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date: 14 October 2019


Abstract and Keywords

This volume follows several of the most exciting recent pathways into consumption and its history, re-examines old debates, and looks ahead to questions for future research. It looks at several rich traditions of material culture that existed prior to modernity with which consumer society is often conflated. The book examines the public as well as private face of consumption, in relation to public life and social order as well as the organization of households and social groups. It also discusses the movement of goods between societies, along with questions of global exchange and diffusion in the early modern world. The book then explores luxury and necessity, the luxury wars, patterns of possessions and diet in town and country, changes in the standard of living, the life cycle of consumption from the desire to consume in the future (saving), the use of energy to be comfortable and run things, and the politics of consumption. Finally, it considers the relationship between consumers and civil society, status, family life, generational identities, fashion, and well-being.

Keywords: consumption, material culture, social order, public life, well-being, social groups, luxury, use of energy, civil society

Consumption is a mirror of the human condition. Our understanding of how people consume has always reflected our views about how they ought to live. There are few subjects that have undergone a similarly profound shift in perspective in the last half-century. Routinely decried for most of the twentieth century as leading to alienation, waste, and selfish materialism, consumption in the 1970s and 1980s appeared in a new, positive light. It was hailed as a source of creativity and meaning central to social relations and identity formation. What had been the object of condescension—a minor, private, or mindless pursuit that at best followed, at worst distracted from work and community—now emerged as the very stuff of history. Consumption stepped out of the shadow of production. Homo consumens took the place of homo faber.

The repercussions for scholarship have been seismic. Just two generations ago, a handbook like this one would have been inconceivable. True, writers have long studied budget books, diet, housing, and spending patterns but such inquiries were mostly instrumental, a means to illuminate class, health, and poverty and related areas of historical inquiry. The acquisition, use, and waste of things, taste and desire were not part of a shared research agenda. When Joan Thirsk offered the present publisher her 1975 Ford Lectures on late Tudor and Stuart England,1 the Press worried whether consumption was not too much of an obscure, niche subject. Since then there has been a publishing boom, with a deluge of books and dedicated journals, conferences and research programmes.2

(p. 2) This engagement has had a significant impact on national historiographies and historical method more generally. Attention to female shoppers, consumer movements, and debates over needs and affluence challenged older narratives and prompted new ones. In the United States, the colonial boycotts against British goods in the 1760s and the rise and redefinition of the citizen consumer in the twentieth century emerged as bookends of a new, more consumer-oriented national history.3 Even in Germany, where the subject had been all but ignored by historians, consumption was suddenly embraced in the late 1990s as a new master narrative of the twentieth century, ‘increasingly presented as the destiny of German history, its refuge and redemption’.4 Yet the legacy for historical writing went well beyond national narratives. The study of consumption was (and remains) a major point of interface with anthropology, sociology, and geography, stimulating new directions in cultural, global, and material history. Historians have been prompted to think about the production, representation, and circulation of things, and about the nature of symbolic communication, material practices, and identity formation.

In historiography, as in real life, affluence creates problems as well as opportunities. Contemporary analysts speak of the ‘diseases’ of affluence, such as obesity. In the case of historical studies, the single biggest ‘disease’ has been fragmentation. As historians have followed goods to ever new regions and eras, the subject has been carved up into separate parts. This fragmentation has cut across time and space and through the very stuff of consumption. We have studies of individual nations, cities, streets, shops, and goods. Comparative efforts, by contrast, are rare.5 This reflects in part an inherent tension between the subject matter and academic tradition (and job description). Almost everywhere, historians are trained and hired to speak to the particular concerns of a nation or region in a particular time period. Few goods and services are similarly tied down.

Fragmentation also, however, reveals a genuine analytical difficulty in moving between the concrete level of empirical research and a more general level of interpretation and abstraction.6 Academics (and politicians and publics at large) have come to refer to consumption and the consumer in a free and casual manner as if they are self-evident. What these terms mean, however, is far from obvious and a product of (p. 3) change and contestation. What counts as consumption depends on the observer. For economists it can be a shorthand for aggregate demand. In the 1980s, many pioneering historians associated it with shopping. Since then, the focus has broadened to the before and after of the act of purchase, from the creation of desire through the use of things, to waste and recycling. We may want to call all these stages ‘consumption’, but clearly they are related to different mental and physical actions and involve a different set of relations and institutions. Consumption is a shorthand that refers to a whole bundle of goods that are obtained via different systems of provision and used for different purposes. There is a world of difference between buying a Ferrari and stepping into the morning shower. Both cost money and involve the use of resources but, in addition to the price tag, one is a matter of choice and comes with symbolic power while the other is a daily routine that is so taken for granted that it virtually slips beneath the radar.

This volume does not seek to offer a synthetic history of consumption.7 Rather it follows several of the most exciting recent pathways into the subject, re-examines old debates and looks ahead to questions for future research. In the same spirit, this introduction is not trying to give an encyclopaedic overview of a literature that by now runs into many thousand books and articles. Rather, it follows the major fault lines—chronological, spatial, and material—to give the reader a sense of the changing look of the land and to sketch new ways for crossing it.

Time and Space

Histories of consumption have traditionally had strong chronological preoccupations. They have championed two periods over all others. One has been the apotheosis of ‘consumer society’ after the Second World War, the other its original birth pangs in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Notwithstanding a gulf of three centuries of human experience separating them, these two research agendas initially shared a good deal of common ground. The model of the consumer society was one of America's main export staples to Western Europe in the era of the cold war. This model came in a variety of guises—the ‘affluent society’, the ‘mass consumption society’—but its core argument can be summarized briefly. Affluence had moved the United States onto a new historical trajectory where consumption fuelled growth, defined identities, and shaped public and private life. The main disagreement in the 1950s and 1960s was not whether there was such a thing as consumer society but whether it was good or bad. It was either celebrated for promoting choice and liberty (W. W. Rostow) or condemned for manufacturing artificial wants and putting shallow individualism in the place of public life (p. 4) (J. K. Galbraith; V. Packard).8 A generation later, the British historian Neil McKendrick led the search for the birth of this social formation.9 He found it in England in the middle of the eighteenth century but what he was looking for was ultimately framed by the image of an affluent America set in the 1950s and 1960s. The decisive ingredients were choice, markets, fashion, and a rise in discretionary income. Writers influenced by Marx and the Frankfurt School had treated mass consumption as a consequence of mass production. McKendrick reversed the order. Not only did he show how widespread china, tea, cotton, and other consumer goods were by the 1760s. He highlighted the role of fashion magazines and the marketing strategies pioneered by Josiah Wedgwood as early instances of how advertising created demand which, in turn, propelled forward new industries. From here it was a short step to see the consumer revolution as preceding the industrial revolution, perhaps even initiating it.

The ‘birth of a consumer society’ set off a sustained search through inventories and other records for evidence about exactly who owned what when and where.10 Thanks to these, we now know in fine detail the precise number of teapots and cotton shirts owned by households and their uneven diffusion across regions, groups and time. This narrowing of focus, however, had some unfortunate consequences for the larger picture. For one, the question of origin made it expressly backward looking. Its self-professed interest was in origins, not what happened between the 1750s and the 1950s. Once consumer society was born and started to walk, so to speak, the problem was solved, as far as eighteenth century historians were concerned. Analytically, the biological metaphor of ‘birth’ was unfortunate, too. For it imagined consumer society as a single organism and implied a straightforward, linear life story that obscured the many diverse pathways and mechanisms by which societies (including Britain) arrived at consumer culture.

