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The Wiley Blackwell Encyclopedia of Consumption and Consumer Studies by J. Michael Ryan, Daniel Thomas Cook

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Consumer Society

STEVEN MILES

Manchester Metropolitan University, UK

DOI: 10.1002/9781118989463.wbeccs061

A consumer society is a society in which the buying and selling of goods and services is its defining characteristic. The emergence of a consumer society has had a fundamental effect on how people live in the developed world; it has created a logic of its own to the extent that it would appear difficult to imagine a society that is not driven by consumption. The existence of a consumer society has fascinated scholars in a wide range of disciplines including sociology, anthropology, history, economics, cultural studies, and human geography. These disciplines have sought to comprehend the evolution of a society that was defined in the past by the satisfaction of needs and that has come to be defined by the satisfaction of wants. It is this distinction that underpins the consumer society as an ideological entity in which our sense of individuals as citizens is fundamentally tied to the kind of society in which we live.

The consumer society is in part the product of global economic processes that are founded on an almost universal commitment to the free market. Global capitalism is perpetuated through the maintenance of artificial consumption levels built on the promotion of artificially created desires. These desires are played out at a private level, but collectively they allow for a degree of spending for the maximization of private profit. In the twentieth century, the market ...

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