Perspectives in Digital Culture/The Prosumer Society

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The term ‘prosumer’ was first introduced by Alvin Toffler in his 1980 book, The Third Wave, and explores the idea that as society shifts towards the post-industrial age, the producer and the consumer have amalgamated into the prosumer. The prosumer actively works to produce the services and goods they buy and consume. For example: self check-outs at the supermarket, the DIY furniture of Ikea, automated ticket machines at train stations, or online order and delivery services such as ‘e-bay’ or ‘Amazon’. It is interesting how the term 'prosumer' is helping to blur the lines between the traditional separate uses of urban space. At one time grocers or shop owners would have lived in the space above their stores but since commercialism boomed in the 1950s, a clear distinction between areas has been established (e.g. neighborhoods vs factory spaces). The introduction of prosumption has led to a lack of distinction between where work and home life begins and ends. This makes one wonder about the effect that technology is going to have on the urban landscape in future years.

Prosumer is a compound word which is made up of the words producer and consumer. Understanding the concept of what a prosumer is means that we must first understand the two terms which create the word. A producer is an individual or group or people who use the resources at their disposal to create something for the reason of allowing other people to make use of or consume. The means of production in previous generations were scarcely available in the media sector and only professionals had any real access to the equipment and resources to generate media content Innovations in technology such as digital cameras and publicly available video editing software and many more has meant that the means of production have become more widely dispersed throughout the population.[1] Consumers are the people who make use of the services or good which has been created by the producers. Before the wider spread of production tools, consumers had no real say in the good and services which were produced and were unable to make any form of contribution to the production process, the only option available was each individual's preference e.g. do they prefer Coke or Pepsi? BBC or ITV [2] During this time consumers were seen as passive as they could make no difference to the production process and had to make do with what was being created by others, despite their products and services not necessarily providing everything that they wanted.

Once the means of production became more readily available to more people, prosumers began to become more pertinent, especially in the media sector. Prosumers have the ability to create what they wanted to fit their needs. No longer were consumers bound by the products and services which were produced by large production companies. Technology innovations gives the prosumer the ability to generate content or software which appeals to them and can fill the gaps which have not been fulfilled by traditional means of production

It is also important to note that while prosumption might seem to be a brand new era – where individuals become prosumers willingly, all for the flourishing society – it has long been essential to certain individuals. Rather than something individuals do in their spare-time as a choice, e.g. DIY. Historically, post-war working class have had to rebuild their lives, and in our contemporary society certain parts of the world are more impoverished than others and prosumption is a logical course of action for survival (“Essential DIY”). Prosumption cannot be seen only from a positive outlook of a new age, but needs to be seen under the context of the society it is in.[3]

History of the Prosumer Society

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The Emergence of the Prosumer Society

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Although the concept of the prosumer society might appear to be contemporary it has actually been present in various academic circles for the past thirty-forty years and has existed in society since the age of agriculture, twelve thousand years ago in which farmers ate what they grew, and wives fashioned jewellery from pebbles and seashells. Alvin Toffler tracks the emergence of today's prosumer as a consequence of different stages throughout history, what he titles the three waves.

In Toffler's book titled The Third Wave he argues that consumers were just an observable occurrence only seen in the Industrial Age. He fears that as society moves into the post industrial age that we will see a decline in the number of pure consumers.

The First Wave

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The First Wave sees agriculture as the governing societal establishment. The bulk of people are prosumers as they grow or hunt their own food, fashion their own clothing and create their own forms of entertainment. Some minorities of society specialised in a craft or some form of specific production such as black-smithing and carpentry. In this the minority of peoples’ survival will come from trading their services for what others produce, branding them as consumers.[4]

The Three Waves can also be looked at in relation to larger aspects of society, such as the dominant processes at work, changing norms and social relationships. This allows for a more comprehensive summation of each of the waves. In First Wave societies, according to Toffler, the monopoly process is self-production, the norm is basic survival, whilst the important social relationships centre around kinship, friendship and tribe.

The Second Wave

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Toffler's Second Wave ran for the majority of the 18th and the early 19th century and can be defined as the wave of integration as society embraced the idea of mass production and the assembly of cheap consumer goods. The Second Wave is centralised around the Industrial Revolution as this brought with it one piece of technology that changed the way that goods were made and distributed; the engine. The introduction of the engine made possible for the vast circulation of goods to be shipped all across the country and create a larger market for prosumers.

The engine also enabled industrial society manufacturers to introduce machinery that can produce huge quantities of goods within a smaller area of time than normal human labour and thus, cut costs. This machinery also helped support the high production levels farmers would need to maintain the needs of today's megalopolises.

The Second Wave society is defined by the construction and development of a system dealign with trade and exchange. From the first wave society to the second we see a shift from survival to a split between indulgence and efficiency. The norm of efficiency applies to production while the norm for indulgence is applied to consumption. In regards to the social relationships at play friendship is still present although the new interaction of businesses deals and contracts have now emerged due to the development of exchange networks.

In his book, The Third Wave, Toffler argued that the Second Wave changed the relationship of the prosumer/consumer function of society and has led to some forms of alienation for individuals as they no longer produce what they consumed. Majority of people left agriculture to work in the now dominant area of production house and office work, Second Wave work now overshadowed the old working style of the First Wave and brought with it much higher levels of interdependency and division of labour. This has supplemented the prosumer into the role of the consumer as they do not gain from the products that they make and use the income that they receive to purchase goods from the market. It wasn't until the 1970s and early 1980s were computer technology became more affordable and began making its way up into our homes that Toffler's Third Wave hit.

