MICHAEL K. STEIN
University of Massachusetts Amherst, USA
Consumption in the United States refers to the material and symbolic importance of consuming goods and services for the economy and the identity of the United States. This contemporary meaning has two important features. The first is the central role that the consuming of goods, increasingly purchased with credit, plays in the American economy. The second feature is the ideology of consumerism and the cultivation of the consumer as a political, social, and economic category or subject. These two features have, significantly, developed in the postwar period and remain central to understandings of the American way of life today. The American dream reflects these features and projects a vision of the good life that is attainable by those who are willing to work hard in a land of opportunity. In addition, consumer choice is seen as an important dimension of personal freedom and political claims on the right and left of the political spectrum evoke consumer choice as an important value. Practices of consumption are therefore important sites for the production of social meaning and serve as markers of status and as venues for self-creation.
Prior to the emergence of the American consumer society that is recognizable today, consumption had a number of important meanings and associations that help to inform our current understanding of consumption in the United ...