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Beyond Consumerism: New Historical Perspectives on Consumption

Beyond Consumerism: New Historical Perspectives on Consumption Consumer culture has moved to the centre of contemporary debates about society, identity and citizenship. This article cuts a critical, comparative pathway through the literature to point to new directions for historical work. Initially driving research, concepts like ‘consumer revolution’, ‘consumer society’ and ‘consumerism’ have become problematic analytical concepts for understanding the changing dynamics, practices and meanings of consumption. Historical research has lost touch with theoretical and conceptual developments in the social sciences. Engaging with recent work on urban spaces, retailing, work-place, scarcity, the state and consumer politics, this article develops perspectives to frame historical debate. Problematizing a stage-theory of global convergence, the article draws attention to divergence and disjunctures. Instead of drawing a contrast between ‘traditional’ culture and ‘modern’ acquisitive, consumerist mentality, it emphasizes the persistence of social and collective dimensions of consumption practices and identities. Instead of privileging a utility-maximizing individual or self-fashioning and self-oriented individual, it points to contingent civic sensibilities and political practices of consumers. To foster dialogue with the growing interdisciplinary field of consumer studies, historians need to broaden their conception of consumption, become more self-critical of invoking an essentialist consumer and unitary western model of consumerism, and instead, be more sensitive of how historical actors have developed their knowledge of consumption and identity as ‘consumers’. http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png Journal of Contemporary History SAGE

Beyond Consumerism: New Historical Perspectives on Consumption

Journal of Contemporary History , Volume 39 (3): 29 – Jul 1, 2004

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References (22)

Publisher
SAGE
Copyright
Copyright © by SAGE Publications
ISSN
0022-0094
eISSN
1461-7250
DOI
10.1177/0022009404044446
Publisher site
See Article on Publisher Site

Abstract

Consumer culture has moved to the centre of contemporary debates about society, identity and citizenship. This article cuts a critical, comparative pathway through the literature to point to new directions for historical work. Initially driving research, concepts like ‘consumer revolution’, ‘consumer society’ and ‘consumerism’ have become problematic analytical concepts for understanding the changing dynamics, practices and meanings of consumption. Historical research has lost touch with theoretical and conceptual developments in the social sciences. Engaging with recent work on urban spaces, retailing, work-place, scarcity, the state and consumer politics, this article develops perspectives to frame historical debate. Problematizing a stage-theory of global convergence, the article draws attention to divergence and disjunctures. Instead of drawing a contrast between ‘traditional’ culture and ‘modern’ acquisitive, consumerist mentality, it emphasizes the persistence of social and collective dimensions of consumption practices and identities. Instead of privileging a utility-maximizing individual or self-fashioning and self-oriented individual, it points to contingent civic sensibilities and political practices of consumers. To foster dialogue with the growing interdisciplinary field of consumer studies, historians need to broaden their conception of consumption, become more self-critical of invoking an essentialist consumer and unitary western model of consumerism, and instead, be more sensitive of how historical actors have developed their knowledge of consumption and identity as ‘consumers’.

Journal

Journal of Contemporary HistorySAGE

Published: Jul 1, 2004

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