In the last decade, historians have tried to push the moment of ‘birth’ further and further back, all the way to the middle ages.11 Perhaps more interestingly, they have also reassessed the mode of consumption. In addition to individual choice, historians of eighteenth-century Britain and France have reaffirmed the complementary role played (p. 5) by social customs, reciprocity, and gifting.12 Renaissance scholars, equally, have followed the circulation of goods between social groups in northern Italian cities through auctions, pledges, and private loans.13 Consumption was enmeshed in civic life, social norms, and customs. The problem with the original ‘birth’ thesis, it is now clear, was that it presumed a far too tight link between consumption, individual choice, discretionary spending, and markets.

The chronological bifurcation between twentieth-century ‘consumer society’ and the early modern world matters because it has left behind a gulf of silence separating these two research communities. Twentieth-century historians continue to find it difficult to appreciate that popular access to more and more various goods was not the invention of ‘mass society’. By comparison with work on the early modern period, the model of consumer society lives on in contemporary history.14 Contemporary historians have been much slower to wean themselves off the cold war paradigm. This is, arguably, in part because contemporary research continues to work in the shadow of a larger public debate about sustainability and the limits to growth which, following in Galbraith's footsteps, still treats consumption as a new world order, defined in terms of individual choice, purchase, and ‘affluenza’.15

The chronological divide has had consequences, too, for spatial scope. Historians working on the twentieth century and those working on earlier periods have followed quite different geographical routes. The ‘consumer society’ was a resolutely American model. It put the United States on display as the first of a new species. In their reader on The Consumer Society (2000), the sociologists Juliet Schor and Douglas Holt tellingly entitled their introduction ‘Are Americans consuming too much?’ Consumerism and Americanization became virtually synonymous. This kind of approach has favoured a diffusionist story, which traces the global advance of consumption outward from its American core.16 Even historians who stress the selective adaptation of the American way of life in Western Europe after the Second World War ultimately follow influences (p. 6) in one direction.17 Western Europeans might debate the merits of rock ’n’ roll and communists tried to boycott Coca Cola. Still, in the final analysis, consumer culture flowed from America to the rest. Historical research sometimes reads like a sequel to contemporary debates about the ‘American invasion’.18 There can be no doubt about the cultural appeal as well as material power of the United States in its heyday. What this perspective does, however, is to ignore the range of other currents. That American consumer culture was dynamic does not mean that European or Asian societies had been static or frozen.19 The United States did not enter virgin territories of asceticism and plain living in the 1950s. Goods, tastes, habits, and ideals of material civilization had been circulating through imperial and transnational networks.20 In addition to indigenous histories of material desire, comfort, and commercial life, therefore, we need to recognize translateral as well as reciprocal flows of influence, from the export of the Frankfurt kitchen, to Europeans touring Swedish self-service co-operative stores. The United States imported as well as exported ideals of modernity. That America inspired a particularly resource-intensive way of life of cars, air-conditioning, and shopping malls does not mean it was the only society that generated rising levels of consumption.

As the American century is giving way to the Asian century, such US-centred narratives look increasingly dated. Clearly, democracy and a credit card are not the only paths to affluence. State power, nationalism, and saving can also do the job, as demonstrated by Japan and South Korea in the 1950s to 1980s and more recently by China.21 Historical investigations of the different institutional and cultural highways to affluence in the late twentieth century are only now slowly de-centring the American narrative and replacing it with a history of multiple consumer societies.

Interestingly, historians studying the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries were among the first to recognize the potential virtues of consumption. In part, they were ahead (p. 7) because they were far less troubled by the moral weight of the American empire. Where twentieth-century accounts have tended to paint consumption in dark colours of manipulation and privatism, conformity, and pain, early modern accounts see a rainbow of creativity, self-fashioning, exotic novelty, and (yes) pleasure. The early modern world became history's laboratory of diversity and hybridity.

As late as the 1980s, in the pioneering histories by McKendrick and Fernand Braudel, the advance of consumption in Britain and France still signalled a civilizational lead on the road to modernity. Europe had fashion, Asia did not.22 This Eurocentric perspective has since given way to more nuanced transnational and global approaches. Several stimuli were at work. One was comparative. Just how distinctive really was Europe's culture of consumption? After all, China had its own rich culture of things, scholars pointed out. It may even have had its own early modernity, Craig Clunas suggested.23 Trade, possessions, and desire were on the rise in late Ming China. A second came from questions about reception, assimilation, and emulation. European scholars became interested in the lure of tea and coffee, cotton, and exotic luxuries, and their influence on European taste, identity, and lifestyle. Chinese porcelain was not a passive import but changed the way Europeans thought about themselves and the world and spurred them on to acts of emulation, copying, and innovation.24 A third current followed the things themselves. Things had a social life, sociologists and anthropologists stressed. As they moved from producer via merchant to consumer they changed their meaning and role in society. Following their passage offered a way to link together societies and continents in circuits of exchange. Sidney Mintz's history of sugar offered historians the model of a commodity biography.25 A final thrust against the European core model came from societies previously relegated to the margins of the world economy: Africa. Studies of West and East Africa showed how pre-colonial Africa played its own active part in the global flow of goods, connecting Zanzibar with India and Salem, Massachusetts. Pre-colonial Africa might not have occupied a position of equal size and force in the world of consumption, (p. 8) but it contributed to its modernity nonetheless.26 Consumption, in brief, ceased to be a First World subject.

The fascination with flow, diversity and hybridity in the early modern world, on the one hand, and the resilience of the American model of mass consumption for the twentieth century, on the other, deserves a brief comment. This bifurcation is something peculiar to historical writing. In the social sciences more generally, scholars since the 1970s have studied the creative, ambivalent nature of consumption and reclaimed it as a fertile ground for subcultures, hybridity, self-fashioning, and transgressive identity politics in contemporary societies.27 When it comes to historical work, however, such accents appear more readily at work on the early modern period, often cast in an heroically anti-Whiggish contrast to contemporary society. The eighteenth century can thus appear as the last flowering of a proto-global moment of creativity and connoisseurship before the fully-fledged global world of modern capitalism made everyone want the same mass-manufactured product.28 Whether consumption really flipped in this dramatic fashion is debatable; numerous studies and ethnographies highlight the creative use and appropriation of things today.29 What it indicates rather is that historians interested in diversity and self-fashioning have looked for it in earlier centuries. This orientation resulted from the particular political and historiographical constellation in which cultural history took off. For historians, like other social scientists, 1968 shook the foundations of established paradigms. The dismal view of consumer culture favoured by the Frankfurt School came tumbling down with the collapse of Marxism. Unlike social scientists who discovered creativity and resistance in contemporary everyday life, however, historians looked for the exotic, taste, and the pleasures of consumption in the distant past. The cultural turn offered an escape from a present where histories of class had lost their political centrality and purpose.30

Matter and Models

Consumption consists of a bundle of goods, practices, and representations. Which bits historians have investigated has depended in no small degree on their underlying assumptions of what consumption is about. And these, in turn, are indebted to rival models in (p. 9) the social sciences. We can loosely identify three approaches that have been particularly influential. In one, consumption is about status, social hierarchy and inequality. In a second, it is about the production and manipulation of taste and lifestyle in capitalist society. In a third it is about symbolic communication between individuals and groups.

