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SOCL928: Consumer Society

Tutor: Anne Cronin

This module offers an advanced introduction to the socio-cultural analysis of what has been called a ‘consumer society’, a society with increasing emphasis on marketisation, commercialisation and commodification. This module therefore provides students with key conceptual resources with which to understand contemporary society and social change in a way which complements their other core and optional modules.

The module begins by introducing classical approaches to consumption and commodities in capitalist societies (e.g. Marx, Veblen, Simmel) and then moves on to consider more recent accounts of the social significance of commodities and consumption (e.g. Douglas, Benjamin). Alternative accounts of the status and shifting significance of commodities is presented in week 4, offering analyses of key contemporary approaches which expand the conventional conceptual boundaries of ‘the commodity’ (e.g. Appadurai, Kopytoff, Haraway). The module then offers a related analysis of advertising, branding and what has been called the ‘promotional’ nature of contemporary society. The following two weeks offer alternative accounts of consumption practices (e.g de Certeau, Bourdieu, Miller) and then considers the expansion of discourses of consumerism (e.g. their folding into social identities). The following week considers the explicitly political elements of consumption practices with a case study of ‘ethical consumption’ and the course ends with a reflection on broad social shifts of marketisation, commercialisation and commodification – can we say then that the west is a ‘consumer society’?

Reading

  • Appadurai, A (ed) (1986) The Social Life of Things: Commodities in Cultural Perspective
  • Arvidsson, Adam (2005) Brands: Meaning and Value in Media Culture
  • Baudrillard, J (1998) The Consumer Society
  • Bourdieu, P (1984) Distinction
  • Bowlby, R (2000) Carried Away: The Invention of Modern Shopping
  • Campbell, C (1989) The Romantic Ethic and the Spirit of Modern Consumerism
  • De Certeau, M (1984) The Practice of Everyday Life
  • Douglas, M & B. Isherwood (1979) The World of Goods: Towards an Anthropology of Consumption
  • Du Gay, P et al (2001) Cultural Economy: Cultural Analysis and Commercial Life
  • Haraway, D (1997) Modest witness @ second millenium : femaleMan meets OncoMouse : feminism and technoscience
  • Kopytoff, I (1986) ‘The cultural biography of things: commoditization as process’, in A. Appadurai (ed) The Social Life of Things: Commodities in Cultural Perspective
  • Lury, C (2004) Brands: The Logos of the Global Economy
  • Marx, K (various) Capital , vol. 1.
  • Miller, D (2001) The Dialectics of Shopping
  • Schudson, M (1993) Advertising, the Uneasy Persuasion

Assessment

One 5,000 word essay.

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