The hidden persuaders: institutions and individuals in economic theory
In his classic book The Hidden Persuaders, Vance Packard claimed that large corporations manipulated consumers, using advertising techniques. John Kenneth Galbraith and others have repeated a similar view. Against this, Gary Becker and George Stigler have claimed that advertising is essentially informative rather than manipulative. In contrast, it is argued here that both of these opposed accounts of human agency neglect the more subtle and undesigned processes by which institutions bear upon and mould individuals. This article proposes a concept of ‘reconstitutive downward causation’ in which institutions act upon individual habits and dispositions. The mechanisms involved do not fall foul of past critiques of ‘holism’ or methodological collectivism. This argument involves a rehabilitation of the concept of habit in social science, with far-reaching implications.