The Rise of Consumer Society in Britain, 1880-1980

The Rise of Consumer Society in Britain, 1880-1980

The Rise of Consumer Society in Britain, 1880-1980

The Rise of Consumer Society in Britain, 1880-1980

Synopsis

Despite a general belief that Britain today is a 'consumer society', the history of the consumer revolution is both neglected and controversial. When and how did it happen? What are its consequences for nation, household and individual? This pioneering book examines the changes in the demand and supply of goods and services since 1880; explores the changing experience of shopping, tourism and sport; and considers the impact on a number of key issues for modern Britain - the consolidation of national identity, the creation of a youth culture, the emancipation of women, and the diffusion of class tension.

Excerpt

The study of consumption has become increasingly fashionable in recent years. Nor is this before time. For our understanding of modern Britain remains remarkably unbalanced: it is unbalanced in that whereas a good deal is now known about the ways in which the British people made their living, very little indeed is known about the ways in which they spent the money that they earned. So if it is true that demographers have managed to make sex and death boring, it could be said without too much exaggeration that historians have conspired to render consumption almost invisible.

It is true, of course, that in seeking to understand the nature and causes of economic growth, economists, economic historians and market researchers have looked to the workings of the market and the nature of consumer demand. However, it is only during the last ten years or so that social historians, sociologists, psychologists and scholars from other disciplines have begun to follow their lead. Spurred on by the pioneering work of early modern historians such as Neil McKendrick, John Brewer and J. H. Plumb, they have begun to examine a whole range of issues, some of them apparently trivial, most of them potentially fascinating: the Americanisation of Europe, the advertising of soap, the ownership of cars, the use of men's toiletries, consumer choice in mental health care, and popular attitudes towards austerity and rationing.

Indeed, something of a new consensus seems to be emerging. It appears to be accepted -- 'assumed' might be a better word -- that Britain has undergone a consumer revolution, so that by the end of the period covered by this book Britain had become a 'consumer society' with a 'consumer culture'. In fact, the term 'consumer society' has become a widely used description-cum-explanation of the state of contemporary Britain, finding a prominent place in both popular and scholarly analysis. For example, in their recent study of mass consumption and personal identity, psychologists Peter Lunt and Sonia Livingstone describe modern Britain in the following terms.

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