Consumer Culture: History, Theory and Politics

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Showing the cultural and institutional processes that have brought the notion of the ‘consumer’ to life, this book guides the reader on a comprehensive journey through the history of how we have come to understand ourselves as consumers in a consumer society and reveals the profound ambiguities and ambivalences inherent within. Rooted in sociology, Roberta Sassatelli also draws on history, anthropology, geography, and economics to give an exemplary introduction to the history and theory of consumer culture.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
This is a model of what a text book ought to be. Over the past decade the original debates about consumption have been overlaid by a vast amount of detailed research, and it seems unimaginable that a single text couuld do justice to all of these. To do so would involve as much a commitment to depth as to breadth. I was quite astonished at how well Sassatelli succeeds in balancing the two. It covers a huge amount of ground in its three main sections which are roughly historical, theories of consumer agency, and finally the politics of consumption... Ultimately, it's the book that I would trust to help people digest what we now have discovered about consumption and start from a much more mature and reflective foundation to consider what more we might yet do.
Daniel Miller
Material World Blog

The author needs to be applauded for taking on the vast challenge of presenting the enormous width and the manifold implications of consumption on the wider social structure and culture of modern societies. In modern markets, people talk, not money.

Marian Adolf and Nico Stehr
Cultural Sociology

Sassatelli's relational approach to consumption certainly avoids falling into deterministic or univocal accounts... She frames her book with a series of dichotomies, swinging theoretical pendulums from apocalyptic pessimism to celebratory freedom... Readers will no doubt be impressed with Sassatelli's refusal to take any single account of consumption without rich and critical questioning.

Ashley Mears
The Ambivalence of Consumption

In just 237 pages Sassatelli has written an impressive survey of an extraordinarily large and varied literature focusing primarily on developments in Europe and North America... And it is this vast compendium of research studies on consumer practices on these two continents carrying us through the present that makes this book so significant. Moreover, to make its contents accessible to students as well as professionals, it is written as a textbook with eight chapters, each of which is followed by a concise summary. Also helpful to readers is an insightful epilogue followed by a concluding section providing the author's recommendations of additional reading for students of consumer culture... To conclude, this is an intellectually impressive book that takes a fresh up-to-date approach to developments in consumer culture on both sides of the Atlantic. And while the author has far greater familiarity with consumer culture on the European side, major North American developments are not overlooked. the result is a new and helpful international approach to consumer culture at the dawn of the twenty-first century.

Monroe Friedman
Journal of American Cultures

In my view, Sassatelli is most successful in offering a thorough introduction to the field... Sassatelli manages to provide useful analyses and to draw interesting connections between the literatures she discusses. I found particularly helpful her discussion of the 'normalization of consumption', whereby consumption that is the product of controlled choice is deemed most legitimate...Sassatelli's advocacy is always qualified. She attempts to incorporate the insights of even the most determinist perspectives, and cautions against going too far in seeing consumption as unequivocally liberating or able to escape structures of inequality.

Laura J. Miller
Journal of Consumer Culture

Sassatelli is true to her word. She does address the history, theory and politics of consumer culture. The book offers a comfortable read. I think the most valuable contribution is the rounding up of many theories that have evolved over time about what is consumer society and why this matters... I did enjoy her discussion of practice tied to the notion of consumer capital... Consumption is hugely significant, and the more chances we have to learn about its history, related theories and attendant politics, the better.

Sue Mc Gregor
International Journal of Consumer Studies

This is a work of impressive scope and depth, covering a substancial amount of ground. The multi-disciplinary nature of the book provides new and revealing insights, and Sassatelli conveys brilliantly the heterogeneity and ambivalent nature of consumer identities, consumer practices and consumer cultures. Furthermore, the author succeeds in discussing these complex issues in a clear and easily accessible way. This text would certainly be suitable for students at the undergraduate or graduate level, and indeed anyone else interested in this area. Newcomers to consumer culture will find this an invaluable primer and introducton to the major concepts and ideas, while those familiar with the field will find Sassatelli's sharp analysis and discussion both refreshing and inspiring.

James Skinner
Journal of Sociology

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781412911818
  • Publisher: SAGE Publications
  • Publication date: 5/17/2007
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 248
  • Product dimensions: 6.70 (w) x 9.40 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Table of Contents

Acknowledgements     vii
Introduction: Born to consume     1
Structure of the book     6
The Rise of Consumer Culture     9
Capitalism and the Consumer Revolution     13
Consumption, production and exchange     13
The genesis of consumer capitalism     20
From courts to cities, from luxuries to fashion     25
Summary     30
The Cultural Production of Economic Value     32
Commodity flows, knowledge flows     32
The invention of the consumer and the cultural trajectories of goods     35
Consumer society as historical type     41
Summary     50
Theories of Consumer Agency     53
Utility and Social Competition     57
The sovereign consumer     57
The limits of economic rationality     60
Fashion, style and conspicuous consumption     64
Beyond emulation     69
Summary     72
Needs, Manipulation and Simulation     74
From commodity fetishism to critical theory     74
Nature, authenticity and resistance     78
Postmodern pessimism     82
Social relations and consumption     84
Summary     88
Taste, Identity and Practices     91
Taste and distinction     92
Cultural classification and identity     98
Appropriating commodities     101
Ambivalence and practice     106
Summary     109
The Politics of Consumption     113
Representations and Consumerism     117
The anti-consumerist rhetoric and the apology of consumption     118
Advertising cultures and their languages     125
Ideology, social differences and consumerism     131
Summary     136
Commodities and Consumers     139
Commoditization and de-commoditization     140
Goods, values and the boundaries of commoditization     147
The normalization of consumption     154
Summary     160
Contexts of Consumption     163
Leisure, commercial institutions and public places     164
The home, the commercialization of feelings and cultural consumption     170
Localized consumption in McDonaldized settings     174
Alternative consumption and social movements     182
Summary     190
Epilogue: Consumers, Consumer Culture(s) and the Practices of Consumption      193
Further Reading and Resources     199
References     204
Index     230
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