The Social Relations of Consumption: Corporate Law and the Meaning of Consumer Culture
39 Pages Posted: 25 May 2016
Date Written: 2015
A mature assessment of the society we are making for ourselves, and the legacy we are leaving to the future, must come to terms with consumer culture. Theoretical discourse, as well as common experience, betray persistent ambiguity about what consumerism means to and says about us. In this Article, I argue that this ambiguity can in part be explained by examining the social relations of consumption in contemporary society. These involve, crucially, the relationship between producer and consumer that is dictated by corporate governance law, and embodied in the decision-making dynamics of the directors who command corporate operations. The enigmatic nature of consumer culture can be understood as resulting from a lack of integrity in the social relations between corporations and consumers. Having made this diagnosis, I argue that the character of our consumer culture can be improved by introducing greater sincerity into the social relations of consumption. These concerns contribute to a broader set of arguments for reforming corporate governance law to require corporate directors to attend to the interests of multiple stakeholders in corporate decision-making, and not just the interests of shareholders. Regardless of whether one embraces this prescription, the analysis developed here can enrich our understanding of what is at stake in debates about our corporate law.
Keywords: corporate law, corporate governance, corporate social responsibility, shareholder primacy, consumer culture, consumption, production, philosophy, cultural history
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