The Sociology of Consumption

PJ Rey and George Ritzer

The Wiley-Blackwell Companion to Sociology

Ed. George Ritzer

Publication Date: 2012


Theorizing about consumption has been a part of the field of sociology since its earliest days, dating back, at least implicitly, to the work of Karl Marx in the midto late nineteenth century. However, Thorstein Veblen's (1899) The Theory of the Leisure Class is generally seen as the first major theoretical work to take consumption as its primary focus (although in the body of his, work Veblen, like most other classic thinkers, focused on production - industry and business - not consumption). Despite these early roots, research on consumption began in earnest in the second half of the twentieth century in Europe, especially Great Britain. Interest in the topic among US sociologists was much slower to develop and i~ is still not a focal concern of many American sociologists. In fact, efforts have been underway for many years to form a Section in the American Sociological Association devoted to the study of consumption, but as yet th.ose efforts have not succeeded. The irony of this is that the US is seen as the quintessential consumer society and has been a major exporter of its products, brands, and consumption sites (e.g., McDonald's, Wal-Mart) to the rest of the world. It may be that consumption is sucb a central part of American life that it seems unproblematic, not only to most Americans, but also to the majority of American sociologists. It also may be that the recipients of American consumption exports in other parts of the world are more troubled by them so that sociologists there are drawn more to the topic. American sociologists (and others) also continue to be locked into the productivist bias that dominated the discipline in its early years and, therefore, have been slow to recognize the importance of consumption.


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