The Third Wave

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According to Toffler, the main process that takes place in the Third Wave is the demarketization and an increase in prosumption. Instead of mass consumption, society wants to focus more on individuation. Toffler states that the increased prosumption is a result of the reduced working hours of 40 hours a week compared to an average of 80–90 hours during the Industrial Revolution. Because of the lack of jobs a further cutback in working hours and shared work places will foster presumption even more and lead to more leisure time. This time can then be used to produce things; thus people who work less also save money that they would otherwise spend on increasing service costs. The dominant institution is no longer the industry as in the Second Wave but the family and the home is more important than the workplace since more time is spent there. It is also the space where the production takes place and where individuation can be fulfilled. The role of family and neighbours gains importance and they replace co-workers and individuation replaces efficiency.

The Third Wave is situated to be after the industrial age and situates presumption into the traditional household.[4] This can also be attributed to the impact of the World Wars (especially in the Western World), people in their households had their own way of production and consumption – prosumption was an essential part of the working class during war times, but evolved post-World War II to be a leisure activity as well.[3]

Rise of Web 2.0

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Where searching "DIY" gives about 15,600,000 results.

The development of web 2.0 technologies has created a large increase in internet ready, mobile devices. The increased development and wide use of Wi-Fi networks has created a society where online communication has become an everyday occurrence for a large population of the world. These developments have made web 2.0 technologies a main area of prosumption.[5] There are many websites where people are able to upload their own content, such as YouTube for example. Other websites such as Wikipedia allow for the modification of already existing content. The production would be writing an article for a Wikipedia page or uploading a video to YouTube. Things such as audio and video production, which in previous times, was only available to professionals who had access to the means of production. Technological developments have meant that basically anyone who has a smart phone now has the capability to make a film, with the use of the camera and can then be uploaded and shared online straight from that device. The consumption of web 2.0 technologies differs depending on what kind of content is generated on that site. Therefore, consumption would be listening to a song on SoundCloud or reading a blog post. There are different degrees of prosumption, from a simple like or comment to elaborate texts uploaded on the web. Individuals participate in the production of online content for a number of reasons, one being that they enjoy creating their blog, song, video or Facebook post and they enjoy sharing it with their community of that site.[4] The sites become a community because everyone who is a part of the production and consumption of the content is able to communicate through comment section or social media. Someone will produce a video and post it on YouTube. Then they may watch a video which has been uploaded by someone else and comment on the video, offering advice or possible criticism. This could lead on to some form of collaboration between the users who could go on to create something together and then upload it for their online community to enjoy, which will gives these prosumers a sense of belonging.[4] The difference of prosumption online compared to previous generations is that the prosumers are generally not going to be consuming the content that they have produced themselves but instead will consume content which is similar to that of what they have created within the same online community. Prosumption on web 2.0 technologies is often part of a collaborative effort. Users will generate a small part of the content and then be able to consume the content in its entirety.[5]

Position in a Capitalist society

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Historical Implications

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Its common knowledge that since the late 1800s, the focus has shifted from the slave-oriented forced labor with its clear hierarchical structure of benefactor and worker to a more modern work ethic with the emergence of capitalism. Karl Marx (1818–1883) is the most prominent and well known figure in this field and by looking at these historical and sociological implications then prosumerism can be understood in the modern world. Marxism states that people are compelled to work in order to earn the money they need to acquire what they need or desire. In the work force, Capitalists focus on balance sheets instead of flesh and blood people, implicating a lack of individuality and using 'people as tools.'


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In order to break away from this cycle of exploitation, prosumption provides the perfect alternative. In Edward Comor's article 'Contextualizing and Critiquing the Fantastic Prosumer: Power, Alienation and Hegemony' (2010) he argues that people are able to fully express themselves through their actions as a prosumer. It enables the entrenchment of the status quo as people who were once manual laborers are now in charge of their own business decisions.

ICT and the advancement of technology in recent years has enabled untouchable development in which production, distribution, exchange and consumption has shifted limits to unimaginable proportions.

However, this can cause many problems. Academic websites that run on free public contributions create a very stark contrast to the idea of capitalism. Some prosumers may receive recognition for their involvement but no financial compensation. With this knowledge on the Internet for anyone to have access to other people could regurgitate the information and move it to other media platforms in order to make a profit. In order for prosumerism to be a success and pose a challenge to the capitalist society in which it exists then the individual prosumers themselves need to work and create primarily for personal, social needs rather than for exchange or profit. Comor writes, 'whether or not what is produced/ co-created benefits the individual or the group, if the purpose and result of prosumer labor is the advancement of exchange values or profits, status quo relations will largely remain unchanged,' emphasizing this integral point.

The Capitalist system

Capitalist Orientated Businesses

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Websites could not function in the way that they do without prosumers. As this is the case, capitalists are very attracted to those who prosume on the internet, as they are a source of information at a low cost. This low cost strategy therefore causes capitalist businesses to maximise their profits. It is said that prosumers gain the greatest “material gains” (Ritzer et al. 2012) due to them doing most of the work with no pay. Prosumers often do this on sites such as Amazon, where the book prices may be lower in comparison to stores such as Waterstones. Amazon's prices are marginally cheaper thank Waterstones as the prosumers, which are consuming the products, are doing most of the work for Amazon. These prosumers are therefore allowing Amazon to gain a larger profit due to cutting their research costs. Through social networking sites, prosumers are often bombarded with adverts from websites which encourage prosumers to click on them. When done so, as well as being convinced to buy a product they may not of needed, prosumers give websites their personal data which allow them to further target other adverts. eBay and Google are also websites that are a capitalist orientated business. This use of capitalist businesses may highlight the fact that prosumers may be being exploited without even knowing it.

