The World of Goods: Towards an Anthropology of Consumption : with a New Introduction

The World of Goods: Towards an Anthropology of Consumption : with a New Introduction

The World of Goods: Towards an Anthropology of Consumption : with a New Introduction

The World of Goods: Towards an Anthropology of Consumption : with a New Introduction

Synopsis

In this pioneering work, a leading anthropologist & an economist join forces to bridge the gap between what anthropologists know about why objects are desired and what economists say about consumption behaviour.

Excerpt

There is obloquy for merchandising and guilt in ownership. A growing swell of protest against the consumer society sets the background to this book. Consumerism is castigated as greed, stupidity, and insensitivity to want. Every month a new book inveighs against overconsumption and its vulgar display. But what are we to do about it? If it is our moral responsibility to live more austerely, we are notably reluctant to do so. Even if we were to divest our own life of surplus fat, our appearance in the bathroom mirror might please us better, but our slimming would hardly correct the evils of society. We would like to know how they live, the style and life of those moralists. Perhaps they give their royalties to the poor. Perhaps they spend judiciously as connoisseur collectors of rare manuscripts and paintings, or other forms of prestigious consumption which yield a good return on investment. But if the whole world were to invest in antiques, unemployment would soar still higher. Overconsumption is more serious and more complicated than personal obesity, and moral indignation is not enough for understanding it.

At present in the professional literature on consumption, there is a tendency to suppose that people buy goods for two or three restricted purposes: material welfare, psychic welfare, and display. The first two are needs of the individual person: the need to be fed, clothed, and sheltered, and for peace of mind and recreation. The last is a blanket term that covers all the demands of society. These then tend crudely to be summed up as competitive display. Thorstein Veblen has much to answer for when we consider how widely his analysis of the leisure class is received and how influential has been his unqualified scorn of conspicuous consumption. To turn the discussion into more realistic channels, several changes need to be made.

First, the very idea of consumption itself has to be set back into . . .

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