The Consumer Society and the Postmodern City

The Consumer Society and the Postmodern City

The Consumer Society and the Postmodern City

The Consumer Society and the Postmodern City


Working through the often controversial ideas of the consumer society's most influential theorists, this text assesses the ways in which consumerism is reshaping the nature and meaning of the city.


postmodern society engages its members primarily in their capacity as consumers rather than producers. That difference is seminal.

(Bauman 2000, 76)

no more 'productive' or 'unproductive' consumption, only a reproductive consumption.

(Baudrillard 1993a, 28)

According to Wyrwa (1998, 432), the Middle Ages had no single term corresponding to what we now matter-of-factly refer to as 'consumption': 'Only with the advent of mercantilism, devoted to the fiscal interests of the sovereign, does the Latin derivative "consumption" begin to take on real meaning'. Consumption only came to be recognized as such when the opportunities it afforded for taxation were recognized. From this point on, consumption has commanded ever-greater attention, though never before has consumption been seen as meriting the level of attention it is currently afforded. Over the past decade or so, there has been a veritable explosion of interest in the topic, putting it firmly on the map of concepts of fundamental importance to the social scientist, of whatever stripe or disciplinary background (Miller 1995). Some may, of course, regard this turn towards consumption as little more than academic fad and fashion. There is, no doubt, an element of truth in such an assessment. Nonetheless, the current wave of interest in the topic arguably marks a far more profound recognition that consumption is increasingly vital to the survival of capitalism. Within the social sciences, consumption has shifted from a position where it could, without too many difficulties, be effectively sidelined, to one where an acknowledgement, appreciation and understanding of its role has become increasingly important. Whilst it is true that consumption has been subject to cyclical attention-swings in the past, the current level of attention seems to be of an entirely different order. To claim that contemporary capitalist societies need to be understood, first and foremost, as 'consumer societies' is not, of course, uncontroversial. Even more contentious is to reserve the term

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