The first perspective privileges highly visible forms of consumption as instruments of social power. Historians most frequently draw on the idea of ‘conspicuous consumption’ advanced by the heterodox economist Thorstein Veblen a century ago and on the concepts of ‘distinction’ and ‘habitus’ introduced by the sociologist Pierre Bourdieu in the 1960s. Both models alerted historians to the ways in which consumption (and not only work or income) produced social rank and reproduced social inequality. Far from frivolous, goods and taste, from jewellery to fine art and J. S. Bach, wove together the fabric of society. Consumption embodied taste and was a source of ‘cultural capital’. For Veblen and Bourdieu, these were not neutral observations. Veblen lamented the ‘waste’ of conspicuous consumption which directed resources away from more productive, socially worthy use. Bourdieu treated consumption as a form of ‘symbolic violence’.31

While Veblen and Bourdieu are popular points of references, they are just two models amongst many. Almost all major sociologists had something to say about consumption and status, but they differed in approach and conclusion. Veblen worked with a universalist conception of human nature, whereas Werner Sombart, for example, was interested in change and, in Luxus und Kapitalismus, diagnosed an intensification of distinction from the seventeenth century.32 In the words of a recent commentator, the study of distinction has been the story of ‘endless rediscovering’, resulting from a reluctance to engage with the writings of earlier theorists.33 While useful in prompting questions and working hypotheses, these models are far less useful as a general guide to historical reality. Veblen derived his ideas from observing the particular culture of a particular mid-Western elite at a particular point in time. It is similarly doubtful whether Bourdieu's insights from his research on 1960s Paris and Lille can be transplanted to other settings, leaving aside the question of whether the original interpretation overstated the data.34 Sociologists since have debated whether consumption has lost its structuring force in late modern society, where all sorts of taste communities are now competing with each other. What is clear is that ‘distinction’ does not only work in a top-down direction but sideways, producing inequalities across society, along lines of ethnicity, gender, generation, and locality.35 These myriad effects deserve much greater attention from historians. It is not that class cultures are fictions, but by drawing on Veblen and Bourdieu historians may have looked only for class-based tastes, missing classless ones. How neatly did tastes for music, sport, food and literature separate classes in the past?

(p. 10) Emulation has been a shorthand to explain the pull of consumer culture. In eighteenth-century England, contemporaries routinely blamed the rise of an acquisitive culture on the lower orders’ desire to imitate their superiors. Historians followed their lead. For McKendrick, ‘the mill girl who wanted to dress like a duchess’ was the engine of demand.36 ‘Keeping up with the Joneses’ was the twentieth-century equivalent. There is something appealing in these simple, common sense formulations, and they continue to inform public anxieties about ‘consumerism’.37 It is therefore important to stress that emulation and status-seeking, however universal a part of human nature, have taken radically different material forms, past and present. Distinction is an inherently contingent and flexible mechanism. In contemporary Nigeria, for example, anyone wanting to impress will ensure that his car has visible markers of status, such as indications of engine type and model number on the boot, and, with the help of official support or a bribe if necessary, number plates of 1, 11, or 111, to show one's primacy. In Switzerland, by contrast, such conspicuous marks are deemed vulgar and would backfire. Anyone worth anything will prefer a sleek, anonymous ride.38 Status-seeking, in other words, can be either showy or restrained, and how much and which kind of consumption is employed to achieve it is set by the cultural context. By using emulation as a shorthand, historians have deduced motivation from people's possessions, ignoring the cultural context and the various other reasons for which people acquired goods, from functional use and fitting in to pleasure and aesthetics.

The middle decades of the twentieth century witnessed the rise of a Marxist approach to mass consumption. First, Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer, then Herbert Marcuse extended Marx's critique of commodification to consumer culture itself. Marx had located the dialectics of capitalism in industry and the extraction of surplus value from wage labour. Adorno and Horkheimer linked mass production to the mass consumption of culture. ‘Culture today is infecting everything with sameness,’ they wrote in their 1944 Dialectic of Enlightenment. ‘Film, radio, and magazines form a system.’ Standardized movies, popular hits and advertising were the channels by which bourgeois society diffused its commodified way of life across society. The result was standardization, a drugged existence, and conformity. Consumer culture involved the ‘withering of imagination and spontaneity’. It was inauthentic. Audiences were passive sheep: ‘film denies its audience any dimension in which they might roam freely in imagination.’39 The core elements of this diagnosis were in place before 1933. The fascist seizure of power only seemed to bear out the affinity between mass consumption and totalitarian politics, providing the Frankfurt School of Social Research with public appeal and urgency in their American exile. The culture industries did not just dumb down taste. They hollowed out (p. 11) humanity from the inside, destroying the faculty for critical thought and civic action, preparing the way for servitude. What had happened in Berlin could happen anywhere.

This Marxist cultural analysis set the tone of public debate in the 1950s and 1960s. Marcuse's One-Dimensional Man (1964) was a bestseller—a must on the bookshelf of any self-respecting student. In the ‘affluent society’, Marcuse wrote, the sale of goods ‘has been accompanied by moronization, the perpetuation of toil, and the promotion of frustration.’40 Such judgements drew strength from longer traditions. That advertisers created dangerous ‘false needs’ had been a regular charge among early socialists and radicals. The spectre of passive conformity harked back to the Enlightenment critique of luxury as the mother of slavery. In many ways, the Frankfurt School capitalized on long-standing communitarian fears that consumption sucked the life out of citizenship and virtue, and updated them in Marxist language. The post-1945 suspicion of the culture industries also chimed with the dystopian picture of ‘the consumer society’ popular at the time, where manufacturers, advertisers, and Hidden Persuaders, as Packard called them in his 1957 bestseller, planted ever new artificial desires in the bosom of pliable consumers.

This Marxist tradition was dealt a serious knock by cultural studies, anthropological research and economic sociology, which reclaimed consumption as an active, creative, and authentic practice in the 1970s and after. Jean Baudrillard gave Marxism a semiotic direction in which consumers figured as pawns in an economy of signs.41 Victoria de Grazia's Irresistible Empire offered a belated historical account of the culture industries, charting the advance of American marketing, Hollywood, and supermarkets through twentieth-century Europe.42 But, in general, emphasis now shifted from the production of desire by producers and advertisers to consumers themselves. Qualitative research on radio audiences by Paul Lazarsfeld and colleagues were already challenging the presumed passivity of media audiences in the 1940s.43 A more active view of consumption was gaining ground in the 1960s and 1970s. A decade later, it was in the ascendance. Instead of being impersonal, a host of studies showed market relations, commodification, and shopping to be social.44 ‘False needs’ were excised from the vocabulary, making room for subcultures and ruses, and a more general respect for popular culture and the material dreams and lives of ordinary people. Arguably, this pendulum swung so much to one side that it became easy to overlook that consumer culture did involve a major (p. 12) asymmetry between the resources of corporate firms, media, and advertisers, on the one hand, and consumers and consumer groups on the other.