Prosumption and Alienation

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In Comor's article 'Contextualizing and Critiquing the Fantastic Prosumer: Power, Alienation and Hegemony' (2010),[6] he notes on Marx's view the a main part of life in capitalist and political economics is alienation. Due to human nature people have begun to idolize social products which in turn has seen man being owned by his own creation and in result 'lost ownership of himself', (Fromm, 1955: 115).[7]

Society and the Concept of the Prosumer

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The Concept of the Prosumer

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The concept of a ‘prosumer’ was a phrase first coined by cultural theorist Alvin Toffler in 1980. The phrase is relevant to the hybrid model that combines two separate binaries which are the consumer and the producer. This was the first time this phrase had been used, however the argument of the prosumer society has been around for a great deal longer including work by well know theorist Karl Marx amongst others. The concept is in relation to how we in society are both the consumer and the producer, and the influence this has on other factors. It is better not to think of these as two separate things but to consider it as an equilibrium between both. In society usually one of these factors dominate, and we will experience both a top heavy consumer or producer society. When both of these factors have reached a balance this is referred to as ‘pure prosumption’.[8]

Prosumer Theory's Relation to Society

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In terms of how prosumer theory relates to society, there has been a shift over time seeing a decline in the material industry and an uprising of the immaterial. This comes with the fragmentation of the industrial where production is becoming ever more disintegrated from manual labour and more concentrated on the ideas and knowledge behind the products. Considering the emphasis placed on things such as advertising and marketing, we in society are becoming ever more involved in what we are consuming and with that what we are producing.

In society prosumption affects us all on a daily basis. For example, the reduced workforce in major supermarkets where it we are always being encouraged to ‘self scan’ or more recently ‘scan as you shop’ making the need for human cashiers obsolete and putting the shoppers to work. The role of the prosumer is exactly what it would suggest: a being which both consumes and produces in society. This could be producing with labour, or knowledge acquired, and consuming the same products which they assist in producing.

Toffler's Theory Of Prosumption in Terms Of Society

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Most of Toffler's key theories and philosophies can be found in his three books; ‘Future Shock’ (1970), ‘The Third Wave’ (1980) and ‘Powershift’ (1990). These three books come together to form a trilogy that develops Toffler's idea about change in a seamless dialogue. Toffler was interested in what would happen to people when their entire society would change and transform into something new and unexpected. His book ‘Future Shock,’ looks into this process of change and how change affects people and organisations. ‘The Third Wave,’ focuses on the directions in which these changes are taking us, and ‘Powershift’ deals with the control of future changes, who will shape them and how. Toffler anticipated the break-up of the nuclear family, the genetic revolution, the ‘throw-away’ society, the resurgence of emphasis on education, and the increased importance of knowledge in society.[9]

In Toffler's view, contemporary society is moving away from the thought of production and consumption as separate forces and is moving toward the Third Wave. This signals the reintegration in the ‘rise of the prosumer.’ [10] The dominant institution in Third Wave societies is the home, in which most people carry on with their own production and consumption. Because people are now producing and consuming more of their own goods and services, markets become less important because they exist in order to meet the exchange needs in those societies where most production is for exchange.[11]

Social Changes

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The Decline in Traditional Production

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The general decline in the importance and involvement of what is held traditionally as production within society, according to Ritzer, has led most economies within the developed world to focus on consumption as opposed to production.[12] Material labour, one of the key aspects of this kind of production, has taken a less prominent status within contemporary production, and is instead being met by the increased appearance of immaterial production.[13] This decline can be noted as the first of several social changes that Ritzer cites as causes for the expansion of prosumption within both practical and academic contexts.

The experience of the modern consumer production has two specific extremes. In one extreme, consumers give reason and increase value to a certain product, that may include company interaction, this is also known as a form of immaterial labour, which is shown in the example of tourism. Whereas in another extreme, consumers actually become a co-producer of a company's production and examples of this are shown in certain fashion brands.[14] Further, consumers who have an involvement with the company, are willing to pay more for that specific type of product, which was recognised by Franke and Piller with the introduction of the watch tool-kit case.[15] It is this extreme that gives an indication to just how important the consumer has become in recent times in the decline of traditional production.[16] Evidence by Manolis has given an insight into the significance for enhancing the customer-company collaboration where, essentially, the consumer becomes the producer.[17] The main aspects of what new approaches have been made into modern production involves a rise of immaterial labour due the fact that it adds socioeconomic value to the production.[18] This has even resulted in companies participating with the consumer activities which creates more market value and thus creating competition within the markets.[19] The decline in traditional production has effectively made way for the new prosumer process which inevitably has introduced an important change that recognises consumers as workers, which increases the value of production in the expanding prosumer society.

The Rise of Immaterial Production

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The shift in focus from material to immaterial production in society is discussed by Ritzer as the second social change that has led to an increase in both the practical and academic profile of prosumption.[12] Ideas for improvements to existing methods, new product designs and other such things are now seen as more important than the production of the end product itself.[12] An example of this shift in action would be within the mobile technology industry. Companies, such as Apple Inc. have marketed their products not by the scale of the manufacturing or physical production, but rather upon the new features of the product,[20] such as software functionality and hardware features. The newest mobile operating system or an increased screen size are now seen as more significant than the number of products manufactured.

It can also be noted that prosumption has been further enabled within the context of immaterial production. The production of open-source computer software relies on prosumption as a way to survive, as the newer software is developed and tested by users of the software itself. For example, Linux is a free and open-source operating system that can be used by anyone and contributed to by anyone for free.[21]

Brands and Prosumers

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Branding, and its relationship with the consumer, has evolved in a way that has both accommodated and encouraged the involvement of the consumer. The shared meanings that embody a brand have been subject to the contributions of prosumers, whose interaction with the brand has, in essence, produced the brand's identity. These created meanings are referred to by Arvidsson as a " “social relation, a shared meaning, an emotional involvement that was not there before”.[22] This utilisation of the prosumer by brands can also be seen to contribute to certain shared experiences and values that are intrinsically associated with a certain brand.

