To Have and to Hold: The Meaning of Ownership in the United States

By Neala Schleuning | Go to book overview

6 CONSUMING AS OWNING

"Don't hesitate. Accumulate." (ad for Seligman Financial Services, Inc.)

Consuming is a special kind of owning unique to our own time, and in recent decades a veritable intellectual industry has sprung up seeking the roots of this modern economic phenomenon. Historians, anthropologists, psychologists, and philosophers have dissected and analyzed the modern consumer, studying the effect of things on people, the processes of consumption, and the nature of the consumer reality. In general, they are in agreement about the basic assumptions underlying consumer culture. The first shared principle is a naturalistic one: things control people. This process is referred to by various theorists as the "fetishization of commodities," the "reification of desires," "displaced meaning," or "commodity meaning." The belief in a world of objects that stands outside of and is antithetical to human control is endemic in this literature. Second, many of the theorists argue that meaning itself is being reconstructed by this everchanging world of commodities, and this reconstructed meaning-in-process, in turn, shapes human character and human society to its own end. Where meaning used to be found in social and economic relations, now all meaning--personal and collective--is to be found in a world of objects and signs. The human being is dwarfed by this material world of his own creation. Third, there is general agreement that a new set of social values has been and is being shaped by commodity consumption. The consumer ethic is a private, individualistic ethic. A fourth, but largely unarticulated principle, is that this process is relentless: the steamroller of capitalism and consumerism is probably unstoppable.

This literature is also universally critical of the relativistic and false reality consumerism has created, of the loss of community and social relations, of the

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To Have and to Hold: The Meaning of Ownership in the United States
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents ix
  • Acknowledgments xi
  • 1 - What is Property? 1
  • Notes 31
  • 2 - Who Owns the Land? 35
  • Notes 55
  • 3 - Who Owns the United States? Part I 59
  • Notes 80
  • 4 - Who Owns the United States? Part II 83
  • Notes 100
  • 5 - The Meaning of Ownership 103
  • Notes 124
  • 6 - Consuming as Owning 127
  • Notes 149
  • 7 - Woman as Possession: Images of Owning 153
  • Notes 177
  • 8 - Beyond Consumerism: Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness 181
  • Notes 209
  • Selected Bibliography 213
  • Index 235
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