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Globalisation and the Rise of the Modern Consumer


Module description

In the last decade 'the consumer' has returned to the centre stage of popular politics and academic interest. Do consumers make good citizens? What happens to our sense of taste and style in consumer societies? How does consumption affect individual and collective identities? Far from being new, these questions have important longer histories. This module provides a historically informed perspective on the changing meanings and roles of consumption in modern society.

In the course of this class we shall explore key moments in the birth and transformation of consumer identities in modern societies, beginning with the rise of consumer co-operatives and shopping malls, and ending with the recent reassessment of famines and the return of consumer activism. We shall encounter consumers in different social and cultural settings, at times of plenty and at times of want, negotiating the worlds of citizenship and aesthetics. The course readings will include developments in Europe, the United States, and Asia. Themes include consumer politics, the emergence of window shopping, organised women consumers, food and hunger, American consumer society, and the rise of new Asian consumers. The readings focus on the period from the middle of the nineteenth to the late twentieth century with an introductory unit on different narratives and theories of consumption and a final week on contemporary debates.