Contribution to GTI Roundtable "Why We Consume"

Igor Matutinović

Our behaviors, including those that relate to personal consumption, are to a great extent socially constructed. Social construction of reality and social imprinting shapes and ordinates individual values and beliefs about the world at large or its particular aspects, like the natural environment. We can call this social construction of reality a dominant worldview—a set of beliefs, symbols, values, and segments of objective knowledge that are widely shared in a given society in a given period of time. Using subsumptive hierarchy relationship, we can wrap it up as {dominant worldview {individual values and beliefs {attitudes {intentions {behavior}}}}}, meaning that individual behavior is to a great extent constrained by a dominant worldview. In that sense, many of us have the propensity to “compulsively” consume because our culture shapes us in that particular way.

But this does not exclude the impact of our neural wiring and primary rewards mechanisms on our behaviors, as Sterling argued in his text. We are chemical and biological entities, and, therefore, constraints to our behavior arise at lower levels as well: {material world {biological world {social world}}} → {chemical dynamics {organism dynamics {social dynamics}}}.

In that sense, I see the connection between the constraints that arise from our biochemistry and our worldviews, which is well expressed in Sterling's text: “... as capitalist social organization shrinks the diversity of primary rewards to the realm of material consumption, they become predictable and less satisfying. Limited to a few sources of primary reward, we consume them more intensely as the circuit adapts, and eventually they become addictions.” And his final inference—“Therefore, social policies should follow the precept “Expand satisfactions!” We should re-examine and enumerate the myriad sources that were alienated under capitalism”—in my view is a call to re-examine and change our dominant worldview.

Igor Matutinović
Igor Matutinović is an environmental researcher and a director of the Center for GfK Market Research in Croatia. He teaches at the Zagreb School of Economics and Management and at the University of Zagreb. He holds a PhD in ecological economics from the University of Zagreb.

Cite as Igor Matutinović, contribution to GTI Roundtable "Why We Consume," Great Transition Initiative (February 2016),

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