Collective consumption has become a major issue in recent developments in urban research, as a focal point in the analysis of the aspect of urbanization concerned with social conditions of reproduction of the labour force. A survey of traditional approaches shows that they adopt a conception of the state as promoter of increasing welfare. The limitations of econometric measures of ‘social welfare’ and the associated theories of consumer choice are also discussed. Recent radical studies consider collective means of consumption as means of domination and repression by the state, either by way of an Althusserian analysis of ideological state apparatus, or by an extension of the critique of psychiatric institutions elaborated by M. Foucault. The concrete analysis of collective consumption must go beyond this useful but unilateral perspective, also beyond the recurrent empiricist temptation to use concepts as ‘boxes’ for direct classification of empirical objects, and try to link together theoretically the various and contradictory aspects of socialized consumption processes. Various concepts must be developed regarding the nature of social relations of consumption: relations of production and circulation, ownership and real appropriation of the means of consumption, forms of socialization transforming these relations, nature of the use value of the means of consumption and relation with the concrete process of its realization, forms of the division of labour, ideological processes inside the consumption process. The movements and results of class struggle in the reproduction sphere can be followed through the analysis of the contradictions in collective consumption—between state domination and repression and development of the labour force, between socialization of consumption, also considering precisely its social distribution, and capitalist interests.
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