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Consumer Culture

Consumer Culture
History, Theory and Politics

April 2007 | 248 pages | SAGE Publications Ltd
We are inescapably confronted by 'consumer society' and 'consumer culture': the inexhaustible world of goods and the declarations that we are born to consume and are defined by our consumption. But do we know what this really means – and is it so simple?

Showing the cultural and institutional processes that have brought the notion of the 'consumer' to life, this book guides the reader on a comprehensive journey through the history of how we have come to understand ourselves as consumers in a consumer society and reveals the profound ambiguities and ambivalences inherent within. Rooted in sociology, Roberta Sassatelli also draws on history, anthropology, geography, and economics to give:
  • A history of the rise of consumer culture around the world
  • A richly illustrated analysis of theory from neo-classical economics, to critical theory, to theories of practice and ritual de-commoditization
  • A compelling discussion of the politics underlying our consumption practices

An exemplary introduction to the history and theory of consumer culture, this book provides nuanced answers to some of the most central questions of our time. Consumer Culture will be essential reading for students and researchers in the many disciplines that now study consumer culture, including sociology, cultural studies and history.
Chapter 1: Capitalism and the Consumer Revolution
Consumption, Production and Exchange

The Genesis of Consumer Capitalism

From Courts to Cities, from Luxuries to Fashion

Chapter 2: The Cultural Production of Economic Value
Commodity Flows, Knowledge Flows

The Invention of the Consumer and the cultural trajectories of good

Consumer Society as Historical Type

Chapter 3: Utility and Social Competition
The Sovereign Consumer

The Limits of Economic Rationality

Fashion, Style and Conspicuous Consumption

Beyond Emulation

Chapter 4: Needs, Manipulation and Simulation
From Commodity Fetishism to Critical Theory

Nature, Authenticity and Resistance

Post-Modern Pessimism

Social Relations and Consumption

Chapter 5: Taste, Identity and Practices
Taste and Distinction

Cultural Classification and Identity

Appropriating Commodities

Ambivalence and Practice

Chapter 6: Representation and Consumerism
The Anti-Consumerist Rhetoric and the Apology of Consumption

Advertising Cultures and their Languages

The Functions and Meanings of Ads

Ideology, Social Differences and Consumerism

Chapter 7: Commodities and Consumers
Commoditization and De-commoditization

Goods, Values and the Boundaries of Commoditization

The Normalization of Consumption

Chapter 8: Contexts of Consumption
Leisure, Commercial Institutions and Public Places

The Home, the Commercialization of Feelings and Cultural Consumption

Local Consumption in Mcdonaldized settings

Alternative Consumption and Social Movements


This is a model of what a text book ought to be. Over the past decade the original debates about consumption have been overlaid by a vast amount of detailed research, and it seems unimaginable that a single text couuld do justice to all of these. To do so would involve as much a commitment to depth as to breadth. I was quite astonished at how well Sassatelli succeeds in balancing the two. It covers a huge amount of ground in its three main sections which are roughly historical, theories of consumer agency, and finally the politics of consumption... Ultimately, it's the book that I would trust to help people digest what we now have discovered about consumption and start from a much more mature and reflective foundation to consider what more we might yet do.
Daniel Miller
Material World Blog

The author needs to be applauded for taking on the vast challenge of presenting the enormous width and the manifold implications of consumption on the wider social structure and culture of modern societies. In modern markets, people talk, not money.

Marian Adolf and Nico Stehr
Cultural Sociology

Sassatelli's relational approach to consumption certainly avoids falling into deterministic or univocal accounts... She frames her book with a series of dichotomies, swinging theoretical pendulums from apocalyptic pessimism to celebratory freedom... Readers will no doubt be impressed with Sassatelli's refusal to take any single account of consumption without rich and critical questioning.

Ashley Mears
The Ambivalence of Consumption

In just 237 pages Sassatelli has written an impressive survey of an extraordinarily large and varied literature focusing primarily on developments in Europe and North America... And it is this vast compendium of research studies on consumer practices on these two continents carrying us through the present that makes this book so significant. Moreover, to make its contents accessible to students as well as professionals, it is written as a textbook with eight chapters, each of which is followed by a concise summary. Also helpful to readers is an insightful epilogue followed by a concluding section providing the author's recommendations of additional reading for students of consumer culture... To conclude, this is an intellectually impressive book that takes a fresh up-to-date approach to developments in consumer culture on both sides of the Atlantic. And while the author has far greater familiarity with consumer culture on the European side, major North American developments are not overlooked. the result is a new and helpful international approach to consumer culture at the dawn of the twenty-first century.

Monroe Friedman
Journal of American Cultures

In my view, Sassatelli is most successful in offering a thorough introduction to the field... Sassatelli manages to provide useful analyses and to draw interesting connections between the literatures she discusses. I found particularly helpful her discussion of the 'normalization of consumption', whereby consumption that is the product of controlled choice is deemed most legitimate...Sassatelli's advocacy is always qualified. She attempts to incorporate the insights of even the most determinist perspectives, and cautions against going too far in seeing consumption as unequivocally liberating or able to escape structures of inequality.

Laura J. Miller
Journal of Consumer Culture

Sassatelli is true to her word. She does address the history, theory and politics of consumer culture. The book offers a comfortable read. I think the most valuable contribution is the rounding up of many theories that have evolved over time about what is consumer society and why this matters... I did enjoy her discussion of practice tied to the notion of consumer capital... Consumption is hugely significant, and the more chances we have to learn about its history, related theories and attendant politics, the better.

Sue McGregor
International Journal of Consumer Studies

This is a work of impressive scope and depth, covering a substancial amount of ground. The multi-disciplinary nature of the book provides new and revealing insights, and Sassatelli conveys brilliantly the heterogeneity and ambivalent nature of consumer identities, consumer practices and consumer cultures. Furthermore, the author succeeds in discussing these complex issues in a clear and easily accessible way. This text would certainly be suitable for students at the undergraduate or graduate level, and indeed anyone else interested in this area. Newcomers to consumer culture will find this an invaluable primer and introducton to the major concepts and ideas, while those familiar with the field will find Sassatelli's sharp analysis and discussion both refreshing and inspiring.

James Skinner
Journal of Sociology

Thorough coverage of the field overall. Good reference to secondary literature

Mr Eric Lybeck
Department of Sociology & Philosophy, Exeter University
December 8, 2015

An informative and thoughtful approach to consumer culture

Dr Juliette MacDonald
CVCS, Edinburgh College of Art
July 20, 2010

Provides a compelling overview of the genesis of modern consumer society in its cultural facetts. Comprehensive and well suitable for undergraduate students without prior knowledge of the field.

Mr Daniel Fischer
Institute for Environmental & Sustainability Communication (INFU), Leuphana Universität Lüneburg
November 15, 2009

Sample Materials & Chapters

Introduction PDF

Chapter One PDF

Roberta Sassatelli

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ISBN: 9781412911818

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