The idea of these shared experiences and values can be viewed in the case of a number of different brands. For example, there is a level of trust that exists between eBay users that came about from successful interactions between said users which led to this brand-wide level of trust.[22] Another case would be that of the popular video game Team Fortress 2. The game, while initially developed by the game developer, Valve Corporation, has functioned with a vast amount of prosumer support in the form of content contributions. This support has led to entire game updates that were compiled from user generated content alone, such as the End of the Line update from December 2014. The End of the Line update featured a number of in-game features, including cosmetic items and a multiplayer map, as well as a 15 minute long animated short, all of which were created by users.[23] The content produced for this update was added to Valve's user generated content hub: Steam Workshop.[24]

All in all, in an economy and society which values symbolic products like brands and fashion, self-named consumers are just as productive as the self-named producers from whom they buy their products and services.[25]

The McDonaldisation of Society

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Jurgenson came up with the theory in which individuals are causing an increase in the rationalization, in terms of what is consumed in society, thus making it relevant to acknowledge Ritzer's work on the ‘McDonaldisation of Society’.[26] This is the term he established to explain the rise of the importance of the consumer in production. This relates and expands on the notion of rationalisation first introduced by Weber, where he claimed that it was the bureaucracy that resulted in the paradigm of rationalisation.[26] However, Ritzer's work has stated that it is the consumers that hold more importance in the outcome of businesses. McDonaldisation is how Ritzer observed fast-food restaurants and recognised the processes that they have undergone. Specifically, the changes that have occurred have been since the mid-1950s to which restaurants have introduced techniques, such as, the customer getting their own drinks and even their food and recently there has been the emphasis on the customer being able to make their own foods (i.e. sandwich bars). Ritzer even noted that fast-food businesses and other industries, like airlines, introduced these particular techniques, which also included making the consumers clean up after themselves.[27] This provides insight into the notion that prosumer society is in effect.

Ritzer stated that this was the beginning of the prosumer and the decline of the employer. This new way of putting the prosumers to work is what Tapscott and Williams called the ‘wikinomic’ model which Tapscott developed and recognised as a major part of the rationalisation of businesses, in terms of the new process in which consumers are becoming producers. This is associated with the introduction of Web 2.0 and how it has established the internet in becoming more predominant in relation to the prosumer society, which was recognized by Beer and Burrows, as Web 2.0 allows users to produce content.[28] Thus, Ritzer's work holds significance in how the prosumer society is influencing businesses, especially the internet as it provides an insight into the why the prosumer will remain important in the prosumer society.

The Rise Of The Experience Economy

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Ritzer notes that we are increasingly living in a society where immaterial experiences are becoming more and more important in place of physical, material goods. That is, perspective is key in any social situation. Even where there is a pre-existing culture, or an intended reaction that a consumer will experience, despite the controlled and structured environment, we still help to produce the overall experience. Ritzer uses the example of going to Disney World. There is clearly a type of experience that we are supposed to relate to in its prefabricated, manufactured world. However, everyone will have varying accounts of a visit to Disney World, because they are mixing the intended experience with their own reality and unique history - some things may resonate far more strongly with some people than with others, hence heightening the enjoyment of the overall occasion.

However, as opposed to the Decline in Traditional Production, or the Rise in Immaterial Production, Ritzer points out that we have always had such experiences. There is no dichotomy between producer and consumer since experiences do, and always have to, involve both. While the idea of experience as an economy may be new, the issues involved certainly are not. Plus, experiences in themselves are always immaterial, and as such can be passed on far more easily from producers to consumers.

The Role of Technological Development

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As different technologies develop, it is only natural that they are used in new ways, at times replacing manual labour. Discussing the popularisation of self-checkout lanes at supermarkets, Ritzer reminds us that people used to have to work there, and perform various tasks for the consumer. Now however, prosumers do the vast majority of the work themselves, and the people who are left still working there tend to do much more immaterial labor than they used to, by advising people how to use the machines or helping when the prosumer has encountered an issue. And as Ritzer also says, these self-service machines are now commonplace in several industries - for example self-checkin terminals at airports or cinemas. What is key to many of these technologies was the development of another technology in itself: the credit/debit card. No longer is it always necessary for someone to have to count coins to make sure prosumers are paying the correct amount, technology does it all for them.

The Modern Relevance Of Prosumption in Contemporary Society

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Contemporary society has seen a large amount of social changes increasingly expand regarding the practice of prosumption and the attention it gained by theorists. However, a substantial socical change could be related to that of the internet and the social network sites that have only been established in the last decade or so through the use of Web 2.0 platforms where prosumers consume and produce user-generated content on. For example, social network sites such as Twitter and Facebook, content-sharing sites such as YouTube, Instagram and Flickr, the blogosphere such as Wordpress, and Wikipedia are only a small number of examples. However a problem occurs as it is on these platforms that it is most difficult to differentiate between producers and consumers.[29]

An example that Ritzer uses is the use of "a digital Twitter backchannel at events that occur in a physical space".[30] Before mobiles and apps were invented you would find "speakers" at these events whom "produced" speeches, and there was an audience "consuming" (e.g. Listening to) them. Engagement would occur when the audience members would take notes and sometimes ask questions at the end of the speech.

