Consumer Culture – PowerPoint Presentation

ICS 392: Consumer Culture

 

Much of social life centers on a quest for statusThree types of resources Economic capital Social capital Cultural capitalWe use these three resources to achieve our status or symbolic capital.

Taste, status, Veblen and Goffman

Cultural capitalDistinctive tastes, skills knowledge and practicesWays of feeling, thinking and acting about: Politics. The arts, Religion, Education, Business and Consumption. In short, your taste.

Taste, status, Veblen and Goffman

A large part of status is taste.We reveal our class when we reveal what we like and what we dislike and how we behave. Making an overt status claim doesn’t have to be the goal for status to influence the expression of taste. Rather, your tastes, preferences and behaviors reveal your status

Taste, status, Veblen and Goffman

Social classCoolness Rebel cool Dot coolAuthenticity …and then?

Taste, status, Veblen and Goffman

Social class ruled here for a long time.It was a cultural artifact of our colonization by the British who had a status system based on European notions of the aristocracy.

Taste, status, Veblen and Goffman

Taste, status, Veblen and Goffman

Thorstein Veblen: 1857 to 1929The Theory of the Leisure Class (1897); essay entitled “Conspicuous Consumption”Many of his ideas have become commonplace in the social sciences and criticismConspicuous consumptionVicarious consumptionThere is also a lot that he got wrong See Quartz and AspWe’re going to focus on the things still generally accepted

Taste, status, Veblen and Goffman

Consumption and the social hierarchy “Consumption is not just about fulfilling individual needs/desires, but also about communicating to others one’s place in the social hierarchy”“The consumption of luxuries, in the true sense, is a consumption directed to the comfort of the consumer himself, and is, therefore, a mark of the master” (p2.)

Taste, status, Veblen and Goffman

Conspicuous consumption“Conspicuous consumption of valuable goods is a means of reputability to the gentleman of leisure” (p4).“The basis on which good repute in any highly organized industrial community ultimately rests is pecuniary strength; and the means of showing pecuniary strength, and of so gaining or retaining a good name, are leisure and a conspicuous consumption of goods” (p8).

Taste, status, Veblen and Goffman

Increasingly conspicuous consumption“The means of communication and the mobility of the population now expose the individual to the observation of many persons who have no other means of judging of his reputability than the display of goods (and perhaps of breeding) which he is able to make while he is under their direct observation” (p8).“Consumption becomes a larger element in the standard of living in the city than in the country” (p9).

Taste, status, Veblen and Goffman

Three rules for class mobility “In order to avoid stultification he must also cultivate his tastes, for it now becomes incumbent on him to discriminate with some nicety between the noble and the ignoble [undistinguished] in consumer goods (p3).”“Since the consumption of these more excellent goods is an evidence of wealth, it becomes honorific; and conversely, the failure to consume in due quantity and quality becomes a mark of inferiority and demerit (p3).”“Closely related to the requirement that the gentleman must consume freely and of the right kind of goods, there is the requirement that he must know how to consume them in a seemly manner (p4).”

Taste, status, Veblen and Goffman

The fragmentation of classes “As wealth accumulates, the leisure class develops further in function and structure, and there arises a differentiation within the class. There is a more or less elaborate system of rank and grades” (p4).“…a system of hierarchical gradations. Those who stand near the higher and the highest grades of the wealthy leisure class, in point of birth, or in point of wealth, or both, outrank the remoter-born and the pecuniarily weaker” (p4).“In the new American structure there seem to be an infinite number of classes”

Taste, status, Veblen and Goffman

Vicarious consumption“Another, scarcely less obtrusive or less effective form of vicarious consumption, and a much more widely prevalent one, is the consumption of food, clothing, dwelling, and furniture by the lady and the rest of the domestic establishment” (p1).“Many… have in turn attached to their persons a more or less comprehensive group of vicarious consumers in the persons of their wives and children, their servants, retainers, etc” (p5).

Taste, status, Veblen and Goffman

Luxuries become necessities “The leisure class stands at the head of the social structure in point of reputability; and its manner of life and its standards of worth therefore afford the norm of reputability for the community. … The result is that the members of each stratum accept as their ideal of decency the scheme of life in vogue in the next higher stratum, and bend their energies to live up to that ideal” (p7).“It frequently happens that an element of the standard of living which set out being primarily wasteful, ends with becoming, in the apprehension of the consumer, a necessary of life; and it may in this way become as indispensable as any other item of the consumer’s habitual expenditure” (p14).

Taste, status, Veblen and Goffman

It is pervasive “No class of society, not even the most abjectly poor, forgoes all customary conspicuous consumption. The last items of this category of consumption are not given up except under stress of the direct necessity. Very much of squalor and discomfort will be endured before the last trinket of pretense of pecuniary decency is put away” (p8).

