Chapter 71

Consumerism

EDWARD J. WOODHOUSE

Consumerism is a way of life combining material affluence with symbolic–emotional attachments to shopping, possessions and “waste.” Scholarly commentary tends to depict global consumerism as culturally corrosive (Satterthwaite 2001) and environmentally unsustainable (Crocker and Lindman 1998, Rosenblatt 1999). Even those skeptical of such claims must acknowledge that consumerism is linked inextricably with science and technology.

Studies bearing on consumerism began with Thorstein Veblen (1899) a century ago, took firm root in the mid-twentieth century (Riesman 1950, Potter 1954, Frazier 1957, Galbraith 1958), built gradually thereafter thanks especially to Baudrillard (1968, 1970), and then burgeoned after the fall of the Soviet Union left affluent democracies as the primary occupants of the political–economic stage. Contemporary scholarship ranges from updates on conspicuous consumption (Varul 2006), to the ethos of consumers (Ci 2006), to debates about whether a zero-growth economy would be technically feasible and morally superior (Daly 1977). The literature includes general meditations on the role of technology in the good life (Higgs et al. 2000) as well as specific critiques implicating consumerism in “identity morphing, aesthetization of life, and a denial of life’stragic dimensions” (Brinkman 2006: 92) and as an “ideology enabling and supporting U.S. capitalism” (Wolff 2005: 223). Issues connected with consumerism include McDonaldization, ...

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