Taxonomy for “Homo Consumens” in a 3.0 Era

Taxonomy for “Homo Consumens” in a 3.0 Era

Carlos Ballesteros (Universidad Pontificia Comillas, Spain)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-2255-3.ch142
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We are all consumers, and we understand and recognize one another as such. Recently, however, many facets of our identity as a consumer have been arising and modeling this essence. The use of social networks, the financial crisis, and the new trends such as sharing economies may be factors of change toward new ways of understanding the relationship of the people to the market. This chapter intends to produce an overview of the different types of consumers according to their behaviors and the trends that have been emerging since the beginning of the second decade of the 21st century. Prosumer, presumer, crowdsumer, trysumer, and knowcoster are some of the terms to be analyzed and defined in this chapter, which ends with a call for consumer sovereignty.
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Consumption is a basic human activity that implies a wide range of consequences: economic, psychological, environmental and social ones. Although it is true that consumption is one of the principal and most necessary engines for modern economies, there are important ecological and social costs in its practice. As human beings we are co-responsible for our consumption habits. We can no longer think that to consume is a free act that only implies ourselves and what can we afford. Through our lifestyles and consumption patterns we transform the world. Consumption can be seen in many different ways: from a liberal perspective nobody has the right to influence and be critical about your consumption but yourself: you have the freedom and the right to buy what you can/want/desire; from a reformist point of view, as a society, a consumer society is the best, the ideal society we can have, but it has some drawbacks that we can reform or correct; The sustainable side states that it is possible to move towards a cleaner (and a fairer) world with certain behaviours; Last but not least there is even a political viewpoint where consumption can be seen as a way to change the world. There could be also a radical position (also seen as destructive), or also an ascetic one, that pleads for a new relationship between the Planet and Humankind in a back-to-the-roots path.

It was Erich Fromm, in 1965, who was the first to call the human species Homo consumens, a term that evolved from Homo sapiens to denote how we devote all our efforts, beyond working from 9:00 to 5:00, to consume compulsively as a means to sublimate our frustrations. In addition, Saad (2007) and Lipovetsky (2006) have used the term Homo consumericus to refer to the Darwinian principles of evolution and consumer behavior. Lipovetsky has noted that modern times have brought about the rise of a third type of Homo consumericus, who is unpredictable and insatiable.

Homo Consumens is the man whose main goal is not primarily to own things, but to consume more and more, and thus to compensate for his inner vacuity, passivity, loneliness and anxiety…Homo Consumens is under the illusion of happiness, while unconsciously suffers from his boredom and passivity. The more power you have over machines, the more powerless it becomes as a human being; the more you consume, the more you become a slave to the ever increasing needs. (Fromm, 1965, p. 214)

Since then, most of the literature on symbolic consumption and consumerism has recreated this concept to deepen, if not openly criticize, a society that alienates the person, relegating it to a mere facet, often irresponsible and compulsive, and unconsciously, a buyer of increasingly sophisticated products and services. For example, Robert Bocock (1995) states that consumption is a social, psychological, and cultural process that affects the way in which individuals establish and maintain an awareness of what they are or would be; Luis Enrique Alonso (2005) includes consuming as a form of material appropriation of the social surplus, understood as the production, circulation, and use of signs, circumscribing all practices of each social position; Naomi Klein (2002), aligned with her “No Logo,” dared to raise a frontal attack on a logoized world; and Zygmunt Bauman (2007) points to how today’s world, with its globalization and the Web, cannot be understood without simultaneously considering, to a greater or lesser extent, consumers being consumers and consumer’s objects themselves: “individuals become simultaneously the promoters of commodities and the commodities that they promote” (p. 6). Even Adela Cortina (2002) raised the need to work toward a more conscious and critical consumption, without necessarily revolutionizing or destroying the system but reforming from within those aspects that do not work properly. Requena (2009) raised the possible existence of “consumers of nows,” the so-called transumers who would collect and accumulate “nows” in intense and prolonged fashion. Effectively, September 11, 2001, and its subsequent consequences, among which is a strong feeling of vulnerability (the collapse of the twin towers, representing the heart of capitalism, violated the consumer society, which could happen anywhere) caused us to believe that no future could be imagined, resulting in a feeling of carpe diem: Consume “nows,” because we do not know if there will be “afters.”

Key Terms in this Chapter

Knowcosters: A movement initiated in Spain and posed by the need to consume as one thinks, knowing and being aware, in addition to the visible product costs (reflected in the retail price) of all indirect costs, which are not seen but paid by us, including planet welfare state cost.

Presumers/Preconsumers: People involved in the process of creating products and services. By bringing an accelerated version to market, product forms often make companies decide to launch beta versions, which are improved and complemented with market use.

Crowdsumers: Consumers who make use of the crowd platforms, both to take advantage of group purchasing and to participate in financing cultural projects or creating solidarity with minimum contributions (but operating in massive number).

Wikisumers: Consumers or collaboratives exercise their right to consumption in nontraditional ways by sharing, exchanging, loaning, renting, and giving, all redefined through modern technology and communities.

Localsumers: Consumers rooted in their local consumption.

Consumer Sovereignty: Characteristic of a free market system where consumers orient production.

Trysumers: Consumers wanting to try new things.

Virgin Consumers: Consumers who increasingly meet with products that they do not know how to use, processes with which they are unfamiliar, and brands that they do not know and yet they are not afraid and decide to experiment, test, and comment on their experiences via social networks.

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