Taste, status, Veblen and Goffman

Erving Goffman: 1922 – 1982Considered by some to be the most influential sociologist of the 20th centuryA pioneer of micro-sociology: close examination of the social interactions that compose everyday life. Status is obviously bound up with all of this.

Taste, status, Veblen and Goffman

Status: rights, obligation and enforcement“the rights and obligations of a status are fixed through time by means of external sanctions enforced by law, public opinion, and threat of socio-economic loss, and by internalized sanctions of the kind that are built into a conception of self and give rise to guilt, remorse, and shame” (p. 294)

Taste, status, Veblen and Goffman

Maintaining status system consensus “Co-operative activity based on a differentiation and integration of statuses is a universal characteristic of social life. This kind of harmony requires that the occupant of each status act toward others in a manner which conveys the impression that his conception of himself and of them is the same as their conception of themselves and him. A working consensus of this sort therefore requires adequate communication about conceptions of status.” (p. 294)“Persons in the same social position tend to possess a similar pattern of behaviour” (p. 295)

Taste, status, Veblen and Goffman

Status symbols“The rights and obligations of a status are frequently ill-adapted to the requirements of ordinary communication. Specialized means of displaying one’s position frequently develop. Such sign-vehicles have been called status symbols. They are the cues which select for a person the status that is to be imputed to him and the way in which others are to treat him”

Taste, status, Veblen and Goffman

How members treat each other and outsiders“Persons in the same social position behave in many ways that are common to all the occupants of the position as well as particular to them”“Status symbols visibly divide the social world into categories of persons, thereby helping to maintain solidarity within a category and hostility between different categories.”

Taste, status, Veblen and Goffman

Complex, multifaceted “No matter how we define social class we must refer to discrete or dis-continuous levels of prestige and privilege, where admission to any one of these levels is, typically, determined by a complex of social qualifications, no one or two of which are necessarily essential. Symbols of class status do not typically refer to a specific source of status but rather to something based upon a configuration of sources” (p. 296).

Taste, status, Veblen and Goffman

Restrictive mechanisms“We may say, then, that continuing use of status symbols in social situations requires mechanisms for restricting the opportunities that arise for misrepresentation. We may approach the study of status symbols by classifying the restrictive mechanisms embodied in them” (p. 296). “Every class symbol embodies one or more devices for restricting mis-representative use of it. The following restrictive devices are among the most typical”

Taste, status, Veblen and Goffman

Moral restrictions“Just as a system of economic contract is made effective by people’s willingness to acknowledge the legitimacy of the rights which underlie the system, so the use of certain symbols is made effective by inner moral constraints which inhibit people from misrepresenting them-selves.”“these self-applied constraints, however phrased, are reinforced by the pressure of the opinion both of one’s original group and of the class whose symbols one may misemploy. But the efficacy of these external sanctions is due in part to the readiness with which they are reinforced by internalized moral constraints.”

Taste, status, Veblen and Goffman

Intrinsic restrictions“We symbolize our wealth by displaying it, our power by using it, and our skill by exercising it. In the case of wealth, for example, racing stables, large homes, and jewelry obviously imply that the owner has at least as much money as the symbols can bring on the open market” (p. 298). “We must account for the high price placed upon certain scarce objects by referring to the social gains that their owners obtain by showing these possessions to other persons. The expressive superiority of an object merely accounts for the fact that it, rather than some other equally scarce object, was selected for use as a status symbol”

Taste, status, Veblen and Goffman

Natural restrictions “The most obvious basis of scarcity, perhaps, can be found in objects which are made from material that is very infrequently found in the natural world and which cannot be manufactured synthetically from materials that are less scarce. This is the basis of scarcity, for example, in the case of very large flawless diamonds” (p. 299).“Similarly, furniture made ” solidly ” from certain hardwoods, regardless of style or workmanship, is used as a symbol of status. The trees which supply the material take so long a time to grow that, in terms of the current market, existing forests can be considered as a closed and decreasing supply”

Taste, status, Veblen and Goffman

Socialization restrictions“An important symbol of membership in a given class is displayed during informal interaction” (p. 300).“the suitability and likeableness of one’s general manner”“These behaviours involve matters of etiquette, dress, deportment, gesture, intonation, dialect, vocabulary, small bodily movements and automatically expressed evaluations concerning both the substance and the details of life. In a manner of speaking, these behaviours constitute a social style.” “social style carries deep expressive significance. The style and manners of a class are, therefore, psychologically ill-suited to those whose life experiences took place in another class”

Taste, status, Veblen and Goffman

Cultivation restrictions“In many societies, avocational pursuits involving the cultivation of arts, “tastes,” sports, and handicrafts have been used as symbols of class status” (p. 301).

Taste, status, Veblen and Goffman