The Rise of Consumer Society in Britain, 1880-1980

By John Benson | Go to book overview

Chapter 6
THE CONSOLIDATION OF NATIONAL IDENTITY?

It is becoming increasingly clear that there is a relationship between consumption and national identity. It has been said that in eighteenth- century North America the growth of consumer society was a major cause of, and vehicle for, the growth of American national consciousness. 1 It has been claimed that in the first half of the nineteenth century, popular culture in Britain was 'an explosive mixture of regional elements and class rivalries', but that 'In the second half spectacle defused it for a time and in the process created mass advertising and, for the first time, a truly national commodity culture'. 2 Indeed it has been suggested that during the twentieth century 'the spread of mass consumerism' contributed to 'the creation of a more uniform "mass society", which in spite of its regional and social differences had common sources of information and similar awareness.' 3

Such arguments are difficult either to sustain or refute. For neither material nor ideological developments are easy to identify, and it is tempting, as always, to find what one is looking for. It must be clear already from this study how hard it is to decide when, and to what extent, Britain became a consumer society; and it can be seen in many other studies how hard it is to determine when, and to what extent, the British people became aware of their national identity. 4 Nor is this all. For if it is hard to identify the course of material and ideological developments, it is more complicated still to disentangle the relationship between them. It is difficult to show that changes in consumption were a cause, rather than a consequence, of changes in national awareness; and it is no easy matter to trace in detail the ways in which people's behaviour as consumers did, or did not, influence their attitudes towards the country in which they lived. It remains difficult, above all, to distinguish consumption from other influences upon people's attitudes: the schools in which they were taught; the youth groups in which they enrolled; the communities in which they lived; the churches in which they worshipped; and the wars in which they fought.

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The Rise of Consumer Society in Britain, 1880-1980
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS vi
  • LIST OF ABBREVIATIONS viii
  • Introduction 1
  • Part One CONTEXT 9
  • Chapter 1: CHANGES IN DEMAND 11
  • Chapter 2: CHANGES IN SUPPLY 35
  • Part Two CHANGES 57
  • Chapter 3: SHOPPING 59
  • Chapter 4: TOURISM 82
  • Chapter 5: SPORT 110
  • Part Three CONSEQUENCES 141
  • Chapter 6: THE CONSOLIDATION OF NATIONAL IDENTITY? 143
  • Chapter 7 the Creation of Youth Culture? 164
  • Chapter 8: THE EMANCIPATION OF WOMEN? 180
  • Chapter 9: THE DEFUSION OF CLASS TENSION? 204
  • Conclusion 233
  • NOTES AND REFERENCES 235
  • GUIDE TO FURTHER READING 236
  • Index 240
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