Questions about value and its emergence stand at the core of
many disciplines across the social sciences and the humanities.
This is how, today, we have philosophical reflections on value, we
enjoy pragmatic definitions given by economists, structural
approaches specific for sociology and subjectivist approaches
typical for psychology, and even get to be annoyed by rhetorical
takes on the notion employed in political discourses and mass-media
communication. Value, it is claimed, is "produced", it "exists",
can be "increased", and sometimes (unfortunately) is "lost". But
who exactly are the actors of value creation, maintenance and loss
and where exactly do we need to look to find value and measure it?
These, it seems, are pressing questions for any student of
marketing and consumer behaviour.
And yet, formulated as such, these questions are also highly
misleading. By asking where value "is" and "who" it belongs to we
are actually turning a very dynamic reality into an almost
tangible, stable property of an object, a person, an action, etc.
Consumption generates value, we claim. But is this value an
end-point of the experience of consumption? Is it a 'moment' in the
chain of acquiring and using goods? Is it produced by the consumer,
by the object, by others who observe and become co-participants in
the act of consumption? My answer to these is a clear no.
And here is why: Value is not a property (or the utility
function) of an object. Value is equally not the psychological
benefit of using an object. Finally, value is not set once and for
all in the relation between consumer and object (or service for
this matter). Value is a process.
This basically means that value is permanently created
in and through interactions between consumers,
goods and the broader context of consumption (which usually
includes other people and other goods and services). In this sense
value creation is a bit of a tautology as there is no 'static',
'universal', 'once and for all' value outside of interactive
processes that constantly create and re-create value for all the
participants involved. Value should not be seen (primarily) as a
noun, but as a verb.
This is in line with some recent reflections on the
notion of value offered by Eric Arnould for whom value is
related to "exchanges taking place within a social field that
defines and is defined by these ongoing performative moments".
Similarly, value creation is ultimately a contextual process that
exists 'in-between' social actors (we can include here objects as
actors if we adopt a Latourian perspective) and its main property
is that of being generative. This means that, for
as long as actors continue to interact, value continues to be
produced since ongoing (psychological, social, economic, etc.)
benefits offer an incentive to carry on the very actions and
inter-actions supporting value creation. In this way, value is not
the 'output' or 'end-point' of this whole process but its engine
and constant companion. By extending our understanding of this
notion, we can say that value becomes the process itself.