Additional materials

403 Assignment details


SUV: group presentation (30 min)

the class will divide into two groups, one pro-SUV and one anti-SUV; one unassigned person will be the “reference expert”

each group will research their position and come up with a position paper of about 1000 words which will be posted on Blackboard

the position must concentrate on consumer issues

factual information must be conveyed to the reference expert who will be the anchor point; this person is also responsible for having asense of the progress of the issue(e.g.,  Ariana Huffington’s recent efforts).

visual aids are appropriate for the BB posting and for class presentation.

Bocock (30 min.)

read carefully as an overview introduction to the key issues in terms of a sociological analysis.  Be prepared to discuss


read and consider your own position as an intellectual/consumer.  Post a comment on BB.

Douglas (15 min)

read in terms of a case study of how a technological change is related to changes in consumption, and how the issue is gendered (that is takes place within a context of gender difference)

Adorno/Horkheimer (30 min.)

assigned discussion leader; this person will prepare notes for background and interpretation and post them on BB by Thursday, April 3, 5 pm.

read for basic argument

Baudrillard (20 min.)

assigned discussion leader (as above)

read for basic argument


read: Susan G. Davis, “Shopping”

read: John Fiske, “Shopping for Pleasure...”

Choose a shopping site

you must go with at least one other person, who can be a classmate or not

you have to chose a relatively unfamiliar place, and run it by the prof.;  your partner can be familiar with the site, which might be helpful if they have some special local knowledge.  Evanston and Old Orchard are off-limits. Plan on a time of high activity such as Friday evening, Saturday, Sunday, etc.

spend at least two hours on the site; you will take notes (written or tape recorded) on your observations.  If you want to take pictures, videos, etc. it must be AFTER the two hours

write an analysis of your observations about shopping

suggested sites:

North Michigan Ave.
Virgin Megastore
Sony store
Water Tower Place
American Girl Place
Pilsen (Mexican)
Milwaukee Ave., north of Diversey (Polish)
Wicker Park (art ghetto)
Clark Mall (Clark, 1 block South of Touhy) Mexican-American mini-mall; small stalls
various flea markets (see yellow pages)
distinctive strip malls (e.g. Kosher markets, bakeries, delis, etc. in Skokie)
Gurney Mills (outlet mall)
Englewood “mall” (struggling shopping area for working class and working poor African American community)
Woodfield Mall (middle class suburban)
Belmont el stop, goth teen hang-out
Boystown (Halsted between Diversey and Addison)
North and Clyborn (yuppie central: Pottery Barn, Container store, 2 Crate and Barrels, etc.)

Cross, An All-Consuming Century

Amy Beste
How does Bourdieu’s analysis of taste mesh with Cross’s account of the history of US consumption?

Amy Fossett
Discuss how suburbanization intermeshed with consumption, and how media played a role in promoting and accelerating both.

Dan Freed
Cross’s analysis tends to not pay much attention to minorities.  But the civil rights movement of the 60s and 70s organized not only around civic justice in voting and education, but also around access to restaurants and accommodations, credit (both loans and credit cards), segregated residential housing, tourism, etc.  Discuss the investment of minorities in consumption as a political and social issue.

Jason Gallo
In the last 20 years of the 20th Century official restraint on consumption through government regulation of advertising, the environment, and the media declined.  Discuss.

Lizzy Gore
In his first public address to the country following the events of September 11, 2001, President Bush announced a “war on terrorism” and also urged Americans to continue to consume.  In previous wars citizens were asked to sacrifice for the duration and accept higher taxes, limits on both necessities and luxuries, etc.  Use Cross’s analysis to explain how today it is patriotic to consume.

Amanda Hinnant
What tools and insights does Cross provide to understand the relation of leisure and consumption?

Sheila Moeshen
Do efforts to gain “consumer rights” and organize people around consumption issues promote or retard consumption?  Use Cross’s analysis to discuss your position on the issue.

Margaret O’Neill
Cross indicates that at the beginning of the 20h Century, certain areas were assumed to be off limits to commercialism, such as children, the family, public education, health care, religion, and civic life.  At the end of the century each of these areas was significantly colonized as part of a large system of consumption.  Discuss why this happened.

Mary Pagano
Cross indicates that the problematic and the attractive parts of consumerism are part of the same phenomenon: the desire for the new, the desire for immediate satisfaction, the valorization of the personal over the social.  Discuss.

Chano Parker
Much of Cross’s discussion focuses on material goods.  What of the consumption of services?

