consumer culture

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consumer culture

  1. the orientation in modern capitalist societies to the marketing and consumption of goods and services.
  2. the ‘status differentiated’ and ‘market segmented’ culture of modern societies, in which individual tastes not only reflect the social locations (age, gender, occupation, ethnicity, etc), but also the social values and individual LIFESTYLES, of consumers.
Whereas previously sociology has tended to regard consumer culture as manipulative and stage-managed, it is today evident that neither a model of cultural manipulation nor a model of individual ‘consumer sovereignty’, as preferred by economists, alone adequately describes the processes involved. As indicated by Featherstone (1990), in modern capitalist consumer societies, consumption:
  1. is continuously encouraged in order for production to occur, and to provide inducement to work;
  2. has become a significant source of status differentiation for all social groups;
  3. is a major source of our pleasures, and our dreams.

All three of these aspects of consumer culture must be seen as involving complex, sometimes contradictory, relations. On the one hand, new manipulations of wants undoubtedly occur, e.g. as with elements of the fictitious ‘nostalgia’ and ‘PASTICHE’ generated in association with tourism and the new ‘heritage’ industry (see Rojek, 1993). On the other hand – as suggested, for example, by theories of POST-FORDISM -production is increasingly oriented to specialist needs, allowing greater cultural variety and greater individual choice and self-expression. Thus the new interest in consumer culture has brought ‘cultural questions to the fore’ and is seeking to move beyond the merely negative evaluation of consumer pleasures associated with previous theories of MASS CULTURE. See also ADVERTISING, BAUDRILLARD, POSTMODERNISM.

Collins Dictionary of Sociology, 3rd ed. © HarperCollins Publishers 2000
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