American consumerism, materialism and conspicuous consumption — A culture in crisis?

American consumerismIf there’s one thing American culture has never shied away from, it’s consumerism. The term consumerism was first used in 1915 to refer to “advocacy of the rights and interests of consumers, according to the Oxford English Dictionary. But does all this consumerism make us any happier? Northwestern University found that anyone placing great value on wealth, status and material possessions is more likely to be depressed and anti-social than the rest of us.

While a global phenomenon, American consumerism became a focus of critical examination by Thorstein Veblen at the tail end of the 19th century. Veblen combined sociology and economics in his study of the leisure class, coining the term, conspicuous consumption to describe wasteful economic activities committed by those supported by the middle and lower classes. Twelve percent of the world’s population lives in North America and Western Europe and accounts for 60 percent of private consumption spending, according to the WorldWatch Institute.

As we head on into the holiday shopping season, we at Questia, wanted to open our digital library by granting access to reference works on five books that explore the topics of consumer consumption, materialism, and modern consumer culture.

Consumer consumption

Why do consumers buy and consume particular products, brands, and services from the multitude of alternatives afforded by their environments? The authors present many diverse ideas about consumer motivation and how it might be studied.  This book seeks to provide an up-to-date snapshot of the current state of knowledge concerning numerous key issues on the why of consumption. [Ratneshwar, S., David Glen Mick, and Cynthia Huffman, eds. The Why of Consumption: Contemporary Perspectives on Consumer Motives, Goals and Desires. London: Routledge, 2000. Questia. Web. 17 Oct. 2012.]

Materialism and conspicuous consumption

If the economy is doing well, why aren’t we happier? This is the central question authors Clive Hamilton and Richard Denniss seek to answer by studying the life, work and consumption habits of Australians. The book describes how corporations, advertisers, the media and politicians operate to ensure that Australians are always thinking about what they lack, rather than using the opportunities our wealth presents for living rich lives and building a better society. [Hamilton, Clive, and Richard Denniss. Affluenza: When Too Much Is Never Enough. Crows Nest, N.S.W.: Allen & Unwin, 2005. Questia. Web. 17 Oct. 2012.]

Popular culture’s influence on consumption behavior

Authors David Bell and Joanne Hollows critically examine the contributing factors to the conception of and role of lifestyle. One of the key aims of the book is to show how watching makeover television or cooking from a celebrity chef’s book are significant social and cultural practices, through which we work on our ideas about taste, status and identity. The book explores the ways in which ideas of the ‘ordinary’ and of ‘ordinary people’ permeate not only lifestyle media, but also the ways in which people understand their own lived practices. [Bell, David, and Joanne Hollows, eds. Ordinary Lifestyles: Popular Media, Consumption and Taste. Maidenhead, England: Open UP, 2005. Questia. Web. 17 Oct. 2012.]

Consumer psychology

This book focuses on the ‘why and how’ of consumer behavior: why people buy what they do and how they go about doing this. The authors are sophisticated theorists as well as empirical researchers. Their approach draws not only on social-psychological theories of attitude formation, attitude/behavior relations, and attitude change but also on ideas from cognitive and emotional psychology. [Bagozzi, Richard P., Zeynep Gürhan-Canli, and Joseph R. Priester. The Social Psychology of Consumer Behaviour. Philadelphia: Open UP, 2002. Questia. Web. 17 Oct. 2012.]

The development of modern consumer culture

Author Gary Cross’s interest in consumption is rooted in a fascination with the concrete interrelationships between people and things. Cross’s central thesis of this book is that consumerism — the understanding of self in society through goods — has provided, on balance, a more dynamic and popular, while less destructive, ideology of public life than most political belief systems in the twentieth century. [Cross, Gary. An All-Consuming Century: Why Commercialism Won in Modern America. New York: Columbia UP, 2000. Questia. Web. 17 Oct. 2012.]

Visit Questia’s topic page on consumerism for more information.  If not already a member, you can try Questia free for one day and conduct research into consumerism books and journals.

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