For our introduction to this Unit we were first asked to identify what consumerism is. In a nutshell consumerism is the belief that purchase of material goods and professional services will result in psychological happiness, personal fulfillment and social regard.

An early critique of this perspective came from the Norwegian-American sociologist Thorstein Veblan. In The Theory of the Leisure Class (1899) Veblan argues that it is man’s instinct to emulate and impress through the conspicuous consumption of material goods.

For him it is the animal impulse that underpins the success of the capitalist system. This is an idea that Vance Packard draws upon in the Hidden Persuaders(1957) In this book, Packard expounds the sociology of capitalism for a popular audience. He brings concepts like ‘built in obsolescence’ into public conscience.

In Parents as Consumer Citizens, Philip Woods looks at the way taste foregrounds education in the many ways in which parents consume their children’s education.

Competitive Market Model – Schools offer a competitive market model of customer choice because information contained in league tables enables parents to asses schools on past performance.

Personal Control Model – Parents can also do things to influence the quality of their child’s education, from help with homework to involvement with the PTA.

Quality Assurance Model – Parents are also empowered by outlining the standards and specifications about the ‘goods and services’ they can expect in both the National Curriculum and school policy documentation.

Participative Model – Parents can engage in dialogue with providers of their children’s education in the form of parents meetings and other meetings with staff.

Competitive Market Model

Personal Control Model

Quality Assurance Model

Participative Model

We then moved on to analyzing Subculture and the Meaning of Style.

Subculture: The Meaning of Style (1979; London ; Routledge) – Central to Hebdige’s view of Consumer Culture is the notion that the individual is active in the ascription of meaning to consumer goods.Focusing on the punk movement of the mid 1970’s he looks at the way in which youth culture borrow and re-work the symbols or preceding youth groups. In particular his semiotic analysis as a symbol of cultural rebellion has been particularly influential in framing and shaping the way in which proceeding moments of cultural resistance have been understood.

Hebdige sees the purchase of material goods as an active process in which the self is reflexively constructed in dialogue with the meaning of objects. He reframes this process, however, and focuses instead upon the way audiences imbue objects with ideological meaning. Using the example of the punk safety pin he suggests that when appropriated by the minority groups or ‘subcultures’ such objects take on a new semantic meaning.

“Objects borrowed from the most sordid of contexts found a place in the punk’s ensembles: lavatory chains were draped in graceful arcs across chests encased in plastic bin liners. Safety pins were taken out of their domestic ‘utility’ context and worn as gruesome ornaments through cheek, ear or lip.” (Hebdige, 1979, 1067) 

symbolic resistance of items that include PVC, bin liners, fake blood, paraphernalia of bondage.

the dominant ideological structure of mainstream culture. Symbolises chaos and disorder. tightly controlled system of meaning.

social values, connected to working class, negotiates a semantic space for modes of expression outside of dominant culture forms.

“We could go one further and say that even if the poverty was being parodied, the wit was undeniably barbed; that beneath the clownish make-up there lurked the unaccepted and disfigured face of capitalism; that beyond the horror circus antics a divided and unequal society was being eloquently condemned.” (Hebdige,1979,1073)

Stuart Ewen – All Consuming Image: The Politics of Style in Contemporary Media (1988: Basic Books: New York) – style is political: visual signifiers encode systems of belief. Visual codes are often long and complex with complex histories. Their appopriation of consumer culture often dilutes their ideological potency. The ideological significance of the punk safety pin, example, is diminished when adopted by mass-producing lines; Which is left in Ewens terms ‘cultural waste matter’.

subcultures change in terms of their meaning because of the media.

shadow of marx hangs over his work in the explanation of the way in which mass-media exploits sub-cultural forms.

“(A)s style becomes a rendition of social history, it silently and ineluctably transforms that history from a process of human conflict and motivations, an engagement with social interests and forces into a market mechanism, a fashion show.”(Ewan, 1987,1082)

until 1960s this rendition of social history was fairly singular, depicting only the ideal cultural representation of the white middle class.

he suggests later periods are characterised by more plural construction of social history cohered around what is nominally referred to as the ‘alterative’. Which in this sense embraces oppositional concerns including issues of class and sexual oppression, political activism and global inequality.

material of counter-culture has exploited by capitalist institutions. He suggests end product is waste matter.

“Whatever the significance or value the expression may have had in the context of its earlier development, the value was now outweighed by its exchange value, its ability to make something marketable hip. When its marketability had been consumed, the phrase – like so much else – achieved the status of cultural waste matter.”(Ewan, 1987, 1087)

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