21 Oct

Consumer Culture

Category: What We're Reading
By: Amy L. Graeser
Published: 10/21/01

A sampling of sources . . .

Financing the American Dream: Debt, Credit, and the Making of the American Consumer Culture was published by Princeton. Robert Bocock provides a sociological survey of the topic in his 1993 book, Consumption (Key Ideas) (Routledge). Writing that "Consumerism has become the practical ideology of capitalism," he traces the shift in the basis of social identity from production to consumption. Although no longer in print, T. J. Jackson Lears's The Culture of Consumption: Critical Essays in American History, 1880-1980 (Pantheon, 1983) provides a historical understanding of credit and consumption in a period of great change. In Lead Us Into Temptation: The Triumph of American Materialism (Columbia, 1999), James Twitchell sets forth the provocative thesis that consumption is an outgrowth of our need for self-identity—a need for which the culture no longer provides. Countering the idea that consumers are the hapless victims of marketers, Twitchell believes we have quite willingly become a consumer culture—indeed, "consumerism is our better judgement." [Posted October 2001, ALG]

For further resources, see Gary Cross's An All-Consuming Century, published by Columbia University. An earlier work by Cross, Kids Stuff: Toys and the Changing World of American Childhood (Harvard, 1999), examines in detail the effects of consumerism on children. Michael Sandel examines the emergence of "the newest commercial frontier—the public schools" in his essay "Ad Nauseum" in the September 1, 1997, issue of The New Republic. [Posted November 2001, ALG]