluent society is not a social purpose rather a condition for emancipation. Through this perspective, the novel’s epilogue appears quite melancholic: the couple accepts new jobs to earn higher wages and buy new things but the two characters, Jérôme and Sylvie, failed to find any meaning in their lives. Consumption isn’t the direct matter of alienation but considering the job only as a mean to consume could be one.
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hal-04464611 , version 1 (18-02-2024)


  • HAL Id : hal-04464611 , version 1


Anne de Rugy. Things of Perec as a socio-economical laboratory: a critique of consumerism?. Consumption and consumerism: Conceptual and empirical sociological challenges, European Sociological Association (RN5), Aug 2018, Copenaghe, Denmark. ⟨hal-04464611⟩
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