Consumer capitalism

Consumer capitalism is a theoretical economic and social political condition in which consumer demand is manipulated, in a deliberate and coordinated way, on a very large scale, through mass-marketing techniques, to the advantage of sellers.

This theory is controversial. It suggests manipulation of consumer demand so potent that it has a coercive effect, amounts to a departure from free-market capitalism, and has an adverse effect on society in general. According to one source, the power of such 'manipulation' is not straightforward. It depends upon a new kind of individualism - projective individualism, where persons use consumer capitalism to project the kind of person who they want to be.[1]

Some use the phrase as shorthand for the broader idea that the interests of other non-business entities (governments, religions, the military, educational institutions) are intertwined with corporate business interests, and that those entities also participate in the management of social expectations through mass media.


The origins of consumer capitalism[2] are found in the development of American department stores from the mid 19th Century, notably the advertising and marketing innovations at Wanamaker's in Philadelphia[3]. Author William Leach describes a deliberate, coordinated effort among American 'captains of industry' to detach consumer demand from 'needs' (which can be satisfied) to 'wants' (which may remain unsatisfied). This cultural shift represented by the department store is also explored in Émile Zola's 1883 novel Au Bonheur des Dames, which describes the workings and the appeal of a fictionalized version of Le Bon Marché.

In 1919 Edward Bernays began his career as the 'father of public relations' and successfully applied the developing principles of psychology, sociology and motivational research to manipulate public opinion in favor of products like cigarettes, soap, and Calvin Coolidge. New techniques of mechanical reproduction developed in these decades improved the channels of mass-market communication and its manipulative power. This development was described as early as the 1920s by Walter Benjamin and related members of the Frankfurt School, who foresaw the commercial, societal and political implications.

In business history, the mid-1920s saw Alfred P. Sloan stimulating increased demand for General Motors products by instituting the annual model year change and planned obsolescence, a move that changed the dynamics of the largest industrial enterprise in the world, away from technological innovation and towards satisfying market expectations.

Probably the most obvious example of consumer capital tactics in the United States' history occurred during the first world war. During which the United States' government put out several campaigns and advertisements aimed to gain support for engaging in the war. At this time the government's involvement in the economy was known as propaganda. Advertisements, posters and campaigns were found everywhere, encouraging the public to add to the economy and consume more. Many of these public attempts encouraged mass consumption of domestic food to help put back into the economy and support the war. and In her book, Celia Malone Kingsbury even discusses how during the war the government manipulated the economy in such a way that the consumption of domestic food was made into a "powerful weapon."[4] The government manipulated the public by turning commercialism into a sort of nationalism, pride and support of one's country.


An important contribution to the critique of consumer capitalism has been made by the French philosopher Bernard Stiegler, but very little of this has been translated into English. Stiegler argues that capitalism today is governed not by production but by consumption, and that the techniques used to create consumer behavior amount to the destruction of psychic and collective individuation. The diversion of libidinal energy toward the consumption of consumer products, he argues, results in an addictive cycle, leading to hyperconsumption, the exhaustion of desire, and the reign of symbolic misery.[5]

Consumer capitalism today

In light of the economic hardships the United States is today experiencing as a result of radical wealth inequalities, and perhaps a strong dependence on oil, consumer capitalist tactics have turned to credit as a means to maintaining a high level of expenditures in the form of consumer demand. Some of these tactics, to cite one extremely peripheral example, include government incentives to buy eco-friendly 'green' products, such as tax deductions for energy conserving home improvements or the purchasing of hybrid cars. These tactics, however, are not without critics. James Gustave Speth, former dean of the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, and author of The Bridge at the Edge of the World: Capitalism, the Environment, and Crossing from Crisis to Sustainability, does not believe the United States government should implement such tactics. Instead Gustave believes in more direct approaches to repair or avoid environmental damage. Rather than focusing on re-boosting the distressed economy, treat the problem.[6]

