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Consumerism & Consumption Culture

Updated on September 30, 2019
Image attributed to Faithie
Image attributed to Faithie | Source

The whole notion of ‘consumption culture’ was not new to me when I started taking this unit (Consuming Culture) at the start of the semester. However, I will say that I was unaware that it was such a broad and in-depth topic that requires discussion at length to truly grasp. Previously, I understood consumption to be the purchase of goods and services by the public. Whilst this is not incorrect, I have come to know that this is a rather narrow view of consumption and particularly stemming from the perspective of the advertising discourse. Through closely examining the introduction chapter from Twitchell’s book Lead us into Temptation: The Triumph of American Materialism (1999) many different perspectives are offered on the topic of consumption culture. Despite the fact that Twitchell does place a fair amount of culpability on advertising in the perpetuation of consumption culture, he also cites popular culture, media, waste, and the concept of the American dream as having a strong impact in creating these ideals and expectations. Although these are only a couple of other viewpoints out of a multitude (of what is seemingly an ever-evolving concept), Twitchell has, more or less, clarified and solidified what I understood to be consumption culture.

Here, what Twitchell specifies to be characteristically an American cultural trait is what I would generalise to be an attribute of Western society as a whole. At this point, Western society has almost become synonymous with the concept that is consumerism, creating a consumer society. In this respect a consumer society essentially being a civilisation that places a high importance on the consumption of good and services in a way that promotes economic growth and sustainability. This sentiment rings very true of Western society. We not only have a strong dependence on the buying, selling and trading of goods and services to maintain sustainability of our economic climates, but Bataille argues that what we understand to be consumerism includes wasting our excess dollars unnecessary items to fulfil our hedonistic desires (as cited in Clarke, Doel, & Housiaux, 2003). To provide a relatable example, think about the last time you spent an excessive amount of money on something that you just really did not need, what comes to mind? Perhaps the new iPhone sparked your attention even though your current phone still works fine, or possibly a new FitBit because the physical design is sleeker and flashier. You are not alone, at some point we have all caved into buying something based on an impulse. Personally, I frequently give in when it comes to purchasing concert tickets, just last week for example I bought tickets to a concert on the day of because I just could not bear the thought of missing out (and it is not the first time I have done this!). That is a guilty pleasure (and unfortunate habit) of mine.

Looking at the study of consumption through an academic lens really made me realise just how much everyone’s lives are both subliminally and consciously impacted by consumerism. There are so many factors that go into shaping how habits of consumption from our personal interests and budgets to marketing and product availability. Some of these factors are going to be discussed more thoroughly in future posts.


Clarke, D., Doel, M. A., & Housiaux, K. M. L. (Eds.). (2003). Introduction to part five (theory). In Consumption Reader (pp. 219–226). Retrieved from

Twitchell, J. B. (1999). Introduction. In Lead us into temptation: The triumph of American materialism (pp. 1–15). Retrieved from

© 2019 Ebony Beckwith


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