However, today, only a small minority of the audience tends to stick to this traditional manner, with the majority now combining this with a more contemporary approach through the use of the social networking site, Twitter, where audience members will now post "tweets" about the what is being said in the speech they are consuming. In a way, it could be argued that the audience now have the most powerful role in the conference, as what has been shared on Twitter about the event is now on the internet for the global audience to witness and respond to. Therefore, this highlights the fact that technology has became a blessing in the modern world, and that the conference audience is now not only the consumers of the speeches or the producers of their tweets, but the prosumers who concurrently consume conferences and produce their own online content. As a result, it is clear why Web 2.0 has been described as "crucial in the development of the 'means of prosumption.'" [31] However it is also evident that prosumption was not invented on Web 2.0 either. Nevertheless, given the increasing popularity of its platforms such as social networking sites, it can be argued that it is both the most abundant location of prosumption, and its most essential promoter as a 'means of prosumption'.

Another example of a web-based platform that demonstrates the foundations of the Web 2.0 concept are blogs. Blogs refer to a simple webpage consisting of paragraphs of information, personal diary entries, fan writing or links arranged chronologically with the most recent first, along with space for comments for visitors to leave. This posting and commenting process contributes to the nature of blogging, allowing weighted conversation between the primary author and a group of secondary comment contributors. In the past blogs were not very common, with many blogs never discovered or had a very small audience. The power that people have to share their opinions and information with the global audience, as well the people engaging in them has created the well-known blogosphere that we have today, allowing them to operate in their own environment. However, as technology has grown more sophisticated, bloggers have started to incorporate multimedia in their blogs which now consists of photo-blogs and video blogs (vlogs), and allows bloggers to upload material directly from their mobile phones. An example of this would be the blogger ‘Zoella’ who has made ‘vlogging’ her full-time profession and due to working with advertisers, she has earned hundreds of thousands from it. Therefore, it is clear just how much Web 2.0 has influenced society through the use of the internet growing and social platforms like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube emerging which has allowed many to share their blogs to a much larger audience thus making the impact of prosumption even larger.

The Realm Of The Media

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The effects of the Experience Economy and Technological Change as discussed above are very clear in the realm of the media, and a highly significant proportion of the research into the idea of prosumerism has been in relation to the media. Ritzer alludes to Axel Bruns' work, where the idea of the passive consumer with regards to the media is rejected. Instead, the consumer of media is actively and increasingly bringing their own interpretation to what they are experiencing, meaning they are producing their own content just as much as they are consuming it.

Despite the idea of the prosumer being commonly associated with the economy, Ritzer makes the point that it can apply to a much broader scope of concepts. He gives the examples of everyday ideologies such as politics and art, and well as more abstract ideas such as identity that prosumerism can be applied to.

The Role of Prosumption

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The main purpose of prosumption in today's world, no matter whether it is created by an individual or a group (as stated above by Cornor), is to create the most effective way to exchange profit and overall values and information. Especially nowadays in a very modern and 'computerized' world, where social networks play a significant part in our lives, we aim to be active creators and users of products and services. Not to just be passive consumers, but more importantly to be active prosumers. For example, as Ritzer and Jurgenson suggest: in fast food restaurants where we - the diners are expected to carry our own food to the table or a car; or by pumping petrol by yourself at a petrol station; or even being involved in amateur pornography (e.g. Girls Gone Wild video series). However, with the huge help of the Internet, it could be argued that the most of prosumption is happening in the online world. The most common example here would be the Wikipedia itself, where the users can generate, edit, update and comment on articles. Another example would be the use of social networking sites, where people produce/post pictures, videos, statues and comments to interact with each other and form communities in the online world by consuming one another's informations.[32] Therefore, the general role of the prosumer is to co-create the world we live in, satisfying the needs of consumers as well as producers.

The Role of Prosumption in Politics

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Prosumtion within politics has become more prominent in recent years. As a result of the growth in new technologies there are more ways of showing how prosumption is a part of modern politics. For example, if the government is trying to pass a bill, they produce the bill and if it then gets passed and made into a new law, then they are consuming the bill with the rest of society, hereby showing the prosumption of a bill. With politicians such as David Cameron on media platforms such as Twitter, the political can, supposedly, be in direct contact with the general public. The political class can influence people with just a few words and the click of a button. They produce information for the public to read, the public receive it on their phones or computer and can comment and critique it immediately in a public and relatively free space. This allows public opinion to get back to the government and straight into the prime-minister personal mobile. Also simply by using this modern media platform it might make this candidate more appealing to younger voters.

Propaganda is a very strong form of control, yet it can be seen as a type of prosumption in politics due to the fact that, when the government sends out information to the public via television, newspapers or online etc. they are sending out information which will benefit them and get more voters. Hereby the cycle of producing the information and consuming more voters can be well identified. Moreover, democracy has been a platform for political presumption way before social media was ever invented. Dating back to ancient Greek civilisation, democracy has allowed politicians to advertise themselves and their political ideology and policy to the general public, using this information the public analyse this information and vote for who they want to be in power. This is an example of a cooperative relationship between the consumer and the producer where the consumer has an effect and conscious decision dictating the way the producer conducts his/herself.

The Role of Prosumption in the Workplace

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Through the introduction of new technology, the importance of the role of the prosumer has become far more significant. Returning to the idea of the consumer also becoming the producer in today's society, we can use the example of grocery shops, as customers used to fill out order forms and the grocer would collect the items they desired, allowing the customer to fall into the role of the consumer and the grocer into the role of the producer. However, due to the increase in the popularity of supermarkets, consumers have been forced to also become producers. This is due to the change in the way customers buy things, in the example of the supermarket; customers are now doing most of the material work in obtaining their items.

Self checkout using NCR Fastlane machines

However, in relation to the new forms of technology, we can use the introduction of self checkouts to effectively convey how technology has enhanced the role of presumption. Self-checkouts have become more common, adding further to the customers work, as they now, not only have to gather their items, but also scan and bag them too. Many of the workers, who are still employed by supermarkets, remain there, not to help with material labour, but to help aid customers in using the new technology of the self checkouts.

