CHAPTER 5 - THE CONSUMING LIFE
• “The terrorists will have won if consumers wait around because they’re fearful”
Many leaders expressed the conviction that to go out and shop was important as a means not only of sustaining the
economy, but also of defending “our” fundamental cultural values.
• **something disturbing about this frank admission of the central role played in our lives by CONSUMPTION and
american market suffered as people tried to get back to their “wholesome values”
• consumption has become a key aspect of social life
• consumption is more than an exchange
• a study of consumption has to consider what takes place before and after the exchange
• the form in which human beings organize production (i.e. how they organize their economy) is the most important
determining characteristic of society has been central to social theory throughout most of the twentieth century.
• commodities: objects or services produced for consumption or exchange by someone other than the producers
• consumerism: the name for the dominant values and practices arising from, and providing fuel for, life in a consumer
• this consumer society happened a little after the industrial revolution
Shifting Values in Western Society:
Key developments in consumer society: 1) developments in retail sales
- department store turned shopping into an experience rather than a routine
- ** TURNING an essentially economic transaction into a personal one
Advertising and Marketing:
- the way goods were displayed and promoted was at least as important as getting consumers to buy the substance CHAPTER 5 - THE CONSUMING LIFE
- need to use Barthes’s mythology: the actual objects being sold are not valuable enough in and out of themselves to
persuade us that we actually NEED them; they therefore need to be associated with something deeper, more intangible
in order to evoke our desire.
Branding: when companies vie to sell us not individual products but lifestyles that are defined by broad patterns of
Credit & Debt:
- wanted people to buy houses. reinforced importance of family life.
- by putting limits on interest payments, making it easier to take out a mortgage or get a car loan, governments and banks
have played a crucial role in fueling consumer spending.
- being in debt has become a way of life. it used to be shameful.
- the consumer’s central goal is to accumulate money so that he or she may purchase and consume ever-increasing
quantities of goods and services.
• contemporary popular culture is consumer culture
• voluntary consumption: “entertainment”
• we obviously need shelter but what kinds of shelter do we strive for: big house vs. smalll house vs. sleek condo in
• there is no longer anything “basic” about the necessities of life.
• we need clothing to keep us warm and shelter us BUT the kinds of clothing that we choose to consume have significant
social meanings and implications.
• Consumption is dependent on a vast specialization of labour and industry
• Appeals of McDonalds: global standardization
• what links everything together: profit
• today consumption almost always involves the exchange of money and almost always occurs in a situation in which it
contributes to the creation of profit
ConsumptionandAgency CHAPTER 5 - THE CONSUMING LIFE
• AGENCY: the ability of individuals to act as self-conscious willful social “agents” or actors and to exert their will through
involvement in social practices, relationships, and decision making.
our choices are structured
• agency and structure always go together
many of the objects we surround ourselves with mean something to us
• connect us with others through the distinction they produce
• what we “choose” to consume includes us in some groups and excludes us from others
• distinction through consumption is a relatively recent phenomenon
-conspicuous consumption: explored the uses to which “excess” consumption was already being put by t