Signs, meanings and the creative consumer caught the attention of writers from disciplines across the social sciences and the humanities in the 1970s and 1980s. Perhaps most fruitful for historians was the anthropological approach of Mary Douglas and Baron Isherwood. In The World of Goods (1979), they presented goods as an ‘information system’. Far from dull and trivial, eating and other ordinary consumption practices were revealed to be powerful rituals of symbolic communication which made social life possible. They created identity, meaning, and relationships. And they were means of social inclusion and exclusion. ‘Consumption’, Douglas and Isherwood wrote, was ‘the very arena in which culture is fought over and licked into shape.’45 This way of looking at consumption made it enormously attractive to a new generation of cultural historians. How people ate and drank and the representations of objects and practices offered a window on who they thought they were. This interest in meaning and symbolic communication had profound implications for historical method as well as argument, perhaps nowhere executed to greater effect than in Simon Schama's portrayal of seventeenth-century Dutch culture in The Embarrassment of Riches.46 Using iconography in conjunction with textual readings, Schama recreated a society preoccupied with goods, taste, and pleasure that could not have been more at odds with the picture of austere, disciplined Puritan proto-capitalists held up by Max Weber.

For the historical study of consumption, the cultural turn involved a dramatic shift in perspective and substance. The focus moved from the producer and retailer to the end-user, and, with it, from the point of purchase to what people did with things once they had them. The anthropological interest in symbolic meaning and ritual practices also swept aside an older, hierarchical order of consumption, so central to social investigations and welfare policies, which contrasted ‘basic needs’ with higher, more experiential wants and desires. Food and eating were not just calories. They, too, were rich in meaning. In contrast to an older fixation with luxury goods and conspicuous consumption, ordinary stuff became interesting. What emerged was a relational view: goods acquired value together in a shared system of meaning.

These shifts played themselves out in a number of ways in historical research. One group of scholars turned to the consumption of culture and examined how in the eighteenth century new genres and practices of reading, listening and viewing shaped self-identity and sociability.47 The domestic interior attracted a second cluster of research. The arrival of these subjects in the historical literature were the immediate consequence of the lines of inquiry opened up by gender studies. The household and its material culture, and getting and spending were recognized as sources of social life and identity as (p. 13) important as the male sphere of paid work. Consumption—including the female labour of budgeting and housekeeping to make it possible—now lost many of its earlier associations as passive, frivolous, or irrelevant. Consumption ceased to be a footnote in a history of class society based on male industrial work and, instead, advanced into one of the main foundations of the historical record. Cupboards, dresses and wallpaper were retrieved as symbolic sources of women's identity.48 In recent years, research has shown how dress, pipes, carriages, and other consumer goods were critical to men as well.49

This rehabilitation of consumption had implications for our understanding of public as well as private life. Separate gendered spheres suddenly looked more porous than in the Victorian ideal. In the eighteenth century, tea, china, and the novel were the material trappings of a culture of sociability and sympathy which assigned women a special civilizing role in an expanding social sphere. Enlightenment accounts of this culture by David Hume and Lord Kames attracted a fresh look from historians. For studies of the late nineteenth century the dominant figure was the female shopper. The study of shopping shifted from manipulation and ‘moronization’ to agency and liberation. Department stores like the Bon Marché in Paris and Selfridges in London opened up social spaces. Feminists established tea shops, restaurants, and toilets for female customers, and women's associations organized urban leisure tours that legitimated shopping as part of a cultured day out. In the years around 1900, consumer culture furnished some of the mental and material undercurrents of the more explicitly political movement for greater equality between the sexes.50

Changing views of consumption simultaneously reflected and contributed to the intellectual ferment of the late twentieth century. In the 1970s and 1980s, during the heyday of postmodernism and cultural studies, it looked as though the study of consumer culture might turn into a study of signs and representations. Historians were interested in what goods meant to people in the past. Consumption concerned identity and social relations. Not infrequently, material culture was a refuge from politics for scholars. Since the 1990s, there has been a dramatic reorientation. What had initially started (p. 14) out as a disillusionment with conventional politics (and political history), turned into a discovery of new kinds of politics. If feminist appreciations of shoppers kick-started this process, contemporary interest in the ethics of consumption, a new wave of local and global activism, and neo-liberal policies to ‘consumerize’ public services gave it fresh momentum. A string of publications charted the evolution of the consumer as citizen in national, imperial, and global politics.51

Looking back at the changing fortunes of the study of consumption in the twentieth century, it is tempting to hail it as a story of flourishing growth and innovation. This would be unhelpful for several reasons. Once derided or ignored, consumption stepped out of the shadow of production. This is true, but at the same time it changed its complexion. We now see consumption everywhere but what we see is mainly the private end-consumer. Early twentieth-century observers, by contrast, still had a more ecumenical understanding, including various acts of public and, indeed, industrial consumption.52

It is worth stressing, moreover, that a good deal of the work sketched above involved rediscovery. Recent histories of material comfort in Renaissance Italy, for example,53 return to a central theme in Jacob Burckhardt's classic history completed a century and a half ago. Interest in the consumer as urban spectator and flâneur take their inspiration from Walter Benjamin's studies in the inter-war years. We have previously noted Sombart's work on luxury a century ago and that of Enlightenment thinkers interested in politeness and sympathy two and a half centuries ago. The list could go on. What this suggests is that, rather than seeing the 1970s–1980s as a break and new beginning, it might be better to see the twentieth century as one of ebb and flow, where early engagement with consumer culture was followed by contraction and re-engagement.

We should also recognize the selective, even lop-sided nature of this re-engagement. Historians emphasized meaning and representation but at the expense of saving (p. 15) and credit, which only in the last few years has received the attention they deserve.54 Historical research on consumption developed a strong interface with anthropology and cultural studies, and, to a lesser extent, with sociology and geography. Yet, curiously, given the pecuniary basis of much consumption, the gulf between history and economics is probably bigger than ever before, certainly when compared to the heydays of historical institutionalism and economic sociology a century ago, not to mention the eighteenth century. One exception is Jan de Vries’ thesis of the ‘industrious revolution’ which, drawing on Gary Becker's economistic model where households make a rational choice about how to best allocate their time, sees families in seventeenth-century Holland and eighteenth-century Britain reallocating their time away from leisure and self-provisioning to wage labour and the purchase of goods in the marketplace;55 this thesis is yet another rediscovery and application of contemporaries’ ideas of consumer behaviour, which, it needs to be stressed, reflected normative and prescriptive views of social and material progress.