New technology, especially the introduction of computers and the internet, has created a whole new means of prosumption. There are no immediate workers on the internet, which therefore means that customers are practically on their own when it comes to the immaterial work required to find what it is that they are looking for. For example, a prosumer must find a website which sells the product that they are looking for, then review the product to ensure that it is exactly what they want, then they must place an order and pay for it. With many people using the internet as their main method of consumption it's clear that presumption is what defines most of the internet.[12]

The Role of Prosumption in Arts

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Historically, as well as nowadays, prosumption also plays a significant role in the area of arts. Seio Nakajima explains in his article Prosumption in Art that artists use/CONSUME tools and materials to PRODUCE art, therefore making this a prosumption relationship. Their influence on other artists (through ideas or styles) can also be defined as prosumerism. Nakajima goes against the common idea of art being a 'romantic myth', claiming that in fact, it is a social activity and a business. Obviously artists are still "a uniquely creative force who, independent of their audiences, create and interpret art." [33] However, a huge part of the world of art is very much linked with the theory of prosumption, and the relationship between the PRODUCER - artist, and the CONSUMER - audience. He also suggests that there are different forms of art which portray prosumption differently.

Readymade art → the artist and audience are seen as equal, they both evaluate if the object can be considered as art or not. "The artists consume existing products to produce art and viewers consume art to produce judgments of the art." [33]

Pop art → also "blurs the line between mass consumer commodities and original artistic creations".[33] Prosumers in art CONSUME objects to PRODUCE art. Artists use different modes of interpretations, such as collage, parody, remixing, sampling etc. to challenge their already privileged position. They construct new meaning to be judged and reevaluated by/with the public audience, often based on already (at least partially) existing materials.

Relational art → claims that "art is not a static or independent object but is a dynamic process through which the art is produced in the context of viewers’ participation within artistic communities of interpretation." [33] The meaning is created though a form of social dialogue and a discussion around the topic/object of art. There is a relationship formed between the artists (PRODUCERS) and the audience/viewers (CONSUMERS). Audience's views, opinions, reactions and discussions regarding the art itself, create a form of catalyst, sparking up more reflection.

Furthermore, Katherine Chen, in her article Artistic Prosumption: Co-Creative Destruction at Burning Man also emphasizes on the importance of being active, inspired and artistically expressive prosumers, rather than just being passive consumers of the art. Internal "inclusive community logic" which she demonstrates in the example of 'Burning Man' focuses on broadening the access to arts, what is created and how that should be consumed, as well as stating that everyone could be an artist. She also explores the aspect of art as a Co-creative Destruction. This means, that firstly there is a co-creative process of prosumption, and " what is created is not meant to endure but to be enjoyed in the moment and destroyed by prosumers at the end of the festival." [33]

Therefore, the role of prosumption in arts is focusing on taking active part in the process of prosuming, stating that both sides PRODUCERS (artists) and CONSUMERS (audience) are both equally important. As art is now portrayed as a social business, the two sides depend on each other when it comes to prosuming the art.

The Role of Prosumption in News

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Citizen Journalism

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The role of the citizen journalist has become more prominent in today's news industry with many people now having the opportunity to both consume and produce newsworthy content. The rise of mobile phones and digital cameras has allowed the average person to be able to film spontaneous happenings that fully qualified journalists have no way of attending. During the London bombings of 2005 reporters were unable to gain entry to London Underground stations and it was instead the task of the ordinary Londoners on the scene to provide the media and journalism with the footage that every outlet yearned for. Images and videos were taken and considered by many to have more resonance with the public as they were dim, grainy and shaky, but more importantly, because they were documenting an angle to an event as it was actually happening.[34]

This idea of citizens performing the role of fully qualified journalists has helped journalism become more personal and in ways like the London bombings and the 9/11 attacks they make the news more dramatic and real. But to say that members of the public, without any formal training, can assume the role of a journalist is highly controversial. In reality, many amateurs producing content online don't purport to act as journalists. A more accurate phrase is that of pro-am (professional amateur) or amateurs with media skills.[35] Due to their lack of expertise and professionalism the quality and legitimacy can be highly questioned. In late 2014 a video of a 'Syria hero boy' under fire was used by many news companies until it was eventually revealed that this had in fact been staged and filmed by Norwegian filmmaker Lars Klevberg.This brought into the spotlight many of citizen journalism's pitfalls. Citizen journalists are used in every news outlet today and therefore there is the possibility that in every newsroom there could be a use of fake or artificial material resulting in inaccurate reporting. The citizen journalist does not have a journalistic code to go by and can create possible fake videos etc. regardless of whether it is an unethical journalistic practice because they are just essentially a pro-am, not a professional journalist.


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It is highly contested whether blogging can be seen as a type of news or journalism but it seems such mainstream outlets like the BBC, The Guardian and Sky News are beginning to accept its place in the profession and are encouraging their journalists to blog. Journalist Felix Salmon wrote: "There's convergence going on - news organisations are becoming bloggier, and blogs are becoming newsier - and that process works to the benefit of both." [36] Blogging has become one of the most popular platforms for the prosumer to inhabit because it gives them the perfect opportunity to both create and read content in the same easy-to-access environment. But due to the fact that blogs tend to also be a platform for various discussions then the issue arises that the difference between news and discussion (or even rumour) becomes blurred. Everyone on social media or the web that write about current affairs and arguably "blog" all have different information and opinion and this makes it easier for opinions and rumour discussion to be mistaken for factual news.

