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The Cultural Science of Consumption: Brains, Networks, and Identities

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The paper proposes a general theory of consumer behaviour in ‘social network markets’ – where individual choices are determined by the choices of others – by conceptualising such markets as examples of distributed cognition; itself part of an ‘externalist’ perspective on human identity. The paper goes on to consider the issues raised by this move, by working through the implications of a distinction between the ‘object self’ (or evaluating agency) and the ‘acting self’ (or implementing agency), a distinction that is required to account for apparent failures of choice within an individual. It transpires that ‘dysfunctional’ choices (choices that apparently harm the self) may be evidence of the evolutionary advantage of ‘dual selves,’ allowing for creativity to cope with novelty through open-ended learning. The paper uses this ‘dual selves’ approach to rethink semiotics and the emergence of meaning, building up an argument about the importance of copying, narrative and language in constituting identity though distributed cognition. Finally, the paper proposes that cultural science can reintegrate the study of meaning and cognition in order to analyse consumer behaviour and choice.