Scepticism of economics echoes historians’ more general scepticism of individualistic models of choice and their ‘imperialism’ in the social sciences and public policy. It is, therefore, worth stressing that not all economists are the same. Some, like James Duesenberry in the late 1940s, were interested in how habits shaped future consumption.56 None other than Alfred Marshall, the founder of the discipline two generations earlier, imagined a ladder of consumption where one step led to the next, as habits and desires bred new ones. William Jevons, who put the consumer squarely at the centre of value creation in the 1870s, was not only interested in individual choice but already traced consumption all the way from desire to waste, something that still features all too rarely in historical work.57 Since the 1990s, behavioural economics has made great strides, but so far only a few economic historians have applied their tools to examine the impact of affluence on well-being in the past.58 Historical engagement with psychology, philosophy, and law has been similarly patchy even though habit formation, ethics, regulation, and governance go to the core of debates about consumption and sustainability today.

In the last twenty years, historians have mined the department store, the domestic interior, luxury, food, and fashion, and, most recently, consumer politics. These now represent established bodies of knowledge and research orientations. What new fields and (p. 16) questions will excite the next generation of researchers? I think there are four clusters that promise to be especially fruitful and relevant: diversity, public consumption, temporal and spatial scales of meaning, and material use.

It is now widely recognized that globalization has not meant homogenization. Recent studies have traced the transnational circulation of novelties and consumer goods in the early modern world and their selective appropriation and embedding in local cultures.59 We need to know much more about how this story continued and how, why, and in which ways societies developed diverse material cultures, all the way to the present. This calls for macro as well as micro levels of analysis, and requires a greater integration of political economy with cultural inquiry. Clearly it makes a difference whether a country's consumption amounts to 35 per cent of GDP (China, today) or 70 per cent (the United States of America). To use the singular ‘consumer society’ model is not especially helpful. Attention to diversity and change similarly needs to extend to individual nations. In addition to regional contrasts at any given time, societies have undergone considerable oscillation and transformation over time. References to national types are of limited value—in less than a single generation, supposedly frugal societies like Japan and South Korea switched from super-savers into credit card spenders in the 1990s and 2000s. ‘The American way of life’, similarly, is a powerful ideal but of limited use when it comes to analysing and understanding how Americans lived their life. Arguably, the United States has a more fragmented and heterogeneous consumer culture than Continental Europe. Sociological analysis of time use suggests Americans differ more widely in their leisure practices.60 The strong ‘national’ bias of the historical profession has probably made it more difficult to grapple with these external and internal forms of differentiation than in other disciplines.

Consumption today is so widely associated with the private act of purchase in the market that it is easy to forget that huge chunks have been public (and in many ways continue to be)—in public hospitals, armies, schools, subsidized university canteens and kindergartens. Companies and institutions, similarly, are spaces of consumption as well as work. The author of this text does not pay for the university computer and the energy it consumes—at least, at the time of writing. Still, looking back at the twentieth century (including the United States in the age of affluence), it is striking how the rise of private consumption has been accompanied by the rise of the state.61 State spending (p. 17) on public consumption has been complemented by credit policies and investments in infrastructure that made private consumption possible in the first place. We would need to worry less about sustainability if states had not built roads and motorways in the first place. There is still sometimes a danger in the historical literature of treating market societies as ‘normal’ consumer cultures and socialist and planned societies as pathological misfits. But this presumes a single highway to a shared destination of ‘the consumer society’ that bypasses the many different roads societies have taken. At a time when a Communist Party state steers markets and is transforming the lives of 1.3 billion Chinese, such alternative forms of governance deserve more critical attention.

One victim of postmodernism and neo-liberalism has been ‘commodification’, the concept that had dominated Marxist analysis of consumption and discourse more generally. There were some good reasons for this exit. Karl Marx was clearly wrong to presume that just because things were produced by wage labour and made for sale (rather than for personal use) they were stripped of their essence and meaning. Thanks to anthropologists in particular we now have a host of studies that shows how goods continue to be emotional containers and vehicles of social life.62 Still, if Marx's conclusion was as simplistic as it was grandiose, the question behind it was all but silly. It asked about the relationship between particular forms of production and distribution and the meaning of an object for the consumer. As historical questions go, this is a rather good one. It alerts us to the diverse forms of knowledge, associations, and identity that objects have conjured up for individuals and societies in the past. Anthropologists and geographers have examined this mutation in the life cycle of particular products as a commodity changes meaning as it travels through conduits of commerce, from producer all the way to the end-consumer.

But such changes also happen across larger temporal and spatial scales. Coffee and chocolate, prized for their exoticism in the seventeenth century, mutated into national mass products by the end of the nineteenth. Consumer culture, in other words, involves the historical rescaling of knowledge, value, and politics.63 What ideas and values did goods convey about their origin and the people who made and handled them at different points in time? Which factors and processes helped to inscribe some meanings and erase others? These questions also concern the ethical reach of consumption, that is, in what relationship consumers see themselves to producers, near and far.

Our final observations concern materiality and practices. While the commodification thesis has cracked, it is nonetheless still common to hear that the West was consumerist because it was human-centred and lacked the East's respect for things—that is the reason, we are told, Western merchants were able to trick Eastern islanders, commodify their products, and impose capitalism.64 What we now know about the success and dynamism of traders in the Indian Ocean and elsewhere in the early modern world (p. 18) raises all sorts of problems for this story. Another issue, and one relevant here, concerns the status of things more generally. Seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Europe did indeed give rise to traditions of critical reason which proceeded from a reflective, immaterial self, but they also generated rival traditions which were much friendlier to things and saw them as integral to human life, creativity, and sociality. There is no reason why we should fit our histories of consumer culture in the West around René Descartes and Karl Marx rather than, say, William James or Martin Heidegger, who had a more organic view of humans in the material world. The presumed dichotomy may simply reflect what scholars have presumed things are good for. If objects are treated as signs, it is tempting to see people and things as separate entities, with the former mentally appropriating the latter in acts of self-fashioning and identity formation. If, by contrast, goods are treated as instruments for getting something done—the execution of tasks—then it is much easier to see humans and things as interdependent actors. In that latter view, human existence is thoroughly ‘thinged’. Things are part of us. Of course, many things perform both these functions (and many others). A teapot can be an object of desire and identity, and a container which keeps a beverage hot and, with a bit of skill, allows for pouring the liquid into a cup. Still, it has been the former that has dominated the scholarly libraries on consumption at the expense of the latter. Most consumption practices require a successful coordination of user, object, and competence, to use sociological terminology.65

What this alerts us to is the significance of materiality itself. An earthenware teapot handles differently and keeps heat less well than one made of china. Skis made of carbon-Kevlar are lighter and stronger than planks made of wood with metal edges and allow for a faster, smoother downhill ride. New materials and technologies constantly transform practices, from electronic gaming to microwaving. Some see a future of virtual, thing-less consumption where books, music, and sensations float freely, unmoored from a culture of possessive individualism, freely shared in social networks. That might be rather too optimistic. For the moment, most ‘virtual’ consumption rests on material foundations. They are simply hidden away in mainframes, cables, air-conditioning units and electronic and energy networks.

