403 Assignment details
WHY WE DESIRE
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
WHY WE SHOP—ETHNOGRAPHY OF SHOPPING
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
North Michigan Ave.
Cross, An All-Consuming Century
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
EVERYONE ELSE CAN WORK INDIVIDUALLY, OR IF YOU WANT IN TEAMS.
Amanda, Amy B.
Li, Amy F.
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,  1981).