A Consumer Society • A nation of shoppers • Mass and Micro Marketing • Shopping Malls • Online Purchasing • Bargain Hunting • Yet this consumption seemingly produces unease • Americans are preoccupied with getting and spending • Losing touch with deeper values and ways of living • Withdrawing from community life
Source & Effects of the Shift • What has caused this shift to a consumer society? • Some say mass media presentations of the “good life” • Media driving consumer sentiments and opinions • Emergence of ‘competitive consumption” • Used to “Keep up with the Joneses”: conspicuous consumption • Now we try to emulate the lifestyles of luxury seen on TV • Yet American’s find little satisfaction in buying • Working longer hours • Less happy with life and its direction • Heavily in debt to afford purchases • Environmental degradation tied to consumption
Delivering the goods… Personal Consumption Expenditures per capita (2000$) (Schor, 2006)
Income and Happiness:GDP per capita v. % very happy, US 1946-1996 (Layard 2005)
Features of Status Models • Social positioning produce status consumption • We look to those a rung above us to determine acceptable opinions and behaviors, fashions and purchasing • Game is played through visible consumption • Must be seen to be part of a status game - who is ahead? • Trickle down model • middle class emulate upper-middle, who emulate the rich, who emulate the ultra-rich • Consumption is social, a way to marking ones social belonging and class status - badges of belonging
Bourdieu and Distinction • French sociologist who observed that class status is gained, lost, and reproduced through consumption • Our clothing, car, home, and media consumption all display our social position • Can gain or lose access to social circle by displaying appropriate taste, manners, culture • Consumption helps to maintain basic patterns of power and inequality - this is why it matters!!!
New Consumerism • Neighbors are no longer the point of comparison • Upscale emulation parallels the decline of neighborhood life • Income and wealth concentrated in top 20% • Surge of conspicuous consumption at the top • Most no longer satisfied with middle-class life • Aspiration gaps • Desires outpace incomes • Credit card debt • Averages $7000 per person, with $1000 in interest & penalties • Low savings rate • 8% in 80s, 4% in 90s, 0% now!!!
The Rise of Competitive Consumption • Movement of women into the workforce • Decline of neighborhood contacts • Workplace, with wider range of social classes, becomes point of upward comparison • Less time with friends and family, more at work and front of the television • Consumption cues from work and television • Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous
Consumer Confidence • Consumer confidence is a driver of economy • Over consumption is sanctioned, even encouraged,
Consumer Knows Best? • Assume consumers are rational • Assumes consumers are well informed • Assume consumer preferences are consistent • Assume consumer preferences are independent • Assume consumption does not reduce public goods • But consumers are no more deliberative than citizens • Neither purely rational nor deluded, duped, and manipulated • In fact, they are one and same - consumer citizens • Artificial distinction - consumption can be civic/political
A Politics of Consumption • Changing opinions driving changes in markets and society • Right to a decent standard of living • Ex. Fair trade coffee • Quality of life rather than quantity of stuff • Ex. Downshifting • Ecologically sustainable consumption • Ex. Global warming & consumption • Democratize consumption practices • Ex. Starbury - Stephon Marbury • The politics of retailing • Ex. Walmart vs. mainstreeet • Consumer movements • Ex. Anti-globalism
Consumer critique & activist practice Newdream.org