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Abstract The ‘prosumer’ has emerged to become a central figure in contemporary culture. Through the melding of production with consumption, both mainstream and progressive analysts conceptualize prosumption to be a liberating, empowering and, for some, a prospectively revolutionary institution. In this article, these fantastic associations are critically assessed using an approach that situates prosumption activities, including contemporary online applications often referred to as ‘cocreation’, in three social-historical contexts: capitalism as a political economy dominated by mediated abstractions; capitalist society as a hierarchical order; and alienation as a pervasive norm. Among other conclusions, we find that prosumption (particularly its Web 2.0 iterations), constitutes an emerging hegemonic institution; one that effectively frames and contains truly radical imaginations while also tapping into existing predilections for commodity-focused forms of self-realization.