The problem of cultural intermediaries in the economy of qualities

McFall, Liz (2014). The problem of cultural intermediaries in the economy of qualities. In: Smith Maguire, Jennifer and Matthews, Julian eds. The Cultural Intermediaries Reader. London: Sage, pp. 42–51.



Production is … at the same time consumption, and consumption is at the same time production. Each is directly its own counterpart. But at the same time an intermediary movement goes on between the two. Production furthers consumption by creating the material for the latter which otherwise would lack its object. But consumption in its turn furthers production, by providing for the products the individual for whom they are products. The product receives its last finishing touches in consumption. (Marx, 1980/1857-8: 24)

This passage in Marx’s outline for his critique of political economy is famous for its provocative framing of the systemic, contingent links between production and consumption. It rather neatly introduces intermediation without labouring the theoretical problem raised by its status as a necessary movement between spheres that are simultaneous, unified, and identical. The idea that some form of mediation between production and consumption has to take place for either to exist has a long history but interest in modelling how this mediation works in practice has been uneven. Bourdieu’s (1984) formulation of the cultural intermediary occupations of the new petit bourgeoisie has acted as probably the single biggest impetus to research exploring the practical mediating function of work in professions like advertising, design, retailing, branding and marketing . This research almost endorses Bourdieu’s concept while making it clear that the idea raises as many problems as it solves. These problems are already looming in Marx’s framing of the production-consumption relation and they continue to resist neat resolution. As I’ll try to indicate in this short chapter, the attempt to understand better how the connection between production and consumption is realised in concrete market settings through the idea of cultural intermediaries has had some success, but of a limited kind.

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