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Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Consumerism and Gender Roles in America: A Word to the Wives (1955)


Consumerism is a social and economic order that is based on the systematic creation and fostering of a desire to purchase goods or services in ever greater amounts. The term is often associated with criticisms of consumption starting with Thorstein Veblen or, more recently by a movement called Enoughism. 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.

The term "consumerism" is also used to refer to the consumerist movement or consumer activism, which seeks to protect and inform consumers by requiring such practices as honest packaging and advertising, product guarantees, and improved safety standards. In this sense it is a movement or a set of policies aimed at regulating the products, services, methods, and standards of manufacturers, sellers, and advertisers in the interests of the buyer.

In economics, consumerism refers to economic policies placing emphasis on consumption. In an abstract sense, it is the belief that the free choice of consumers should dictate the economic structure of a society (cf. Producerism, especially in the British sense of the term).

The term "consumerism" was first used in 1915 to refer to "advocacy of the rights and interests of consumers" (Oxford English Dictionary) but in this article the term "consumerism" refers to the sense first used in 1960, "emphasis on or preoccupation with the acquisition of consumer goods" (Oxford English Dictionary).

Anti-consumerism refers to the socio-political movement against the equating of personal happiness with consumption and the purchase of material possessions. The term "consumerism" was first used in 1915 to refer to "advocacy of the rights and interests of consumers" (Oxford English Dictionary) but here the term "consumerism" refers to the sense first used in 1960, "emphasis on or preoccupation with the acquisition of consumer goods" (Oxford English Dictionary). Consumerism is a term used to describe the effects of the market economy on the individual. Concern over the treatment of consumers has spawned substantial activism, and the incorporation of consumer education into school curricula. Anti-consumerist activism draws parallels with environmental activism, anti-globalization, and animal-rights activism in its condemnation of modern corporations, or organizations that pursue a solely economic interest. One variation on this topic is activism by postconsumers, with the strategic emphasis on moving beyond addictive consumerism.

In recent years, there have been an increasing number of books (Naomi Klein's 2000 No Logo for example) and films (e.g. The Corporation & Surplus), popularizing an anti-corporate ideology to the public.

Opposition to economic materialism comes primarily from two sources: religion and social activism. Some religions assert materialism interferes with connection between the individual and the divine, or that it is inherently an immoral lifestyle. Some notable individuals, such as Francis of Assisi, Ammon Hennacy, and Mohandas Gandhi claimed spiritual inspiration led them to a simple lifestyle. Social activists believe materialism is connected to war, greed, anomie, crime, environmental degradation, and general social malaise and discontent. Fundamentally, their concern is that materialism is unable to offer a raison d'être for human existence. Critics of consumerism include Pope Benedict XVI, German historian Oswald Spengler (who said, "Life in America is exclusively economic in structure and lacks depth"), and French writer Georges Duhamel, who held "American materialism up as a beacon of mediocrity that threatened to eclipse French civilization."

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