The organization of this volume is thematic and chronological. It is designed to offer readers different pathways into the rich literature. In addition to dedicated discussions of particular aspects of consumption in a certain time and place, the volume is meant to stimulate specialists to look beyond their own terrain of expertise to neighbouring fields of research. Like the other handbooks in history, this volume is not meant to be encyclopaedic and exhaustive but selective, thematic, and exploratory. Part One offers a window (p. 19) on several rich traditions of material culture that existed prior to modernity with which consumer society is often conflated. Chapters in this section examine the public as well as private face of consumption, in relation to public life and social order as well as the organization of households and social groups. Part Two turns the focus to the movement of goods between societies and to questions of global exchange and diffusion in the early modern world. Luxury and necessity are examined in Part Three, with chapters on the luxury wars, patterns of possessions and diet in town and country, and changes in the standard of living. Part Four explores the public and retail spaces of consumption from the Renaissance to the present. The doing of consumption receives particular attention in Part Five, with chapters that follow the life cycle of consumption from the desire to consume in the future (saving), to the use of energy to be comfortable and run things, to eating and throwing things away. Part Six looks at the politics of consumption broadly defined and at the different relationships between consumers, the state, and civil society in democratic, nationalist, fascist, socialist, and colonial societies. A final part, Part Seven, examines consumption's role for personal and social identity, with chapters on status, family life, generational identities, fashion, its impact on the body, and well-being. (p. 20)


(1) Joan Thirsk, Economic Policy and Projects: The Development of a Consumer Society in Early Modern England, Oxford, 1978.

(2) Readers may turn to the bibliography started by Don Slater: 〈〉. Useful anthologies of key readings include: Daniel Miller (ed.), Consumption: Critical Concepts in the Social Sciences, 4 vols., New York, 2001; Alan Warde (ed.), Consumption: Benchmarks in Culture & Society, 3 vols., New York, 2010. For developments in the social sciences, see Daniel Miller (ed.), Acknowledging Consumption: A Review of New Studies, London, 1995; Karin M. Ekström and Kay Glans (eds.), Beyond the Consumption Bubble, New York, 2011. See now also the multi-volume Encyclopaedia of Consumption, ed. Dale Southerton, New York, 2011.

(3) T. H. Breen, The Marketplace of Revolution: How Consumer Politics Shaped American Independence, New York, 2004; Lizabeth Cohen, A Consumers’ Republic: The Politics of Mass Consumption in Postwar America, New York, 2003. Lawrence B. Glickman, Consumer Society in American History: A Reader, Ithaca NY, 1999. Cf. David Steigerwald, ‘All Hail the Republic of Choice: Consumer History as Contemporary Thought’, The Journal of American History, 93/2, 2006: 385–403.

(4) K. H. Jarausch and M. Geyer, Shattered Past: Reconstructing German Histories, Princeton NJ, 2002; p. 269. Alon Confino and Rudy Koshar, ‘Regimes of Consumer Culture: New Narratives in Twentieth-Century German History’, German History, 19, 2001: 135–61. See also Heinz-Gerhard Haupt and Claudius Torp (eds.), Die Konsumgesellschaft in Deutschland, 1890–1990, Frankfurt am Main, 2009.

(5) Exceptions are Heinz-Gerhard Haupt, Konsum Und Handel: Europa Im 19. Und 20. Jahrhundert, Göttingen, 2002; Paolo Capuzzo, Culture Del Consumo, Bologna, 2006; Peter N. Stearns, Consumerism in World History: The Global Transformation of Desire, London, 2001.

(6) John Brewer and Frank Trentmann (eds.), Consuming Cultures, Global Perspectives: Historical Trajectories, Transnational Exchanges, Oxford, 2006.

(7) I offer one account in my forthcoming book The Consuming Passion, London, Penguin.

(8) John Kenneth Galbraith, The Affluent Society, New York, 1958; Vance Packard, The Hidden Persuaders, New York, 1957; George Katona, The Mass Consumption Society, New York, 1964. W. W. Rostow, The Stages of Economic Growth: A Non-Communist Manifesto, Cambridge, 1960. Compare: Daniel Horowitz, The Anxieties of Affluence: Critiques of American Consumer Culture, 1939–1979, Amherst MA, 2004. Important precursors were Simon N. Patten, The Consumption of Wealth, Philadelphia 1889, and Stuart Chase, The Economy of Abundance, New York, 1934.

(9) Neil McKendrick, John Brewer and J. H. Plumb, The Birth of a Consumer Society: The Commercialization of Eighteenth-century England, Bloomington, 1982. See also John Brewer, ‘The Error of Our Ways: Historians and the Birth of Consumer Society’ (, Working Paper No. 012), June 2004.

(10) Carole Shammas, The Pre-Industrial Consumer in England and America, Oxford, 1990; Lorna Weatherill, Consumer Behaviour and Material Culture in Britain 1660–1760, 2nd edn., London, 1996; John Brewer and Roy Porter (eds.), Consumption and the World of Goods, London and New York, 1993.

(11) Christopher Dyer, An Age of Transition? Economy and Society in England in the Later Middle Ages, Oxford, 2005.

(12) John Styles, The Dress of the People: Everyday Fashion in Eighteenth-Century England, New Haven CT, 2007. Daniel Roche, The Culture of Clothing: Dress and Fashion in the ‘Ancien Régime’, Cambridge, 1994 (1989).

(13) Evelyn Welch, Shopping in the Renaissance: Consumer Cultures in Italy 1400–1600, New Haven CT, 2005. John Goldthwaite, ‘The Empire of Things: Consumer Demand in Renaissance Italy’, in Francis Kent and Patricia Simons (eds.), Patronage, Art and Society in Renaissance Italy, Oxford, 1987.

(14) For a recent example, see Andreas Wirsching, ‘From Work to Consumption: Transatlantic Visions of Individuality in Modern Mass Society’, Contemporary European History 20, 2011: 1–26. Cf. Frank Trentmann, ‘Consumer Society—RIP’, Contemporary European History 20, 2011: 27–33.

(15) Barry Schwartz, The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less, New York, 2005; Juliet B. Schor, The Overspent American: Why We Want What We Don’t Need, New York, 1999; Tim Jackson, Prosperity without Growth: Economics for a Finite Planet, London, 2009; Neal Lawson, All Consuming: How Shopping Got Us into This Mess and How We Can Find Our Way Out, London, 2009; Oliver James, Affluenza, London, 2007. Compare: Avner Offer, The Challenge of Affluence: Self-Control and Well-Being in the United States and Britain since 1950, Oxford, 2006.

(16) Bruce Mazlish, ‘Consumerism in the Context of the Global Ecumene’, in Bruce Mazlish and Akira Iriye (eds.), The Global History Reader, New York, 2005, 125–32. Cf Frank Trentmann, ‘Crossing Divides: Consumption and Globalization in History’, Journal of Consumer Culture 9/2, 2009: 187–220.

(17) Victoria de Grazia, Irresistible Empire: America's Advance through 20th-Century Europe, Cambridge MA, 2005; Sheryl Kroen, ‘Negotiations with the American Way’, in Brewer and Trentmann (eds.), Consuming Cultures, Global Perspectives, 251–77. Detlef Siegfried, Time Is on My Side: Konsum und Politik in der Westdeutschen Jugendkultur der 60er Jahre, Goettingen, 2006.

(18) Richard F. Kuisel, Seducing the French: The Dilemma of Americanization, Berkeley CA, 1993.