See also


  1. ^ James, Paul; Scerri, Andy (2012). "Globalizing Consumption and the Deferral of a Politics of Consequence". Globalizations. 9 (2): 225–240.
  2. ^ Silla, Cesare (2018). The Rise of Consumer Capitalism in America, 1880-1930. London-New York: Routledge.
  3. ^ Leach, William (1993). Land of Desire. New York: Pantheon Books.
  4. ^ Kingsbury, Celia Malone. For Home and Country: World War I Propaganda on the Home Front. Lincoln: University of Nebraska, 2010. Print.
  5. ^ Stiegler discusses consumer capitalism in his article The Disaffected Individual. His response to the situation can be discerned by reading the manifesto of his political group, Ars Industrialis.
  6. ^ Speth, James G. The Bridge at the Edge of the World: Capitalism, the Environment, and Crossing from Crisis to Sustainability. Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies - Masters of Environmental Management. Web. 27 Feb. 2011. < >.
Alternative culture

Alternative culture is a type of culture that exists outside or on the fringes of mainstream or popular culture, usually under the domain of one or more subcultures. These subcultures may have little or nothing in common besides their relative obscurity, but cultural studies uses this common basis of obscurity to classify them as alternative cultures, or, taken as a whole, the alternative culture. Compare with the more politically charged term, counterculture.

Cultural astronomy

Cultural astronomy is the set of interdisciplinary fields studying the astronomical systems of current or ancient societies and cultures. Such areas include archaeoastronomy (the study of the use of astronomy and its role in ancient cultures and civilizations), ethnoastronomy (the study of the use of astronomy and its role in contemporary cultures), historical astronomy (analyzing historic astronomical data), history of astronomy (understanding and study and evolution of the discipline of astronomy over the course of human knowledge) and history of astrology (understanding the astrological roots of astronomy and understanding the differences between astrology and astronomy).

Cultural baggage

The term cultural baggage refers to the tendency for one's culture to pervade thinking, speech, and behavior without one being aware of this pervasion. Cultural baggage becomes a factor when a person from one culture encounters a person from another, and subconscious assumptions or behaviors can interfere with interaction.

The "baggage" imagery implies that cultural baggage is something that one carries at all times and that it can be burdensome, hindering freedom of movement (i.e. hinders intercultural dialog). Darret B. Rutman has used the term to describe early European settlers of North America (A Place in Time: Middlesex County, Virginia 1650-1750 by Darret B. Rutman, Anita H. Rutman, ISBN 0-393-30318-7).

Cultural encoding

Cultural encoding is a process in which a website or related node is "encoded" with the language, symbols, or representative styles of particular culture or subculture. "Encoding" refers to the digital processes that make the representative culture of the site self-evident.

For example, uses punk iconography including a mohawk icon, fonts, and a do it yourself interface for selling music that cleary establishes the punk identity of the site.

Cultural environmentalism

Cultural environmentalism is the movement that seeks to protect the public domain. The term was coined by James Boyle, professor at Duke University and contributor to the Financial Times.The term stems from Boyle's argument that those who seek to protect the public domain are working towards a similar ends as environmentalists. Boyle's contention is that whereas the environmentalist movement illuminated the effects that social decisions can have upon ecology, cultural environmentalists seek to illuminate the effects that intellectual property laws can have upon culture.

Cultural retention

Cultural retention is the act of retaining the culture of a specific ethnic group of people, especially when there is reason to believe that the culture, through inaction, may be lost. Many African-American, European and Asian organizations have cultural retention programs in place.

Culture speculation

Culture speculation is the practice of engaging in or promoting an area or region through either direct investment or relocation in order to attract a pool of culture or cultured individuals. For example, the return of a jazz club owner to New Orleans with the intent of kindling a "jazz renaissance" from the recently displaced musicians would be an example of culture speculation.

Dog's fashion

Dog's fashion is a popular style or practice, especially in canine clothing and accessories. Dog fashion is a distinctive trend of the style in which people dress their canine companions. This trend dates back to the Egyptian pre-dynastic period and in recent times it has expanded due to increased consumer capitalism.

