SOCI 3710: What is Consumer Culture? – January 13, 2014 Lecture 02
• After taking care of the ‘basic necessities’, what do you spend most of your
money on and why?
• Do you like buying stuff? If so, what is it about buying that you find appealing?
• Does your consumption (or consumption, in general) bother you? Why or why
Group Work Questions:
• Get into groups of 56 people
• Select one person to be the ‘note taker’
• Discuss the following questions:
o What does it mean to be a ‘consumer’? For example, what rights or
obligations do you have as a consumer?
Expectation to consume, consuming is normalized
Obligated to consume to keep capitalism going
Should be obligated to be conscious consumers
Consumption built around the notion of choice
Any thing should be available on the free market
o What does a ‘consumer society’ look like? For example, how is society
organized and arranged? How are goods and services allocated and
distributed within a consumer society? What role does the state play?
o In contrast, what does it mean to be a ‘citizen’? And how is a society built
on the premise that we are all ‘citizens’ different from a consumer society?
• Come up with AT LEAST 3 points for each question
• The note taker will submit the notes of the group discussion to me at the end of
• Make sure each person’s name is on the notes as I will be using this assess your
Defining Consumer Culture:
• According to Goodman and Cohen (pg. 4), consumer culture is a ‘way of life’
• Culture = a set of shared attitudes, values, goals, beliefs, objects, and practices
that characterizes a group of people; shapes what we think, what we believe, how
we see the world and the things we do
• A structural force that shapes and guides human action
• Cultural values, beliefs, and practices not always shared (e.g., being part of a
countercultural group), but rejecting them comes at a price (e.g., feeling different
or an ‘outsider’ or being subject to social control)
Adding the ‘consumer’ to the culture:
• Consumption has now become a central value of Western culture... it is what
makes ours a consumer culture (Goodman & Cohen 2004: 4).
• We have all learned to consume and to value consumption... How so? Examples? SOCI 3710: What is Consumer Culture? – January 13, 2014 Lecture 02
• The norms, values, practices, and power structures of our society are all built
• Even cultural practices that serve as alternatives to consumer culture and as ways
to deal with the negative consequences associated with consumption have become
a way to sell more stuff... examples?
Is nothing sacred?
• Consumption is pervasive within Western culture
• Everything can be turned into a commodity that can be bought and sold
• Even religion: http://www.catholiccompany.com
• And volunteerism:
• Every public space, occasion for public gathering, creative expression is seen as
an opportunity to encourage more consumption
• All forms of social life – from education to health care – are seen as consumer
DISCUSSION: Education and Culture
• How has consumer culture permeated higher education?
• How are you treated as a consumer here at Carleton U?
• How is getting a degree from Carleton similar to any other good or service you
The power of consumer culture:
• Consumer culture has been successful in redefining what our needs are and in
expanding our desires
• Our needs appear ‘natural’ or ‘inevitable’
• However, if we question this culture, want to change it or reject it altogether, then
we need to understand it as a sociohistorical phenomenon that could have been
• In other words, need to ask how we got here in the first place (something we’ll
explore next week)
• Making people believe wanting things is natural, inherent
Slater’s (1997:8) definition of consumer culture:
‘Consumer culture denotes a social arrangement in which the relation between
lived culture and social resources, between meaningful ways of life and the symbolic
and material resources on which they depend, is mediated through markets. Consumer
culture marks out a system in which consumption is dominated by the consumption of
commodities, and i