(19) Uwe Spiekermann, Basis der Konsumgesellschaft: Entstehung und Entwicklung des Modernen Kleinhandels in Deutschland, 1850–1914, München, 1999; Erika D. Rappaport, Shopping for Pleasure: Women and the Making of London's West End, Princeton NJ, 2000; Karl Gerth, China Made: Consumer Culture and the Creation of the Nation, Cambridge MA, 2003; Frank Dikötter, Things Modern: Material Culture and Everyday Life in China, London, 2006; Harry Harootunian, Overcome by Modernity: History, Culture and Community in Interwar Japan, Princeton, 2000.

(20) Brewer and Trentmann (eds.), Consuming Cultures, Global Perspectives; Timothy Burke, Lifebuoy Men, Lux Women: Commodification, Consumption, and Cleanliness in Modern Zimbabwe, Durham NC, 1996. Benjamin Orlove (ed.), The Allure of the Foreign: Imported Goods in Postcolonial Latin America, Michigan, 1997.

(21) Sheldon Garon and Patricia L. Maclachlan (eds.), The Ambivalent Consumer: Questioning Consumption in East Asia and the West, Ithaca NY, 2006; Laura C. Nelson, Measured Excess: Status, Gender, and Consumer Nationalism in South Korea, New York, 2000; Karl Gerth, As China Goes, So Goes the World: How Chinese Consumers Are Transforming Everything, New York, 2010.

(22) Braudel entitled his discussion of the lack of fashion in China ‘When society stood still’, in Civilization and Capitalism, Vol. 1: 15th–18th century, New York, 1981, 312.

(23) Craig Clunas, Superfluous Things: Material Culture and Social Status in Early Modern China, Chicago, 1991; Craig Clunas, ‘Modernity Global and Local: Consumption and the Rise of the West’, American Historical Review, 1999: 1497–1509. Timothy Brook, The Confusions of Pleasure: Commerce and Culture in Ming China, Berkeley, 1998.

(24) Maxine Berg and Elizabeth Eger (eds.), Luxury in the Eighteenth Century: Debates, Desires and Delectable Goods, Basingstoke, 2003; Maxine Berg, Luxury and Pleasure in Eighteenth-Century Britain, Oxford, 2005; Robert Batchelor, ‘On the Movement of Porcelains: Rethinking the Birth of the Consumer Society as Interactions of Exchange Networks, China and Britain, 1600–1750’, in Brewer and Trentmann (eds.), Consuming Cultures, Global Perspectives; Timothy Brook, Vermeer's Hat: The Seventeenth Century and the Dawn of the Global World, London, 2008.

(25) Sidney Mintz, Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History, New York, 1985. See further Arjun Appadurai (ed.), The Social Life of Things: Commodities in Cultural Perspective, Cambridge, 1986; Wim M. J. van Binsbergen and Peter L. Geschiere (eds.), Commodification: Things, Agency, and Identities (the Social Life of Things Revisited), Münster, 2005; Robert J. Foster, ‘Tracking Globalization: Commodities and Value in Motion’, in Christopher Tilley, et al. (eds.), Handbook of Material Culture, London, 2006.

(26) Jeremy Prestholdt, Domesticating the World: African Consumerism and the Genealogies of Globalization, Berkeley CA, 2008. See also Daniel Miller (ed.), Worlds Apart: Modernity through the Prism of the Local, London, 1995; Richard Wilk, Home Cooking in the Global Village: Caribbean Food from Buccaneers to Ecotourists, Oxford and New York, 2006.

(27) Michel de Certeau, The Practice of Everyday Life, Berkeley CA, 1984; John Fiske, Reading the Popular, Boston and London, 1989; Dick Hebdige, Subculture: The Meaning of Style, London, 1979; Frank Mort, Cultures of Consumption: Masculinities and Social Space in Late Twentieth-Century Britain, London, 1996.

(28) C. A. Bayly, ‘ “Archaic” and “Modern” Globalization in the Eurasian and African Arena, ca. 1750–1850’, in A. G. Hopkins (ed.), Globalization in World History, London, 2002, 45–72.

(29) Daniel Miller, Material Culture and Mass Consumption, Oxford, 1987; Ulf Hannerz, ‘The World in Creolization’, Africa, 57, 1987: 549–59; Russell W. Belk, Collecting in a Consumer Society, London and New York, 2001; Daniel Miller, The Comfort of Things, Cambridge, 2008.

(30) François Dosse, L’histoire En Miettes: Des Annales À La Nouvelle Histoire, Paris, 1987.

(31) Thorstein Veblen, The Theory of the Leisure Class: An Economic Study of Institutions, 2nd edn., New York, 1899 (1953 edn.); Pierre Bourdieu, Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgment of Taste, Cambridge MA, 1979; Engl. trans. 1984.

(32) Werner Sombart, Luxus Und Kapitalismus, Munich, 1912.

(33) Jean-Pascal Daloz, The Sociology of Elite Distinction, Basingstoke, 2010, 44.

(34) Cf. Bernard Lahire, La culture des individus: Dissonances culturelles et distinction de soi, Paris, 2004.

(35) Tony Bennett, Mike Savage, Elizabeth Silva, Alan Warde, Modesto Gayo-Cal and David Wright, Culture, Class, Distinction, London, 2009.

(36) Neil McKendrick, ‘Home Demand and Economic Growth’, in N. McKendrick (ed.), Historical Perspectives, London, 1974, 209.

(37) See references at Note 15.

(38) Daloz, The Sociology of Elite Distinction, 76–7.

(39) Max Horkheimer and Theodor W. Adorno, Dialectic of Enlightenment: Philosophical Fragments, Stanford CA, 1944; Engl. trans. 2002, 94, 100.

(40) Herbert Marcuse, One-Dimensional Man: Studies in the Ideology of Advanced Industrial Society, London, 1964; Engl. trans. 2002, 247.

(41) Jean Baudrillard, La société de consommation, Paris, 1970; transl. as English—the Consumer Society: Myths and Structures, London, 1998.

(42) De Grazia, Irresistible Empire.

(43) Paul F. Lazarsfeld and Frank N. Stanton, Radio Research 1942–1943, New York, 1944.

(44) Viviana Zelizer, ‘Culture and Consumption’, in Neil J. Smelser and Richard Swedberg (eds.), The Handbook of Economic Sociology, Princeton NJ, 2005; Daniel Miller, The Dialectics of Shopping, Chicago, 2001; Paul DiMaggio and Hugh Louch, ‘Socially embedded consumer transactions: for what kinds of purchases do people most often use networks?’, American Sociological Review 63, 1998: 619–37; Elizabeth M. Chin, ‘Purchasing Power: Black Kids and American Consumer Culture’, American Anthropologist, 104/4, 2002: 1234–5.

(45) Mary Douglas and Baron Isherwood, The World of Goods: Towards an Anthropology of Consumerism, 2nd edn., London, 1996, 37.

(46) Simon Schama, The Embarrassment of Riches, Berkeley and Los Angeles CA., 1988.

(47) John Brewer, The Pleasures of the Imagination, New York, 1997; Ann Bermingham and John Brewer (eds.), The Consumption of Culture 1600–1800: Image, Object, Text, London, 1995.