German Steel Trust

The merger of four major firms into the German Steel Trust (Vereinigte Stahlwerke) in 1926 was modeled on the U.S. Steel corporation in the U.S. The goal was to move beyond the limitations of the old cartel system by incorporating advances simultaneously inside a single corporation. The new company emphasized rationalization of management structures and modernization of the technology; it employed a multi-divisional structure and used return on investment as its measure of success. it represented the "Americanization" of the German steel industry because its internal structure, management methods, use of technology, and emphasis on mass production replicated the Steel Trust developed a multi-divisional structure and aimed at return on investment as a measure of success. The chief difference was that consumer capitalism as an industrial strategy did not seem plausible to German steel industrialists.


Intraculturalism is the study of behavior within one cultural group. For example, value variations among Palestinians are intracultural. This is often part of Subaltern Studies, development studies and sociology.

Is It Just Me or Is Everything Shit?

Is It Just Me or Is Everything Shit?: The Encyclopedia of Modern Life is a book by Steve Lowe and Alan McArthur. It was published in Britain in 2005. The authors give satirical criticisms of people, places, institutions and phenomena seen in modern British life. Subjects include Live 8, 50 Cent, Chris Martin, Philip Green and The Daily Mail. The jacket copy describes the book as a "broadside against consumer capitalism," and this is a recurring theme throughout. The book displays a broadly left-wing view of life.

The book was also made available as an audio CD read by Julian Rhind-Tutt and Stephen Mangan.

Kmart realism

Kmart realism, also termed Dirty realism, is a form of minimalist literature found in American short fiction. It is defined as "a literary genre characterized by a spare, terse style that features struggling, working-class characters in sterile, bleak environments". These short stories "represent and reproduce the disintegration of public life [and] the colonization of private life by consumer capitalism". A related definition describes the genre as American fiction that is characterized, among other things, by a fascination with consumption venues and brand names. John Gardner, in critical works such as On Moral Fiction, criticized this style using the term "brand-name fiction writers."

The precursors of Kmart realism include the so-called trailer park fiction, Diet-Pepsi minimalism, and hick chic.

List of environmental issues

This is an alphabetical list of environmental issues, harmful aspects of human activity on the biophysical environment. They are loosely divided into causes, effects and mitigation, noting that effects are interconnected and can cause new effects.

Philip MacCann

Philip MacCann is a British author.

Born in Manchester, he was educated at Trinity College, Dublin and studied Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia under Malcolm Bradbury. His first book, The Miracle Shed (1995), a collection of short stories, won the Rooney Prize for Irish Literature, and in 2000 he was awarded the Shiva Naipaul Memorial Prize.

In the 1990s he was a literary journalist for the Guardian newspaper and Spectator magazine and contributed frequently to Prospect Magazine and others. It was here that he made public a distinct classical aesthetic, statements about the ethical shortcomings of Art and he became known for his acerbic criticism of consumer capitalism. Even before the Miracle Shed was published he wrote in The Guardian of his reluctance to continue publishing literary art in what was much more than a populist climate: a culture oppressed and vandalised by the abuse of corporate power. His first short stories appeared in Faber's First Fictions, the New Yorker and New Writing 1 and 3 (Minerva/British Council). Criticising the writing of the day as "becalmed writing from a stagnant pool", The Guardian singled out MacCann for special praise: "Really blazes - this is what Literature is about."In 1999 The Observer newspaper selected him as one of twenty world authors expected to be important in the new millennium. In fact, only a handful of stories subsequently appeared: in Granta magazine, the Faber Book of Best New Irish Short Stories and the Dublin Review.

The Freedom Paradox

The Freedom Paradox: Towards a Post-Secular Ethics (Allen & Unwin, 274pp) is a 2008 book by Professor Clive Hamilton. This is a philosophical book related to the nature and consequences of advanced consumer capitalism. In the book Hamilton proposes a system of "post-secular ethics" that will serve as a challenge to the "moral malaise" occasioned by the "freedom of the marketplace". The book consists of five parts:

"In the first of these parts, Hamilton systematically works through the paradox of "unfreedom" to reveal the pathological structures ... that have subverted the promise of freedom heralded by the several revolutions of the twentieth century, of which economic liberalism is the most recent and enduring".

