You are here

Whither Prosumption - and Why?

From this very interesting keynote at Prosumer Revisited we move on to a presentation by Kai-Uwe Hellmann, who returns us to the bigger picture of trying to understand what this 'prosumer', what this active, productive, consumer figure actually is. He begins by considering Toffler's own work on the prosumer - he noted that the distinction between producer and consumer was a phenomenon of the industrial age, but that this distinction did not exist during preindustrial times and is disappearing again in the postindustrial age. But what does prosumer mean - getting the consumer to do the job, becoming part of the production process, producing goods and services for one's own use?

There is a continuum of activity here, from consumption to production. Towards the consumption end, there is only latent activity amongst consumers; beyond this, customers are more directly involved in service relationships; and closer again to the production end, Kai-Uwe suggest, we find the prosumer proper, but this role begins to merge with the role of the producer itself. He also points to the Forrester 'ladder of user involvement' from inactivity through spectatorship to membership, collecting activities, critical activities, and actual content creation.

From one perspective, any consumer is a prosumer: the consumer produces an experience - but this is not a form of production and labour in a conventional sense. So, we should only begin to speak of prosumption when there is a real production of content, when real labour is being done, but it is necessary to define this further, too. Another way to define prosumerism, then, is that prosumption exists if a product or service can only function if a substantial contribution is made by the consumer.

What is cause and effect here, though? There is extrinsically motivated customer participation (e.g. in self-service) and outsourcing; there is a problem of complexity in mass marketing which may be reduced through direct marketing; there is the emergence of an experience economy, a dislocation of participation, a move towards intrinsically motivated participation, and an emergence of other physical and intellectual motivations. In 1986, Philip Kotler outlines a number of reasons for the move towards prosumption: working time, education, services costs, physical pleasure, higher quality, and the individualisation of goods and services. Perhaps this prosumer area constitutes a specific field of consumption.

Kai-Uwe now applies this to political action. Here, the consumption end is characterised by the the general political audience; beyond this are citizens, and beyond this (towards the production end again) are social movements. There are manifest and latent functions for such social movements, and the same applies for the prosumer movement, Kai-Uwe suggests: there are manifest and latent endogenous motivations (those manifest motivations explained by Kotler, as well as latent ones like reputation and communal action) as well as exogenous latent functions such as the compensation of lack: here, participants are disappointed with what's conventionally on offer to them, and find fulfilment somewhere else; such fulfilment is not necessary long-lasting, however, and leads to a continuous movement process of participants, always in search of new involvement possibilities.

This may account for a continuous movement between politics and economy, between prosumption and consumption, for example. This means that (the motivation for?) prosumption could be defined as a combination of loyalty, voice, and exit; additionally, it would also mean that the move to prosumption is driven by the cultural hegemony of the consumption society. However, this dominance may not be as strong as it's been described in the literature. Another explanation, then, would be one of prosumerism as driven by a small number of highly active individuals. It may be necessary, then, to distinguish between different forms of participation here - at the simplest level, for example, into passive, active, and critical, for example.

Other areas may have ideas to offer here - role theory, which distinguishes between audience and service roles (roles which may be conflated through the rise of prosumerism); a sociology of audiences (an internal differentiation between different participants); an establishment of different prosumer research paradigms; research into intrinsic and extrinsic motivations for participation; and a distinction into external and internal techniques. There are several categorisation problems here, too - distinctions between passivity and activity, between experience and action (internal and external), between different types of participant experience and action, between labour and non-labour, and between terms such as activity, labour, production, and service. And what do we mean by categories such as production for the self, production for exchange, consumption, and co-production - do we still need the category of prosumption at all?

Technorati : , , , , , , , : , , , , , , ,