The legacy of the social: Market governance and the consumer

W Larner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

28 Citations (Scopus)


The consumer is the identity central to the consolidation of market governance in the New Zealand telecommunications industry. This identity is usually unequivocally associated with the enterprising and individualistic self of neo-liberalism. In this form of self the economic and social are cast as antagonistic, part of the process recently described as the 'de-socialization' of economic governance. This paper claims that the legacy of post-war rationalities, in which the citizen was cast as a social being, could not be so easily negated. Mobilizing the identity of the consumer necessarily involved attempts to reforge the links between the economic and social. Rather than marking the 'death of the social', the emergence of the consumer involved the mutation of the social into new forms.

Two different versions of the consumer are identified. In the first version the economic and the social are recombined in this identity. Attempts are made to constitute the consumer as an inclusive identity encompassing all New Zealanders. The second is a more exclusive version, reflecting the interests of business and major users. In this version the legacy of the social is emptied out of the economic and made manifest in a new form-the social as community. The paper shows how these two versions of the consumer jostled for position during the restructuring of the New Zealand telecommunications industry.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)373-399
Number of pages27
JournalEconomy and Society
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Aug 1997

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