Shih-Chin Peng
Using Cross’s discussion of the development of consumption in the US as a model, discuss how consumption developed in Taiwan in relation to its 20th Century political and economic history.  In other words, explain how consumption in Taiwan is shaped by major events such as the history of Japanese occupation, the arrival of the KMT, the change to an industrial economy, the move to democratization and vastly expanded trade with the mainland.

Shelly Scott
The pet supply chain store “Petco” used to advertise that they existed because “pets can’t shop,”  but their current commercials show cute pups visiting the store (with their cash or credit card holding owners).  Discuss how pets have become part of “an all-consuming century.”

Amber Watts
What is the role of genuinely new products and (often superficial) stylistic change in promoting consumption?

Kevin Welch
What is the role of nostalgia in promoting consumption (see also Susan Willis’s analysis)?

Li Zeng
After many decades of officially limited consumption, China is undergoing drastic and dramatic change in this area.  What lessons can you see for the future of Chinese society in the example of the development of consumption in the 20th Century USA?

Cultural Studies
--a preliminary institutional definition
(definition for a School of Speech Committee on Cultural Studies) by Chuck Kleinhans

In the broad sense, Cultural Studies is a multi-disciplinary field which uses a contemporary definition of culture drawing on the sociological-anthropological sense of culture as human social interaction and its material/technological objects and processes.  It also draws on traditional humanities studies of culture in the sense of art.  Thus we can recognize its presence and antecedents in social and cultural history, literature and visual arts, performing arts, cultural anthropology, qualitative and ethnographic sociology--what Europeans tend to call “the human sciences.”  It has also had a significant presence in journalism--both thoughtful reportage and critical reviewing and analysis in the public sphere.

Because it has most often been applied to modern and contemporary societies, Cultural Studies has been especially linked to the study of representation and the media, and as a cross-disciplinary  mode of inquiry it has been useful to areas such as American Studies, Communication Studies, African-American Studies, Women’s Studies, etc.  Because it has been open to new and emerging developments and has attracted younger researchers, it has been especially useful to examining cultural aspects of new social-political subcultures and movements such as gay/lesbian/queer activism, youth cultures, racial-ethic groups, etc.  It has also been useful to journalism and business schools especially in areas of advertising and marketing. 

In a narrow sense, Cultural Studies has often been construed as the history of a specific intellectual development stemming from one institution--the Birmingham Center. In this line of development, it coalesces out of the work of Raymond Williams, Richard Hoggart, and E. P. Thompson and is further developed at Birmingham by Stuart Hall and then by his students as they move to Australia, Canada, the U.S., and so on.  In this more restricted sense, it has been embattled and often politicized in relation to different fields and disciplines.  For example, in communications and media studies it is often rejected by (generally politically conservative to liberal) traditional quantitative/functionalism/administrative researchers as well as (politically liberal to radical) political economists.  Similarly it is often stigmatized by traditionalist humanities scholars for crossing beyond the canon and formal procedures.

Cultural Studies has been institutionalized in peculiar ways--largely through loose affiliations of faculties  than departments and programs, more through shared research areas than organized or interdependent research projects, more though individual than group work.  Thus its presence has been most notable in some conferences, some periodicals (e.g. Cultural Studies, Social Text, etc.) and some university press series (Routledge, Duke, Minnesota, etc.)  Almost all practitioners would admit to the existence of a certain amount of dubious work done in the area (a characteristic of all emerging areas), but as research agendas develop and investigators are more seasoned, it is clear that to the extent that the immediate and sometimes ephemeral social processes and cultural objects examined in Cultural Studies are subjected to a broader contextual framework of historical, institutional, economic, and political analysis, Cultural Studies provides a powerful direction for analysis.

Susan G. Davis, Spectacular Nature

Assigned questions for Spectacular Nature.

Shelly, Lizzy, Margaret, Chano will generate their own materials for the presentation


Amanda, Amy B.
1.  Discuss  the perspective and the methods Davis uses to do her study.  As an example of cultural analysis, how (by what means) does she develop an institutional critique along with issues of urbanization, the environment, performance, business, etc.?

Sheila, Kevin
2.  Discuss the “backstage” aspects of Sea World: design of the park, moving people, soundscape, and what she calls the “emotional work” of the staff.  How does all the planning and organization affect the Sea World experience for customers?

3. How have critics Sea World and protests against it shaped the shows and the presentation of the animals?

Li, Amy F.
4.  How (by what means) does Sea World balance its educational function with its entertainment function? 

5. How is nature tourism a form of cultural consumption?  How could Davis’s analysis be applied to other forms of nature tourism? (e.g., Niagara Falls?)