The Role of Academics

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Over the past thirty years there has been a recent explosion of academic interest in to the area of prosumption but the term has always been implied in earlier work from Karl Marx and later by scholars such as McLuhan and Nevitt.

Karl Marx

Karl Marx

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Marx is generally regarded as the ultimate theorist of production, especially industrial production in the early days of capitalism but he clearly understood that production and consumption were inevitably, inherently and dialectically interrelated. He noted that people alternated between being sellers (producers) and buyers (producers) and that this was going to have an impact in years to come.

Alvin Toffler


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Toffler firstly argued that prosumption was predominant in pre-industrial societies; he called this the 'first wave'. It was followed by a ‘second wave’ of marketization that drove ‘a wedge into society, that separated these two functions, thereby giving birth to what we now call producers and consumers’.[37][38] In Toffler's research in 1980, he expands on prosumers and emphasises that the power of the process of production will eventually be taken over by the prosumers themselves. This is discussed in the third wave where Toffler suggests that prosumers will directly customize and engage with the products they consume. Within his work Toffler considers the prosumer to be the creation of a new civilization.

Philip Kotler

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The term 'Prosumer' as noted earlier was coined by Alvin Toffler in his 1980 book. This idea was expanded upon by Philip Kotler in 1986 who coined his own term [the] 'prosumer movement' implying a socialital and digital shift over time. Writing in the 1980s it is clear that both of these theorists were ahead of their time and it could be argued that they 'capitalised' on this idea before it became of interest in the mainstream academic field.

Ritzer and Jurgenson

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George Ritzer

Production, Consumption, Prosumption. Ritzer and Jurgenson look at the nature of capitalism in the age of the digital 'prosumer'. They argue that prosumption is not new but is actually primordial. It is maintained that earlier forms of capitalism (producer and consumer capitalism) were themselves characterised by prosumption. Prosumption has became increasingly central due to the recent explosion of user-generated content online.[39]

Other influential theorists

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Pieter Verdegem & Shenja van der Graaf
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In their contribution Verdegem and van der Graff look at how we have moved from participatory culture to a form of ‘prosumer capitalism’. The first concept celebrates user expression and civic engagement in which prosumers are actively engaging in the production and distribution of content. The second concept points at how the active role of users has resulted in a new form of capitalism, i.e. prosumer capitalism. [40]

Prahalad and Ramaswamy
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They look at prosumption in a business perspective. They describe prosumption as 'value co-creation'. [41]

Tapscott and Williams
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In 2006 Tapscott and Williams contributed by seeing prosumers as a part of a new ‘wikinomic’ model where consumers work voluntarily and automatically for businesses.[42]

P.J Reʏ

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Rey looks at social media users and argues that they are exploited in a Marxist sense because they 'produce value for various websites without being directly compensated with wages.' [43]


