MEANING OF CONSUMERISM
Consumerism is a social and economic order that encourages the purchase of goods and services in ever-greater amounts. The term is often associated with criticisms of consumption starting with Torstein Veblen. Veblen's subject of examination, the newly emergent middle class arising at the turn of the twentieth century, comes to full fruition by the end of the twentieth century through the process of globalization. In this sense, consumerism is usually considered a part of media culture.
Consumerism is also used to refer to the consumerists movement, consumer protection or consumer activism, which seeks to protect and inform consumers by requiring such practices as ...view middle of the document...
This is a recent development, as big historical shifts go, but already it has a complex history. Far more is involved than the apparent simplicity of shopping and acquiring.
HISTORICAL DEVELOPMENT OF CONSUMERISM
While consumerism shows the power of change a key focus for historical inquiry, it also shows the importance of historical continuities. Each major society has received and elaborated consumerism a bit differently. Key historical factors involved in this distinctive shaping include prior social structures and their degree of rigidity, and of course gender relationships and assumptions as well. The cultural context is also crucial.
Consumerism gains ground more smoothly when the prior culture was heavily secular. But even secular philosophies like Confucianism condition the experience. Government involvement can be critical as well; different political traditions have encouraged different levels of state policy to promote, channel or discourage consumerism. The power of consumerism is obvious. Its appeal has often allowed it to advance despite various political, cultural and social obstacles, but the power does not run roughshod over history, which is why international consumerism is not a uniform product.
History also reminds us of crucial differences in timing. Some societies are farther along in consumerism than others, and the differences here may prove durable. The historical record also makes it clear that consumerism never progresses unopposed, and that it may even be slowed or temporarily reversed.
At the outset of the twenty-first century, powerful objections to consumerism persist in many parts of the world, and we may see new cases in which the consumer apparatus is rolled back. We will certainly see vigorous debate over the phenomenon almost everywhere, though the specific forms will vary from one society to the next. The importance of variations in the receptions of consumer behaviors may seem unexpected, for it is tempting to look at consumerism as a uniform phenomenon, some undifferentiated product of Westernization. But the variations are real, and they continue to shape consumerism’s prospects.
Consumerism has weak links with the Western world, but is in fact an international phenomenon. People purchasing goods and consuming materials in excess of their basic needs is as old as the first civilizations (e.g. Ancient Egypt, Babylon and Ancient Rome).
A great turn in consumerism arrived just before the Industrial Revolution. In the nineteenth century, capitalist development and the industrial revolution were primarily focused on the capital goods sector and industrial infrastructure (i.e., mining, steel, oil, transportation networks, communications networks, industrial cities, financial centers, etc.).
At that time, agricultural commodities, essential consumer goods, and commercial activities had developed to an extent, but not to the same extent as other sectors. Members of the working classes worked long hours for...