Performing Co-production : On the logic and practice of shopping at IKEA

Abstract: Contemporary western society has often been described as a “consumer society” in relation to the producer oriented form that characterised the industrial society. While consumer habits used to be seen as a reflection of a person’s occupational status or place in a stable societal hierarchy, it has now become recognised as a practice through which people’s identity and status is partially defined by the choices they make as consumers. This has not only changed the view of the consumer but also created a new role for economic actors. Instead of merely responding to demand they have been recognised as active participants in ongoing processes of socio-cultural transformation.In this thesis I develop a particular understanding of the relation between the activities taking place within consumer markets and specific processes of home making. With theoretical reference to a performative perspective on economic markets and using my own empirical study of the multinational retailer IKEA’s operation in the North East of England, the thesis describes shopping at IKEA as a situated encounter where economic exchange becomes framed as meaningful in particular ways. At IKEA, this process is specifically organised around a principle of co-production. By doing part of the work in terms of picking up and assembling flat-packed furniture, the consumers are offered a low price. Rather than being limited to this work, co-productivity is here identified as a “calculative” logic and practice that characterises and frames the shopping experience as a whole and creates a relation between the consumer and the retailer through the medium of the retail brand. The co-productive calculation established through the shopping experience then continues to make sense as part of ongoing processes of home making. It does so in ways that enhances the immediate, temporary and mobile aspects of the home. Hence, it is by linking the experience of shopping at IKEA and processes of home making that the relation between economic exchange and the ongoing processes of socio-cultural transformation is identified.Rather than answering a particular question, the research and analysis constitutes a specific approach to how economic exchange may be understood and offers some suggestions as to what this may entail in terms of how relations within economic markets may be organised.

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