Sociology & Consumerism

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Throughout history the connection between mass consumption and modern capitalism has been part of critical social changes that have taken place around the world, beginning during the modernity and post-modernity eras. Historically, mass consumption has been the driving force behind capitalism along with its dynamic and social structure. Although capitalism is partially built on democracy, there are underlying issues in our society today that are not strictly caused by consumption itself but its patterns and effects. Thus, to further understand these concepts that shape the aspects of mass consumption and consumerism today, the historic ideals from the founding fathers of sociology, Marx, Weber and Durkheim are essential in finding how these topics evolved, and have been deemed problematic in society over vast time periods.

As a result of previous social changes throughout history, it seems as if society today is experiencing an economic crisis as a result of consumerism. There is a lack of business regulation, including poor behavior among individuals participating. Throughout the world, the economy consists of billions of transactions every single day. Yet, there can never be enough people to monitor such extensive activity 24/7. Not only that, but individuals in charge with enforcing regulations is still susceptible to corruption, and should be held accountable for the unlawful actions of others. However, regulation of businesses is not the only issue our economy is faced with at the moment, it’s also how consumers have an internalized way of thinking, in which we don’t realize that in reality we have very limited real needs. Thus, consumerism essentially becomes a social disease when society attempts to satisfy higher needs through acquisition of basic goods and services (Etzioni, "The Crisis of American Consumerism"). Moreover, the extreme power of advertising also affects our current economic crisis to manipulate society in what goods and services they should buy. Advertising agencies do this in such a way to symbolize attributes that are craved with adds ranging from what toothpastes to purchase, shoes or even cars. In theory, Karl Marx’s analysis on commodities and consumption gives a sociological explanation as to why such crisis with the economy do tend to exist years ago and even now as well. He explains that production under capitalism is for the purpose of profit and the product strictly under the company who made it. Whereas, before the Great Transformation, patina goods played a major role in the concept of a person since it held significant meaning to their life, and held together the reciprocal contract of family. Similarly, people were encouraged to buy within in the market as a way for money to be exchanged for goods and services, otherwise known as the “Mode of Production.”

“This mode of production must not be considered simply as being the reproduction of the physical existence of the individuals. Rather it is a definite form of activity of these individuals, a definite form of expressing their life, a definite mode of life on their part. As individuals express their life, so they are. What they are, therefore, coincides with their production, both with what they produce and with how they produce. The nature of individuals thus depends on the material conditions determining their production” (Marx. Engels, Tucker, 150).

In other words, Marx believed that under capitalism all things had a price and all things could be satisfied with a fee. His analysis shows that consumption is problematic since after the assembly line was formed people lost any type of connection they had with good they purchased. In essence, it dehumanizes or alienates people in which we become disconnected to what we produce. Likewise, society places such a value on money, in which it exists in such mystic proportions, when in reality it’s an inanimate object that we as people rain it to be supreme. Marx called this the...
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