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  1. New media: a critical introduction (2008) Lister.M, Dovey. J, Giddings.S , Taylor and Francis, London.
  2. Blogs, Wikipedia, Second Life and Beyond (2008) Bruns. A, Peter Lang Publising, New York
  3. a b Filippo Vescovo (2013), "Prosumers & Internet: an Empirical Study on the Use of How-to Contents." Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Pavia, Pavia, Italy.
  4. a b c d Philip Kotler (1986) ,"The Prosumer Movement : a New Challenge For Marketers", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 13, eds. Richard J. Lutz, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 510-513.
  5. a b Tabea Beyreuther, Christian Eismann, Sabine Hornung and Frank Kleemann (2013)'Prosumption of Social Context in Web 2.0 ' in Customers at Work pp.223–252. [Online] Available at: (Accessed: 3 March 2015).
  6. Edward Comor (2010) 'Contextualizing and Critiquing the Fantastic Prosumer̊ː Power, Alienation and Hegemony.' in Critical Sociology. vol, 36. ed, David Fastenfest. Pages 10-13
  7. Fromm E (1955) The Sane Society. New York, NY: Rinehart and Winston.
  8. The Coming of Age of the Prosumer -
  12. a b c d Ritzer, G. 'The Coming of Age of the Prosumer' (2012)
  13. Lazzarato, M. (1996). Immaterial labour. In M. Hardt & P. Virno (Eds.), Radical thought in Italy: A potential politics (pp. 133-147). Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press
  14. Cova, B. & Dalli, D. (2009) 'Working consumers: the next step in marketing theory?' pp, 318/329.
  15. Cova, B. & Dalli, D. (2009) 'Working consumers: the next step in marketing theory?' pp, 326/7
  16. Cova, B. & Dalli, D. (2009) 'Working consumers: the next step in marketing theory?' pp, 318.
  17. Cova, B. & Dalli, D. (2009) 'Working consumers: the next step in marketing theory?' pp 319.
  18. Cova, B. & Dalli, D. (2009) 'Working consumers: the next step in marketing theory?' pp, 329.
  19. Cova, B. & Dalli, D. (2009) 'Working consumers: the next step in marketing theory?' pp 326.
  20. Apple (2014) 'Apple-September Event 2014'
  21. Dhanapalan, S. (2007) 'Introduction to Linux, Free Software and Open Source'
  22. a b Arvidsson, A. (2005). Brands: A critical perspective. Journal of Consumer Culture, 5(2), 235-258.
  23. Valve Corporation (2014)
  24. Valve Corporation (2014)
  25. The Intersecting Roles of Consumer and Producer: A Critical Perspective on Co-production, Co-creation and Prosumption (2008). Humphreys. A and Grayson. K
  26. a b The Technological Society: Social Theory, McDonaldisation and the Prosumer. in 'In Jacques Ellul and the Technological Society in the 21st Century. Philosophy of Engineering and Technology'. Volume 13, pp, 37.
  27. Jurgenson, N & Ritzer, G. (2010) Vol. 10.(1) 'Production, Consumption, Prosumption. A good example of this would be in Ikea cafeterias where diners are encouraged to clear their table and return their tray to a designated area. The nature of capitalism in the age of the digital ‘prosumer’'. Pp, 18.
  28. Jurgenson, N & Ritzer, G. (2010) Vol. 10.(1) 'Production, Consumption, Prosumption. The nature of capitalism in the age of the digital ‘prosumer’'. Pp, 17.
  29. Ritzer, G., Dean, P. and Jurgenson, N. (2012). The Coming Of The Age Of The Prosumer. American Behavioural Scientist, 56(4), pp.379-398.
  30. Ritzer, G., Dean, P. and Jurgenson, N, (2012). The Coming of Age of the Prosumer. American Behavioral Scientist, 56(4), pp.379-398.
  31. Ritzer, G. and Jurgenson, N. (2010). Production, Consumption, Prosumption: The nature of capitalism in the age of the digital 'prosumer'. Journal of Consumer Culture, 10(1), pp. 13-36.
  32. George Ritzer, Nathan Jurgenson (2010) "Production, Consumption, Prosumption: The nature of capitalism in the age of the digital ‘prosumer’" in Journal of Consumer Culture. Volume 10, no. 1, pages 13-36.
  33. a b c d e Ritzer, G., Dean, P. and Jurgenson, N. (2012). The Coming Of The Age Of The Prosumer. American Behavioural Scientist, 56(4), pp.379-398.
  34. Allan, S. (2006) Online News. London: Open University Press, p. 152
  35. Hill, S. & Lashmar, P. (2014) Online Journalism: The Essential Guide. London: SAGE Publications Ltd, pp. 144-145
  36. Salmon, F. 2011. The State of the Blog, Columbia Journalism Review. Available: www.cjr.ord/the_audit/the_state_of_the_blog.php
  37. Toffler, A. (1980) The Third Wave. New York: William Morrow
  38. Ritzer, G. and Jurgenson, N. (2010). Production, Consumption, Prosumption: The nature of capitalism in the age of the digital 'prosumer'. Journal of Consumer Culture, 10(1), pp. 17
  39. Jurgenson, N & Ritzer, G. (2010) Vol. 10.(1) 'Production, Consumption, Prosumption. The nature of capitalism in the age of the digital ‘prosumer’'.
  40. Pieter Verdegen & Shenja van de Graff (2014), From Participatory 'Culture to Prosumer Capitalism: Imaginaries of Transparency in the Age of Corporate Surveillance' in Social Media and the Transformation of Public Space, Abstracts. pp100-101
  41. Prahalad C.K & Ramaswamy, V. 'Co-Creation Experiences: The Next Practice in Value Creation', JOURNAL OF INTERACTIVE MARKETING VOLUME 18 / NUMBER 3 / SUMMER 2004
  42. Don Tapscott and Anthony D. Williams, 2007, Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything, New York: Penguin
  43. Rey P.J. 'Alienation, Exploitation and Social Media', 2012 in 'The Coming Age of the Prosumer' ed. George Ritzer


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The estrangement of people from aspects of their human nature as a result of living in a society stratified by social class.[1]


Branding is one of the most important aspects of any business, large or small, retail or B2B. An effective brand strategy gives you a major edge in increasingly competitive markets[2]


Citizen Journalist
A member of the general public who collects, disseminates, and analyses news and information.

Emphasis on the maximizing of profit.

The action of using up a resource.

An economic and political system characterised by a free market for goods and services and private control of production and consumption.


It is the abbreviation of Do-It-Yourself. It refers to an individual producing something on their own without professionals, in relation to prosumption it is the individual taking the role of a prosumer in the household.[3]


Essential DIY
Atkinson referred to the form of Do-It-Yourself that comes out of a need rather than as an option.[4]


Immaterial labour/production, refers to activities which have no physical form. (e.g. marketing, advertising, etc.)


Marxism is a worldview and method of societal analysis that focuses on class relations and societal conflict, that uses a materialist interpretation of historical development, and a dialectical view of social transformation.[5]

Material labour/production refers to activities which have a physical engagement (e.g. the physical production of a car, walking round a shop to collect items of shopping, etc.)

Term that refers to the sociological phenomenon that means the rationalization of a process that substitutes traditional rules for efficiency. Introduced by George Ritzer in his book 'The McDonaldisation of Society' (1993).


Open-source software
Open-Source Software denotes any software for which the original source code is freely available and may be re-distributed and modified.


Blend of producer and consumer, coined by futurologist Alvin Toffler in his book The Third Wave (1980).[6]

Existing at or from the beginning of time; primeval.


Social Media
Where users of websites come together on a platform to create and share content with each other.[7]


The Third Wave
Outlined by Alvin Toffler to be an age of prosumption.[8]


User-generated content
Any form of online content that was created by users of a certain of an online system or service. Examples include digital images and videos.


Web 2.0
The term given to describe a second generation of the World Wide Web that is focused on the ability for people to collaborate and share information online.[9]

  2. Wialliams, J. The Basics of Branding, retrieved: 04/03/2015
  3. Do-It-Yourself [Def. 1]. (n.d.). In Merriam Webster Online, Retrieved March 4, 2015, from
  4. Invalid <ref> tag; no text was provided for refs named Filippo Vescovo 2013
  6. Toffler, A. 1980, The Third Wave, London : Pan Books in association with Collins
  7. Social Media [Def. 1]. (n.d.). In Merriam Webster Online, Retrieved March 5, 2015, from
  8. Invalid <ref> tag; no text was provided for refs named kotler1986
  9. Beal, V. Web 2.0,