(48) Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, ‘Hannah Barnard's Cupboard: Female Property and Identity in Eighteenth-Century New England’, in Ronald Hoffman, Mechal Sobel, and Fredrika J. Teute (eds.), Through a Glass Darkly: Reflections on Personal Identity in Early America, Chapel Hill, 1997, 238–73; Amanda Vickery, The Gentleman's Daughter: Women's Lives in Georgian England, New Haven CT, 1998; Amanda Vickery and John Styles (eds.), Gender, Taste, and Material Culture in Britain and North America, 1700–1830, New Haven CT, 2006; Ann Smart-Martin, ‘Makers, Buyers, and Users: Consumerism as a Material Culture Framework’, Winterthur Portfolio 28, 2/3, 1993: 141–57; Ann Smart Martin, Buying into the World of Goods: Early Consumers in Backcountry Virginia, Baltimore, 2008. For later periods, see Victoria de Grazia and Ellen Furlough (eds.), The Sex of Things: Gender and Consumption in Historical Perspective, Berkeley CA and London, 1996.

(49) Amanda Vickery, ‘His and Hers: Gender, Consumption and Household Accounting in 18th Century England’, in Lyndal Roper and Ruth Harris (eds.), The Art of Survival: Essays in Honour of Olwen Hufton, Oxford, 2006; Christopher Breward, The Hidden Consumer: Masculinities, Fashion and City Life 1860–1914, Manchester, 1999; Brent Shannon, ‘Refashioning Men: Fashion, Masculinity, and the Cultivation of the Male Consumer in Britain, 1860–1914’, Victorian Studies, 46/4, 2004: 597–630.

(50) Rappaport, Shopping for Pleasure; Lisa Tiersten, Marianne in the Market: Envisioning Consumer Society in Fin-De-Siècle France, Berkeley CA, 2002.

(51) Susan Strasser, Charles McGovern and Matthias Judt (eds.), Getting and Spending: European and American Consumer Societies in the Twentieth Century, Cambridge, 1998; Cohen, A Consumers’ Republic; Martin Daunton and Matthew Hilton (eds.), The Politics of Consumption: Material Culture and Citizenship in Europe and America, Oxford, 2001; Frank Trentmann, Free Trade Nation: Commerce, Consumption, and Civil Society in Modern Britain, Oxford, 2008; Alain Chatriot, Marie-Emmanuelle Chessel, and Matthew Hilton (eds.), Au nom du consommateur: Consommation et politique en Europe et aux États-Unis au XX siècle, Paris, 2004; Frank Trentmann (ed.), The Making of the Consumer: Knowledge, Power and Identity in the Modern World, Oxford and New York, 2006; Charles F. McGovern, Sold American: Consumption and Citizenship, 1890–1945, Chapel Hill, 2006; Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 611, 2007; S. Jonathan Wiesen, ‘Creating the Nazi Marketplace: Public Relations and Consumer Citizenship in the Third Reich’, in Geoff Eley and Jan Palmowski (eds.), Citizenship and National Identity in Twentieth-Century Germany, Stanford, 2008, 146–63; Kate Soper and Frank Trentmann (eds.), Citizenship and Consumption, 2007; Matthew Hilton, Prosperity for All? Consumer Activism in an Era of Globalization, Ithaca NY, 2009; Lawrence Glickman, Buying Power: A History of Consumer Activism in America, Chicago, 2009.

(52) See Frank Trentmann, ‘The Modern Genealogy of the Consumer: Meanings, Identities and Political Synapses’, in Brewer and Frank Trentmann (eds.), Consuming Cultures, Global Perspectives, 19–69.

(53) Marta Ajmar and Flora Dennis (eds.), At Home in Renaissance Italy, London, 2006.

(54) Lendol Calder, Financing the American Dream: A Cultural History of Consumer Credit, Princeton NJ, 1999; Margot C. Finn, The Character of Credit: Personal Debt in English Culture, 1740–1914, Cambridge, 2003; Garon and Maclachlan (eds.), The Ambivalent Consumer.

(55) Jan de Vries, ‘The Industrial Revolution and the Industrious Revolution’, Journal of Economic History 54/2, 1994: 249–70.

(56) James Duesenberry, Income, Saving and the Theory of Consumer Behavior, Cambridge MA, 1949.

(57) W. Stanley Jevons, The State in Relation to Labour (London 1882); Alfred Marshall, Principles of Economics (1890; London, 1920, 8th edn). An exception is Susan Strasser's trilogy on the United States: Susan Strasser, Never Done: A History of American Housework, New York, 1982; Susan Strasser, Satisfaction Guaranteed: The Making of the American Mass Market, New York, 1989; Susan Strasser, Waste and Want: A Social History of Trash, New York, 1999.

(58) Offer, The Challenge of Affluence.

(59) Maxine Berg, ‘In Pursuit of Luxury: Global History and British Consumer Goods in the Eighteenth Century’, Past and Present, 182/1, 2004: 85–142; Prasannan Parthasarathi and Giorgio Riello (eds.), The Spinning World: A Global History of Cotton Textiles, 1200–1850 Oxford, 2009; Brook, Vermeer's Hat.

(60) Alan Warde, Dale Southerton, Shu-Li Cheng and Wendy Olsen, ‘Changes in the Practice of Eating: A Comparative Analysis of Time-Use’, Acta Sociologica, 50/4, 2007: 363–85; Dale Southerton, Shu-Li Cheng, Wendy Olsen and Alan Warde, ‘Trajectories of Time Spent Reading as a Primary Activity: A Comparison of the Netherlands, Norway, France, UK and USA since the 1970s’, CRESC Working Paper 39, 2007.

(61) For a discussion of collective consumption as a ‘commitment device’, see Avner Offer, ‘Why has the Public Sector Grown so Large in Market Societies? The Political Economy of Prudence in the UK, c. 1870–2000’, Oxford Economic and Social History Working Papers, No. 2002-W44,

(62) From the rich literature, see Miller, The Comfort of Things; Appadurai (ed.), The Social Life of Things.

(63) For a suggestive discussion, see Trentmann, The Consuming Passion.

(64) Igor Kopytoff, ‘The cultural biography of things: commoditization as process’, in Appadurai (ed.), The Social Life of Things, ch. 2. See also Bruno Latour, We Have Never Been Modern, Cambridge MA, 1993.

(65) Theodore R. Schatzki, Karin Knorr-Cetina and Eike von Savigny (eds.), The Practice Turn in Contemporary Theory, London, 2001; Alan Warde, ‘Consumption and Theories of Practice’, Journal of Consumer Culture, 5/2, 2005: 131–53; E. Shove and M. Pantzar, ‘Consumers, Producers and Practices: Understanding the Invention and Reinvention of Nordic Walking’, Journal of Consumer Culture, 5/1, 2005: 43–64; Harvey Molotch, Where Stuff Comes From: How Toasters, Toilets, Cars, Computers, and Many Other Things Come to Be as They Are, New York, 2005; Frank Trentmann, ‘Materiality in the Future of History: Things, Practices, and Politics’, Journal of British Studies, 48/2, 2009: 283–307.