Many religious traditions have long been critical of the morality of consumer societies in which secular, materialist values of pleasure seeking and profligacy crowd out traditional values of restraint, spirituality, and charity. The effects of advertising and consumer culture on the family, particularly children who are subjected to thousands of messages promoting consumption and instant gratification every day, have also traditionally been areas of concern.
More radical critics paint a darker picture. German philosopher-sociologists Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno, seeking to understand why workers in capitalist nations were not revolutionary, found one answer in the ideological functions of consumer culture. In capitalist societies, the culture industry indoctrinates and manipulates consumers; creates false needs; and produces passive, alienated individuals who are incapable of critical thought or resistance.
Taking the criticism to the next level, French sociologist Jean Baudrillard argues that consumer culture has imploded into every aspect of life to the extent that there are no longer true needs to be alienated from or manipulated. Theories of the consumer society have come under criticism from both the right and the left. For libertarians, these perspectives are elitist and paternalistic for asserting that consumers make choices that are not in their interest i. American sociologist Michael Schudson defends advertising from charges of manipulation by pointing out that many advertising campaigns are unsuccessful.
Moreover, prevailing circumstances appear unlikely to change any time soon. All economic systems rest on supportive pillars that require periodic reinforcement to maintain their viability. For instance, when supplies of critical raw materials run short, substitutes must be identified or technological changes introduced.
Failure to do so in a timely way runs the risk of gradual attrition or, in certain more dramatic cases, precipitous decline. Current developments at the heart of contemporary consumer society suggest such outcomes may loom in the near future in the absence of significant revitalization. Over many decades, three mainstays have fostered American mass consumerism: Buttressing these props have been reliable joists, most notably facilitative government policies that, since World War II, have privileged consumer-led economic expansion and guaranteed access to ample natural resources.
Under these circumstances, few people questioned consumer society: Several cross-cutting currents are now weakening the scaffold of American consumer society: At the same time, the federal government is locked in a state of political paralysis and unable to perform its customary role of recharging the capacity of consumers to drive economic growth. Many state and local governments, caught in their own austerity traps, have implemented policies that perversely sap potential for meaningful rejuvenation.
There are multiple reasons to question whether policymakers have the political will to reinvigorate the purchasing power of overspent consumers. It has since risen to The households raised in this generation launched the first truly mass wave of suburbanization during the s and the related phenomenon of middle-class consumer culture.
As the boomers retire, however, their preferences are shifting dramatically: Second, household income dynamics are changing.
In the years following World War II, robust industrial employment and relatively progressive tax policies lifted wages and reduced income inequality. Income disparity fell to a historic low in the late s but then reversed course. These income trends challenge an important premise of a well-functioning consumer society, prominently championed back in by Henry Ford: For this strategy to be effective, however, a collective action problem must first be overcome.
Capitalist-producers have an incentive to keep the salaries of their own employees low and to rely on other employers to raise wages to boost consumption, yet if they all act on this logic, demand will prove insufficient to absorb available production.
Recent trends thus raise a related question: Can consumer society persist in the face of a shrinking middle class? Increasing societal divergence in income makes this unlikely, since it deepens the divide between the affluent cognoscenti of positional goods and cash-strapped shoppers of quotidian commodities. Third, research on generational cultural values suggests that twenty-somethings today have consumption preferences that are different from those of their predecessors, evincing diminished interest in material possessions, subscribing to less regularized employment practices in part owing to prevailing labor-market conditions , and relying heavily on social media to manage relationships and daily affairs.
For a youthful driver, a car is first and foremost a means of maintaining connectivity with a social network, and motorized transportation is less essential in an era of ubiquitous mobile communications.
Both the commodity fetishism and the status competition previously associated with cars now apply to digital devices. In addition, youth today lean toward urban lifestyles, which enable them to dispense with the cost and inconvenience of a personal automobile, or at least to reassign a less commanding role to it.
Correspondingly, the suburban home is coming in for re-examination. For more than half a century, financial incentives like the mortgage interest tax deduction and generous public subsidies for land development fostered suburbanization and sprawl, but our ongoing ability to maintain these costly entitlements remains an open question.
Finally, the global system faces several types of resource scarcity, ranging from shortages of precious metals to insufficient freshwater in densely populated regions. We may be nearing this historic juncture. According to geologist Colin Campbell, we are consuming four barrels of oil for each one newly identified.
In the future, if we do not successfully transition away from fossil fuels, we will need to pursue more expensive and environmentally problematic sources. However, if you find a suitable brief quote from the course it would be better evidenced, you can always do this appropriately but paragraphs without references just show you are not using course material and drop your marks down. This depiction of winners and losers within society is further seen in the tension between supermarkets and small shop keepers on the high street, which can also be described as those that have the power to influence where we shop and those that do not have as much power.
This tension is evidently seen in the local market statistics and the falling number of independently owned shops, as well as factory surveys and local case studies that highlight poverty and hardship Allen, , p People these days want all the trappings that come with a consumer lifestyle, and at supermarkets they can get these things for cheaper prices compared with independently owned stores, which appeals to the masses.
On the other hand however, supermarkets may argue that their shops contribute to regeneration on the high street as people who might not live in the area are drawn to it because of these mega stores and therefore more people are drawn to high street shops.
Furthermore, national market statistics could also be seen as favourable to supermarkets. Although, the question arises: However one might argue that this is true yet the workers are not in a position to protest as, if they do, the supermarkets will always find other people who are desperate to earn money, in that same country or another, who will work for them.
The points I have explored, not only show the many divisions that come up in a consumer society, but also propose the question: Furthermore, is all that we consume globally sustainable? It is possible that our rate of consumption will one day come to a halt. Additionally, one might argue that the many divisions that are created not just between the general public but between shop-owners show that there are cracks beginning to form in our society.
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Consumer society – Point out this essay is looking at consumer society. Who – highlight the essay is looking at who. The winners and losers - define this concept in the introduction as it is the main content phrase in the essay question.
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