Visual Consumption


Linköping University, Sweden

DOI: 10.1002/9781118989463.wbeccs253

In its broadest sense, visual consumption concerns visually oriented consumer gazes and behavior such as window-shopping in urban and internet-based settings, the tourist gaze, the development of visual technologies for seeing, visual branding, and advertising. Historically, the idea of visual consumption derives from Walter Benjamin's (1999) interpretation and development of Baudelaire's 1860s literary modern male Parisian, the flâneur. The flâneur walks slowly through the boulevards of Paris, visually browsing people and the urban space through his gaze and, in the process, becoming a part of the space and scene by being gazed upon. In his own writing, Benjamin positioned the flâneur under the glass-roofed shopping arcades of Paris. The flâneur walks leisurely, glancing at the shopping windows and at the arcade mirrors, which reflect images of himself and other consumers. The flâneur does not necessarily purchase anything, but he is significant for the idea of the viewer and the viewed. In particular, he makes clear how consumers expose themselves to one another.

The establishment of department stores dates from the 1840s. It paralleled the mass production of goods and commodities, the founding of the packaging industry, and the emergence of the marketing professions to meet the needs of new markets and new consumer patterns. Thereby, as argued by Ulrika Torell, Roger Qvarsell, ...

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