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Modern Society. Thorstein Veblen (1857-1929). Background Wisconsin farm boy. Hatred of tricksters. Family of prosperous farmers. Carleton College, John Hopkins University, Yale University, Cornell University. Gift from wife’s father: A farm in Iowa. Many academic appointments:

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Modern Society

Thorstein Veblen (1857-1929)

  • Background

    • Wisconsin farm boy.

    • Hatred of tricksters.

    • Family of prosperous farmers.

    • Carleton College, John Hopkins University, Yale University, Cornell University.

    • Gift from wife’s father: A farm in Iowa.

    • Many academic appointments:

      • University of Chicago.

      • University of Missouri.


Modern Society

Thorstein Veblen (1857-1929)

  • Intellectual Influences

    • Karl Marx, Points of Agreement

      • Technological imperatives.

      • Alienation of workers.

      • Two-class stratification system.

    • Karl Marx, Points of Disagreement

      • Rejected historical determinancy.

      • Rejected increasing misery of working class.

      • Rejected labor theory of value.

      • Rejected teleological optimism.


Modern Society

Thorstein Veblen (1857-1929)

  • Intellectual Influences

    • Herbert Spencer

      • Evolutionary economics.

      • Survival of the fittest.

    • Charles Darwin

      • Change is continuous, with no final term.

      • Habits of thought emerge through trial and error.

    • Edward Bellamy

      • Socialist utopia.

      • Nationalized industry.


Modern Society

Thorstein Veblen (1857-1929)

  • Intellectual Influences

    • Immanuel Kant

      • Need for defensive military.

      • Competitive preparedness.

      • Neutral colors of global shipping.

    • Pragmatism and Psychology

      • Self and self-esteem.

      • Perceptions are biased.


Modern Society

Thorstein Veblen (1857-1929)

  • Concepts and Contributions

    • Theory of the Leisure Class

      • Highly critical of the elite.

      • Unproductive activities.

      • Conspicuous consumption

      • Conspicuous leisure

      • Inappropriate role models.

      • Sports were inherently immoral and degrading. The masses, to gain some sense of self-esteem, wanted to emulate the elite (football as the poor man’s polo).


Modern Society

Thorstein Veblen (1857-1929)

  • Concepts and Contributions

    • Conspicuous Consumption

      • Public display of material goods.

      • Public display of privileged status.

      • Wasteful lifestyles contribute to the downfall of societies.

      • Vulgar pursuit of self-esteem.

      • Conspicuous leisure to gain approval.


Modern Society

Thorstein Veblen (1857-1929)

  • Concepts and Contributions

    • Capitalist Waste

      • Habits of the mind.

      • New aristocracy in industry.

      • All members of society engage in waste to conform with cultural expectations for displays of wealth and success.


Modern Society

Thorstein Veblen (1857-1929)

  • Concepts and Contributions

    • Business Enterprise

      • The industrial system is best.

      • Class conflict is inevitable.

      • Owners are motivated to restrict production to maximize profits (demand side economics).

      • Utility economics was hedonistic, rationalistic, and destructive.


Modern Society

Thorstein Veblen (1857-1929)

  • Concepts and Contributions

    • Evolutionary Theory

      • Savage society.

        • Peace, cooperation.

      • Barbaric society.

        • Competition, predation.

      • Mechanical society.

        • Handicrafts.

        • Material interests.

        • Ownership of the means of production.

        • Not necessarily a superior culture.


Modern Society

Thorstein Veblen (1857-1929)

  • Concepts and Contributions

    • Cultural Lag

      • New technologies.

      • Culture lag as society adapts.

    • Cultural Borrowing

      • Adapt new technologies to the society.

      • Eliminate flaws in the original technology.


Modern Society

Thorstein Veblen (1857-1929)

  • Concepts and Contributions

    • Human Nature

      • Human behavior is instinctual.

      • Human behavior is habitual.

      • Social forces modify habits.

      • Veblen was, in general, pessimistic about humans.

      • Humans are wasteful and prideful.


Modern Society

Thorstein Veblen (1857-1929)

  • Concepts and Contributions

    • Class

      • Accumulation creates classes.

      • Accumulation becomes the goal.

      • Wealthy engage in conspicuous leisure.

    • Gender

      • Predation values aggression and values trophies: Roles given to men.

      • Poor women do less prestigious manual work.

      • Attractive women seen as trophies of wealthy men (conspicuous consumption).


Modern Society

Thorstein Veblen (1857-1929)

  • Concepts and Contributions

    • Higher Education

      • Masses should be educated.

      • Class size should be small.

      • Universities should have few extracurricular activities.

      • Opposed to:

        • Sports,

        • Fraternities,

        • Clubs.


Modern Society

Thorstein Veblen (1857-1929)

  • Relevancy

    • Conspicuous consumption.

    • Conspicuous leisure.

    • Cultural borrowing.

    • Cultural lag.

    • Effects of sports and leisure on society.

    • Effects of large corporations on society.

    • “Cold war” mentality could be lessened with increased cultural borrowing and diffusion.


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