Interdependencies in consumer behavior stem from either status-seeking consumption or compliance with social norms. This paper analyzes how a consumption act changes from a means to signal the consumer's status to a means of norm compliance. It is shown that such a transformation can only be understood when consumer motivations other than social recognition are taken into account. We depict norm emergence as a learning process based on changing associations between a specific consumption act and widely shared, non-subjectivist consumer needs. Our conjectures are illustrated by means of a case study: the emergence of the cleanliness norm in the 19th century.
social norms status seeking externalities consumer needs consumer learning cleanliness