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Conspicuous Consumption

Juliet B. Schor

Subject Sociology » Consumption

Key-Topics consumerism

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781405124331.2007.x


The term conspicuous consumption entered the sociological lexicon via Thorstein Veblen's biting analysis of the spending patterns of the rich and nouveau riches in the late nineteenth century. The Theory of the Leisure Class (1899) is an account of how these groups spent enormous energy and money constructing an ostentatious style of life. They built and decorated ornate homes, adorned their persons with clothing and jewelry, designed elaborate carriages, and employed large numbers of servants dressed in expensive uniforms. Throughout, the principles of waste, luxury, and ornamentation ruled the choices they made. The motive that animated their efforts was the desire for social esteem, which itself was dependent on the possession of wealth. But having money was not enough. It must be put “in evidence,” or become conspicuous. Because these are ongoing features of wealth-based status systems, the concept of conspicuousness continues to be important long after the Veblenian era has passed. The theory of conspicuous consumption is the centerpiece of Veblen's larger analysis of class society and its relation to styles of life and work. Relying on a stylized history of “savage,” “barbarian,” and “civilized” societies, Veblen argued that the emergence of classes in the barbarian era (roughly synonymous with feudal Europe and Asia) led to the use of wealth as the primary basis of males’ ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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