"In part two, Hamilton provides the metaphysical basis for his analysis - and for his resolution. The moral life has its basis in a conformity - a creative and vibrant conformity - with Schopenhauer's noumenon, a "metaphysical absolute" or "universal essence"." The noumenon was an origincal idea by Immanuel Kant and refers to the thing in itself.

"In the final three parts, Hamilton anneals his ethics in the forge of his metaphysics, and provides several practical applications (to suicide, sex, non-human life, aesthetics, sociality, happiness)."

The Freedom Paradox was launched in Canberra by Justice Michael Kirby on 5 August 2008.

The Purple Jar

"The Purple Jar" is a well-known short story by Maria Edgeworth (1768-1849), an Anglo-Irish writer of novels and stories. "The Purple Jar" first was published in The Parent's Assistant (1796) and reappeared in Rosamond (1801). Edgeworth's parable of desire and disappointment is now popularly read as the story of a girl getting her first period or menstruation in general.The story is about a young girl, Rosamund, who needs new pair of shoes but is attracted to a purple jar which she sees displayed in a shop window. When her mother gives her the choice of spending her money on shoes or the jar, she chooses the purple jar. "You might be disappointed", her mother cautions, adding that Rosamund will not be able to buy new shoes until the next month. When the girl gets home, she discovers that the jar was not purple but clear and filled with a dark liquid. She cries: "I didn't want this black stuff!" Adding to her disappointment, her father refuses to take her out in public because she looks slovenly without good shoes.

In the 21st century, scholars have also read this story as a parable of consumer capitalism.

Up the Yangtze

Up the Yangtze is a 2007 documentary film directed by Chinese-Canadian director Yung Chang. The film focuses on people affected by the building of the Three Gorges Dam across the Yangtze river in Hubei, China. The theme of the film is the transition towards consumer capitalism from a farming, peasant-based economy as China develops its rural areas. The film is a co-production between the National Film Board of Canada and Montreal's EyeSteelFilm with the participation of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, National Geographic Channel, P.O.V., SODEC, and Telefilm. The film is being distributed in the USA by Zeitgeist Films. The United Kingdom distributor is Dogwoof Pictures.


Vaporwave is a microgenre of electronic music and an Internet meme that emerged in the early 2010s. The style is defined by its appropriation of 1980s and 1990s mood music styles such as smooth jazz, elevator music, R&B, J-pop and lounge music, typically sampling or manipulating tracks via chopped and screwed techniques and other effects. Its surrounding subculture is sometimes associated with an ambiguous or satirical take on consumer capitalism and technoculture, and tends to be characterized by a nostalgic or surrealist engagement with the popular entertainment, technology and advertising of previous decades. It also incorporates early Internet imagery, late 1990s web design, glitch art, anime, 3D-rendered objects, and cyberpunk tropes in its cover artwork and music videos.

Originating as an ironic variant of chillwave, vaporwave was loosely derived from the experimental tendencies of the mid-2000s hypnagogic pop scene. The style was pioneered by producers such as James Ferraro, Daniel Lopatin, and Ramona Xavier under various pseudonyms. A circle of online producers were particularly inspired by Xavier's Floral Shoppe (2011), which established a blueprint for the genre. The movement subsequently built an audience on sites, Reddit, and 4chan while a flood of new acts, many operating under online pseudonyms, turned to Bandcamp for distribution. Following the wider exposure of vaporwave in 2012, a wealth of subgenres and offshoots emerged, such as mallsoft, and hardvapour.

William Davies (political writer)

William Davies is an English writer, political and sociological theorist. His work focuses on the issues of consumerism, happiness, and the history and function of expertise on society. Davies has written for a variety of newspapers and periodicals including The Guardian, New Left Review, London Review of Books, and The Atlantic. In 2015 Davies published his second book The Happiness Industry, which assesses the relationship between consumer capitalism, big data and positive psychology. Davies is the Co-Director of The Political Economy Research Centre in London.

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