The Theory of the Leisure Class: An Economic Study of Institutions (1899), by Thorstein Veblen, is an economic treatise and detailed social critique of conspicuous consumption, as a function of social-class consumerism. It proposes that the social strata and the division of labor of the feudal period continued into the modern era. The lords of the manor employed themselves in the economically useless practices of conspicuous consumption and conspicuous leisure, while the middle and lower classes were employed in the industrial occupations that support the whole of society. Economically wasteful activities are those activities that do not contribute to the economy or to the material productivity required for the fruitful functioning of society. Veblen's analyses of business cycles and prices, and of the emergent technocratic division of labor by speciality (scientists, engineers, technologists) at the end of the 19th century proved to be accurate predictions of the nature of an industrial society.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This may not be a book to read for recreation, unless you like 1890s verbal locutions, but there are other reasons to read it. The emergence of the economic analysis of Western society might intrigue you. You might discover the origins of such still useful terms as 'leisure class' and 'conspicuous consumption,' among others. You might be curious about author Thorstein Veblen¿s status-conscious, anachronistic world of working men and idle wives, which reflects upper-class society in his day. Published in 1899, this is a classic in sociology and economic literature, although it is a veritable dreadnought of density. It discusses property, ownership, status and leisure in a turn-of-the-last-century American context. Though scholars call it a 'satire,' the book is neither witty nor ironic. Instead, it is a stolid analytical daguerreotype of a world long gone. We suggest that if you tackle Veblen¿s old-fashioned, slow-flowing prose, you should do it for the background you may glean and the scholarly satisfaction you may feel when you are done. Instead of Alexander Pope¿s, 'What oft was thought but ne¿er so well expressed,' this book presents what oft was said and usually better, but not as early.
This book is one of the most significant works in American sociology. In it, the author presents the concepts of both 'conspicuous consumption' and 'consumer capitalism'. Thorsten Veblen developed these concepts and describes them here; both concepts are landmarks in the history of American culture. However, both Veblen's intellectual idiom and his prose style are typical of late 19-century rhetoric (the book was published in 1899). The essays are written in the pompous, stiff, and heavily embroidered purple prose of the era, and encrusted with the cultural chauvinism and bigotry of his day. I was barely able to get through it, and wondered more than once how Veblen, who is one of the most original thinkers in sociology, happened to retain such a fluid intelligence together with the small-mindedness of his time. It's still worth the read though. This is the man who was able to see beyond the ersatz science of the time to identify the cultural behaviors that define us as a people who buy things not because we need them, but for entertainment, and to display our personal identity.