Consumer Culture

The term consumer culture is used to describe an economy that is defined by the spending habits of its consumers. It is closely connected to capitalism since money drives it. There is, however, a major difference between consumer culture and capitalism. Consumer culture focuses on the happiness that is gained through buying and owning items whereas capitalism focuses on the power of money. The most outstanding feature of consumer culture is purchasing power.

The theory behind consumer culture is that people are greatly influenced by consumerism, that the foundation of economic and social cultures is the purchasing of goods and services and that all social behavior stems from the desire for those goods.

The most important aspect of consumer culture is that people are identified and characterized by the things they possess and by the services they purchase. Perception has become more important than deeds. There is a perceived association between the things people accumulate and the degree of happiness those things bring to the person. Great emphasis is placed on leisure time and how people spend their free time. These things are closely linked to free market politics that emphasize the rights of individuals to choose the products they purchase and which manufacturer will benefit from their money. Businesses try to attract customers through advertising.

There are positive and negative aspects to consumer culture. Those in favor claim that people are happier, more content and more productive when they have what they need and want; one way to achieve that end is by owning products that they want. The opposing view feels that consumerism is totally wasteful, encourages unnecessary consumption and breeds greed and jealousy in people. Critics also contend that consumerism drives people not just to meet their needs but also to acquire status symbols. People purchase items whose primary intent is to show off the owner's ability to afford them. Consumer culture pursues everything superficial and external instead of fulfilling spiritual desires. Critics feel that consumerism causes class divisions. All, however, agree that consumerism is the father of economic freedom and that consumer culture lies at the heart of the American Dream.

Consumer culture was originally limited to the United States and other powerful Western European countries that had the economic power and resources to develop industries. With the advent of global communication and the need for countries to export their products, consumer culture began to spread around the globe. It is not known how much traditional culture , such as in China, has been watered down due to consumerism.

Consumer culture thrives when a country's economy is strong. The laws of supply and demand play themselves out naturally, and purchases lead to more purchases. Consumerism, not the manufacturer, determines which products are going to sell, and which products will not sell. A product cannot exist if free-thinking consumers will not buy it.

Children are afforded their share in consumer culture through toys, commercials and television programs that they watch. Most children will spend the first part of the day before school starts and the last part of the day, after school has ended, with their friends and other children their age. They will admire each other's T-shirts, lunchboxes and other items containing their favorite film or TV characters. By wearing these characters on their shirts or on their hats and carrying them on everything they own, they are making a statement about their consumer culture -- namely videos, films and television programs.

Children are influenced by the commercials on those TV programs and feel the need to have those items in order to be competitive. Even though parents may disapprove of their children's desires, often they are out of their control. Many parents view the popular children's television programs and toys as an alien culture, and they look down on them. Children sometimes feel that their knowledge of their consumer culture is a sign of power -- something they know a lot about and adults know very little about or nothing at all.

Children do not create the objects of their consumer culture; rather professional adults design the toys and create the shows when their market research shows they will be appealing to children. Children are very creative in their use of consumer goods and create their own meanings from the symbols of consumer culture.

Consumer Culture: Selected full-text books and articles

Diners, Bowling Alleys, and Trailer Parks: Chasing the American Dream in the Postwar Consumer Culture
Andrew Hurley.
Basic Books, 2001
Affluenza: When Too Much Is Never Enough
Clive Hamilton; Richard Denniss.
Allen & Unwin, 2005
McDonaldization Revisited: Critical Essays on Consumer Culture
Mark Alfino; John S. Caputo; Robin Wynyard.
Praeger, 1998
Commercial Cultures: Economies, Practices, Spaces
Peter Jackson; Michelle Lowe; Daniel Miller; Frank Mort.
Berg, 2000
Consumer Culture Reborn: The Cultural Politics of Consumption
Martyn J. Lee.
Routledge, 1993
The World of Consumption: The Material and Cultural Revisited
Ben Fine.
Routledge, 2002 (2nd edition)
Raising Consumers: Children and the American Mass Market in the Early Twentieth Century
Lisa Jacobson.
Columbia University Press, 2004
New Woman Hybridities: Femininity, Feminism and International Consumer Culture, 1880-1930
Ann Heilmann; Margaret Beetham.
Routledge, 2004
The Adman in the Parlor: Magazines and the Gendering of Consumer Culture, 1880s to 1910s
Ellen Gruber Garvey.
Oxford University Press, 1996
Creating the Modern Man: American Magazines and Consumer Culture, 1900-1950
Tom Pendergast.
University of Missouri Press, 2000
The Anxieties of Affluence: Critiques of American Consumer Culture, 1939-1979
Daniel Horowitz.
University of Massachusetts Press, 2004
Elusive Consumption
Karin M. Ekström; Helene Brembeck.
Berg, 2004
Contradictions of Consumption: Concepts, Practices, and Politics in Consumer Society
Tim Edwards.
Open University Press, 2000
Ordinary Lifestyles: Popular Media, Consumption and Taste
David Bell; Joanne Hollows.
Open University Press, 2005
Identifying Consumption: Subjects and Objects in Consumer Society
Robert G. Dunn.
Temple University Press, 2008
Histories of Leisure
Rudy Koshar.
Berg, 2002
Librarian’s tip: Part III "Consuming"
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