Consumers Markets and Culture
Compare and contrast the changing experiences of consumers from the year 1900 until present day. How do the theories of Marx, Durkheim and Weber help to explain the changing consumer experience and the emergence of contemporary consumer society?
“Until the eighteenth century the word consumption meant waste...” (Williams, 1976)
As consumers our experience of consumption today is exponentially different from that at the turn of the twentieth century in the recently urbanised and industrialised modern nation. Consumer culture is traditionally described in terms of the arrival of mass consumption as a counterpart to mass production as a result of the Fordist system (Miles, S). Choice is one of the biggest factors of the changing experience for consumers, during the 1950’s after the austerity years the now aging baby boomers were part of large scale changes to consumption patterns. For example as women began to enter the work place leaving less time to run the home, products were being developed to ease the burden of housework, washing machines, fridges and vacuum cleaners were among these products; the ever-growing use of hire purchase to enable consumers to afford these luxury products, combined with Fordist methods of mass production reducing the manufacturing cost of the products allowed the economy to grow strong once again. As television grew in popularity advertising was increasingly utilised by businesses to sell their products creating a far more impersonal environment while shopping for products. From this time the standard of living has been increasing up until present day (The Economist, 2008) with the aspirations of society increasing further still.
Marx presents his theories as a materialist understanding of society, explaining capitalism as an unequal system based on the exploitation of the lower class (Abercrombie N et al, 2006), a system based on surplus value being extracted, the capitalist’s entire aim is to maximise the gap between value produced and value paid for (Slater D, 1997). Which a hundred years ago meant using Fordist methods of production to bring down costs and reducing the skill required of workers which in turn reduced the compensation needed for workers. The Fordist method of production first seen around 1911 (Cohen and Kennedy, 2007), Alienated workers from the act of production. In his theory of Alienation Marx describes human essence as being realised through labour (Abercrombie et al, 2006) and working as an alien activity that offers no intrinsic satisfaction as the worker has no control over what is produced; this loss of ownership and loss of control over the workers own life due to management organising and enforcing the labour. Where during the early twentieth our working classes were exploited and Alienated, now capitalists in the quest towards decreasing wages and widening the gap between value produced and value paid for are increasing looking to less economically developed countries where costs of production, epically workers are much lower. The counties known as BRIC economic group (Brazil, Russia, India and China). By indiscriminately consuming as a society, this encourages the expansion of exploitation of foreign working classes. Bauman proposes post-industrial societies are governed by ‘aesthetics of consumption’ rather than ‘ethics of production’ (Cohen & Kennedy, 2007). Organisations such as Apple, Nike and similarly Primark are guilty of this system, the former two retailing premium priced products produced at the lowest cost possible cost, by attaching symbolic meaning to the products. Primark produces clothes at the lowest cost possible which are retailed for the lowest cost possible; consumers buy into this system with no feelings of guilt, as these products allow consumers to display possessions acting as social glue possibly due in part to the increasing Alienation of workers as society is increasingly...
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