Consumerism in Society Gives People Choice

Topics: Sociology, Consumerism, Conspicuous consumption Pages: 5 (1563 words) Published: May 11, 2011



A general overview of what the narrative entails. A description of the theories and evidence that will be visited throughout.

-Definition of consumerism and its context in society
-Offering Veblens theory of conspicuous and defensive consumption -Introducing Baumans seduced and repressed theory and limitations of same -Discussion of the supermarket phenomenon
-Statistics of the supermarkets in context and affect on small businesses -Wrongs theory of zero and positive sum game
-Consumerism and waste
-Consumerism as a lifestyle choice

A general summary and discussion of the pointers outlined


The following narrative attempts to critique the statement that “consumer society gives people choice”. It aims to adequately define the concept of consumerism, the complexities associated with this term and its inevitable impact on society. The structure of supermarket power will also be explored, and discussion will be channelled through the nature of consumer culture, examining the means and ways in which it could be construed as being exclusive and exploitative. Theoretical perspectives particularly those of Veblen and Bauman will be utilised throughout, and cross examined with independent research and deliberation were applicable. Consumerism by definition is the “preoccupation of society with the acquisition of consumer goods” ( Oxford English Dictionary, online ). It is a social and economic command based on the methodical invention and nurturing of an assumed need to attain products and utilities in ever increasing quantities (Miles 1998). In the Western world the existing economic system is capitalism which is founded upon personal ownership which contravenes a socialist economy with its state ownership. Consumerism takes place when goods and services are purchased for the purpose of participating in a perceived lifestyle. This happens in all areas of society and is conducted by wealthy and poor alike. The motivation to consume is unique for all individuals, but encompasses certain desires which are accomplished through making purchases. Veblen (1899, accessed through Project Gutenburg, online), makes a compelling analysis of consumerism. In Veblens opinion, the fundamental problem with consumer society is not that our needs are contrived, but that the goods produced are undervalued for their inherent properties than for their role as benchmarks for relative success. When a society feels impoverished, an increase in productive capacity is nearly always directed at producing staple goods. However, once these more rudimentary needs are fulfilled, products become increasingly venerated for their distinguished properties. For example, when one buys more exclusive cars and homes, then these goods serve as indicators of social status. This is regarded as ‘conspicuous consumption’. Hence when a society as a whole yields more wealth, consumer conduct becomes more powerful, creating a predicament Veblen defines as a “collective action problem”. Moreover, the contest is not limited to those striving for status. There are those who are simply not occupied by exceeding one another, but are fundamentally looking to maintain a moderate standard of living and who consequently end up spending more to do so. Their consumerism takes the shape of “defensive consumption”, since they are for the most part avoiding been castigated as social outcasts. In Veblens theory, the person endeavouring to preserve a moderate standard of living simply compels the other to spend more in order to procure unparalleled status. Consumption trends therefore tend to be filtered downward through the social ranks as they become increasingly imitated by those in lower classes. Bauman emulates Veblens theory (Taylor et al, accessed in Making Social Lives and Miles 1998). He views consumption as more than purchasing goods to quench...
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