Article

Consumption

Ian Woodward

in Sociology

ISBN: 9780199756384
Published online February 2013 | | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/obo/9780199756384-0075
Consumption

More Like This

Show all results sharing these subjects:

  • Sociology
  • Comparative and Historical Sociology
  • Economic Sociology
  • Gender and Sexuality
  • Health, Illness, and Medicine
  • Population and Demography
  • Race and Ethnicity
  • Social Movements and Social Change
  • Social Stratification, Inequality, and Mobility
  • Social Theory

GO

Show Summary Details

Preview

A rudimentary definition of consumption emphasizes the purchase and use of goods or services, noting that the point of expenditure on such items and the instant of their usage constitute the act of consumption. This understanding of consumption reflects a utilitarian, economic approach to consumption that should be seen as a starting point, since the range of theoretical and empirical innovations within the field of consumption studies—which exists within sociology, as well as having disciplinary expressions within anthropology, history, geography, business, and marketing studies—has established an understanding of consumption as a complex, widespread process. “The Sociology of Consumption” by Colin Campbell in Daniel Miller, ed., Acknowledging Consumption: A Review of New Studies (London: Routledge, 1995) adds a number of other stages to this basic definition of consumption. Campbell states that consumption involves not just purchasing or using a good or service but also selecting it, maintaining it, possibly repairing it, and ultimately, disposing of it in some way. Within each of these stages there are a number of complex subprocesses that consumption studies scholars have increasingly paid attention to. For example, the selection of goods is sometimes undertaken largely subconsciously or automatically but also based upon various social norms, cultural learning, emotional factors, prejudices, facets of identity, taste, or style. Likewise, disposing of a good may mean literally throwing it away, or it may mean reselling it, donating it, or passing it on to others. Campbell’s definition usefully shows how consumption is a process over time that fuses practical, emotional, material, and economic factors, rather than merely the moment when a person pays for something over the counter. In many ways, this broader understanding of consumption points to a range of innovations within the field that have occurred in the last few decades, which in turn direct us to broader changes in patterns of sociological inquiry. Questions of labor, industry, production units, social, legal, and economic institutions, technology, and social class were the core stuff of social inquiry through much of the 20th century. In mainstream sociology, consumption was for most of the discipline’s history simply not a relevant analytic category, which explains why for much of sociology’s history consumption was understood through theories of capitalist production. However, in the last few decades researchers have increasingly situated practices of consumption and a consumerist ethic as central for understanding broader social and cultural change, impacting on the way sociologists have conceptualized such diverse areas of social change as cultural and economic inequality, urban and spatial development, identity and selfhood, gender relations and performativity, media, and advertising.

Article.  7090 words. 

Subjects: Sociology ; Comparative and Historical Sociology ; Economic Sociology ; Gender and Sexuality ; Health, Illness, and Medicine ; Population and Demography ; Race and Ethnicity ; Social Movements and Social Change ; Social Stratification, Inequality, and Mobility ; Social Theory

Full text: subscription required

How to subscribe Recommend to my Librarian

Buy this work at Oxford University Press »

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content. Please, subscribe or login to access all content.