Jason, Dori
6.  Davis remarks on many contradictions in Seaworld.  How does it try to reconcile those contradictions?  How well does it succeed?

George Ritzer, The McDonalidization of Society

There are several editions, the most recent one (2000) adds material on the birth and death industries, and new phenomenae.  There are also several books that commet on this book and a google.com search will turn up a lot of material

Here's a commentary on the Ritzer thesis.  Check out Kellner's other web articles for an assortment of cultural analysis views--e.g., he did a book on Baudrillard.


Here's some work by an NU Prof.  Check it out


Marx on Commodity Fetishism

This rather dense piece is a “philosophical” passage from the first section of Marx’s three-volume Capital.  Marx’s goal in his book is to examine how then-emerging large scale industrial capitalism works, and most of the study is based in detailed economic and historical analysis.  In the section at hand, Marx provides a general overview of the processes and characteristics of capitalist production.

The key observation here is that under modern industrial capitalism, those things produced circulate in such a way that the social relations which underpin commodity production and exchange are mysterious or hidden.  It’s useful to remember that while Marx was a socialist and critical of the inequalities of capitalism, in Capital his main project is to understand how the system works, and that he thought that capitalism actually lead to a new stage of social/historical development.  Capitalism, as a mode of production, by massing resources (the means of production such as land, raw materials, industrial tools, transportation, etc.), and encouraging industrial development, increases productivity on a massive scale.  Some of the value resulting from the productive process goes to maintaining the system (workers and their families, replacing industrial things that wear out, government, etc.), some of it goes to the capitalists as profit, but the “genius” of the system is that it produces vastly more which can be re-invested in increasing production (research, more machines, better facilities, better communication systems, etc.) and thus the system as a whole grows. 

In contrast to feudalism, which has fairly obvious social relations (the peasant works land owned by the master who is also functionally if not actually the government; the peasant family must give a large portion of what they produce directly to the owner, part to the church, etc.), under the greatly increased division of labor of capitalism, social relations are obscured.  While the rural peasant takes care of most needs directly on the land, in an urban industrial setting, people are increasingly drawn into specialized production and consumption, and thus exchange and its vehicle, money, takes place.  However everything tends to become commodified: thus the worker exchanges his/her labor-power for money and then for commodities which are needed for the reproduction of life (food, housing, clothing, etc.).  The overall system obscures social relations which makes it hard to understand them.

The importance of this passage for our course of study is that it indicates that while we “see” commodities when we go shopping, or use them in daily life, and thus tend to understand them as “natural,” we seldom understand the elaborate web of social relations that govern their production and distribution.  Marx wants us to realize that that the process of exchange under capitalism actually makes it hard to understand many aspects of society and how it functions.  The commodity appears to be autonomous, whereas it is actually merely the surface appearance of social relations.


Veblen, a U.S. sociologist working at the end of the 19th C, writes a major work on The Theory of the Leisure Class which brings forward the concept of “conspicuous consumption.” Often known as the Gilded Age, the period was notable for new wealth, often ostentatiously displayed,  particularly by the nouveau riche.  This is the terrain of novelists such as Henry James, Edith Wharton, and Marcel Proust.

He argues that while ostentatious consumption has throughout history been a common marker of power and authority, that in the modern capitalist age, it takes a somewhat different form with the successful man’s worth being established by and through his wife and children.  The virtues of the early Republic--thrift, discipline, and denial--are replaced with the change to a credit economy, the encouragement of display in consumption, and more pronounced social stratification. For a contemporary example, think of celebrity culture--entertainment or sports figures who have suddenly acquired money (that is income, not real wealth in most cases) and have an entourage, the trappings of a rich lifestyle, etc.  Or think of the public signifiers of power and prestige: the doorman in the fancy uniform at the front of the expensive hotel, the stretch limo or the private jet used for travel, etc.

Veblen points out that conspicuous consumption has a significant social function.  Thus the expensive wedding establishes and re-inforces social position in the community and is actually functional, not frivolous.  Veblen sees the role of the wealthy man’s wife as especially being a display of his economic power: thus the expensive clothing, luxurious domestic space, etc. serves to announce power.

Interestingly, Adorno was a hostile critic of Veblen.  Veblen tends to see art as a social adornment rather than a human necessity, and is clearly critical of using art as a vehicle for social prestige.  However in terms of political analysis, Veblen’s analysis of the subordinate position of women and children might be more productive for both analysis and social action.  Adorno, “Veblen’s Attack on Culture,” in Adorno, Prisms (Cambridge MA: MIT Press, [1967] 1981).

To syllabi

To vita index

To topCurrent issue Jump Cut home