A consumer society is a society in which rests upon the consumption of material goods as a paramount feature of its existence. This can cause a very evident divide in society, as not everybody is able to consume equally. This essay will draw upon how the consumer society was founded, an explanation of the three theorists: Bauman, Veblen and Susman, the monopoly power well established supermarkets have over the smaller local businesses and the further divide this implication can cause.
Consumer society was born after the industrial society or revolution. It was the starting point in which the consumer society came about. It was much easier to purchase material items as material goods were mass produced meaning there was more to go around therefore more goods to be consumed. The way individuals made a living changed. Anybody who had a role in the industrial revolution was part of a vast organisation and was therefore guaranteed a wage. Often times these wages were far greater than people actually needed, this is where the consumer society arrived. No longer were people scrapping the barrel to buy life’s necessities but now individuals could afford the extras ‘luxuries’ like expensive jewellery and antiques. ‘Luxury items and the trappings of wealth were an important means of displaying character and status at that time.’ (Hetherington, 2009, p. 32).
In chapter 1, Hetherington discusses consumption and attempts to break down what exactly the British nation spends their wages on. Hetherington then goes on to explore three key theorists, Bauman, Veblen and Susman and studies their views on why some people feel the need to consume rapidly. Firstly he mentions the first ‘influential’ (Hetherington, 2009, p. 25) social scientist Zygmunt Bauman (1988) who believed individuals were characterised into two categories ’The seduced an the repressed’ (Hetherington, 2009, pg. 25). The seduced being able to buy into the enticing deals of a consumer society because they could or had the money to do so to feel a sense of belonging and partnership ‘they are included as members with a positive identity.’ (Hetherington, 2009, pg. 27). The seduced having the access and resources to engage in the consumption of goods and services that they never always needed. On the other hand the repressed suggests one who cannot buy into consuming excessively maybe not because one is not financially unable, but perhaps they feel life necessities are sufficient and the extra indulgence is not needed. Another major reason one might be classified as ‘repressed’ is if one is disabled using a wheel chair perhaps and in able to take part in consumption he/she needs to use their means of mobility, but if the place of consumption does not support/meet the needs of an immobile person then the disabled individual is unable to consume, meaning he/she is repressed. Leading to an exclusion from society. Resulting in a division in society.
Moving on to the second theorist, Thorstein Veblen who had a different outlook and opinion on consuming. Veblen believed people took part in consumption to demonstrate their wealth to others. His views were that people were more interested in status and hierarchy then to actually consume to please themselves but to impress others. He came up with a term known as ‘conspicuous consumption’ (Hetherington, 2009, pg. 31&32) which summed up his work and belief. This type of consumption originally only associated with the rich and prestigious now commonly found amongst the working class too as the availability of material goods and services are far more accessible. Consumption in large quantities can cause conflict within society, with some individuals for consuming rapidly and some against it ‘extravagance’. There is a fine line between what people need to survive on ‘necessity’ and what people can live without ‘luxury’. Material goods can start off as luxury…