Dissertation Abstracts

The Political Dimension of Consumption: The Case of Online Barter

Author: Airaghi, Giulia F., giuliafederica.airaghi@unicatt.it
Department: Sociology
University: Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore, Italy
Supervisor: prof. Emanuela Mora; prof. Nico Carpentier
Year of completion: 2014
Language of dissertation: English

Keywords: consumption , barter , conflict , exchange
Areas of Research: Political Sociology , Communication, Knowledge and Culture


The aim of this thesis is to analyse the practice of online barter as an emergent phenomenon of resistance, in order to reveal the political dimension of consumption and exchange. The work develops within a theoretical frame referring to the sociologically conflicting approaches of Gramsci and Simmel, enhanced by the contributions of the political scientist Chantal Mouffe. Through this approach, conflict is conceived as an ontological dimension of social reality. In light of this perspective, the history and the structure of the fields of consumption and exchange are analyzed through the sociological, anthropological, and economics literature, to highlight the hegemonic models which define their symbolic borders. The thesis analyzes to what which extent barter can be considered a counter-hegemonic practice, that is, a practice sneaking in the meshes of a net of meanings defined by hegemonic forces, creating alternative meanings. The empirical material was collected through non-standard methods: I conducted a digital ethnography on three websites dedicated to barter and 22 biographic interviews with their users. The thesis elaborates on a definition of contemporary barter, declined in its different forms, and it reconstructs the phenomenology of the online barter. In conclusion, the thesis argues that barter is a tactic, in de Certeau’s sense, adopted by social actors claiming more participation in democratic decision-making processes, and intended as a way to establish the value of objects along with social values. Through this work, the deep political and social nature of barter is hence revealed.