Consumption and Modernity

Subject: ⛩️ Culture
Type: Expository Essay
Pages: 9
Word count: 2285
Topics: Postmodern, Modernism
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The period of 1919 and 1945 witnessed numerous changes across western countries in terms of culture, politics, economy and social aspects.  After the conclusion of the World War II, many countries started expanding their economic strength by introducing modern designs that were used in advertising as well as eradicating the old-fashioned consumption culture. Before the introduction of the new techniques, consumption had started before 1914 and gained momentum throughout the period of the 1920s however, fundamental adjustments were made during the era of the Great Depression.  During the period of World War II, consumption had started accelerating as well as individuals’ mobilization, which altered gender social roles that challenge the existing status quo. Indeed, the growth of mass consumption and the reshaping of gender responsibilities created a platform for both opportunities and problems.  Ideas about nurturing both genders emerged as well as the penetrating of new images of women in advertising methods. By the end of the war period, modernity had been embraced and mass consumption fuelled. This essay will answer two questions; first, the relationship between consumption and modernity, Second, the change in consumption as a result of post-modernity.

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Consumption and Modernity

Consumption is a process that cuts across social, economic and cultural aspects in selecting goods and services and this activity considers the challenges and opportunities of modernity (Zukin & Maguire, 2004). Besides, consumption can be reflected as an institution that links economic and cultural dimensions as well as the entire social structure. On the other hand, Modernity is the process of embracing new technologies, ideas, innovations and delivery systems (Zukin & Maguire, 2004, p.173). Modernity has created new spaces that influence consumption as this institution is determined by the frameworks approved by the key stakeholders in the social structure. On the other hand, both men and women have used the avenues of consumption to build and express their identities.

Traditional wisdom considers the culture of consumption as a late result of industrial revolution because it was influenced by production, which is a model of capitalism. In fact, industrialization was fundamental in creating a wide range of standardized products at the disposal of the Western population (Sassatelli Roberta, 2007). In other words, the period of industrial revolution transformed the patterns of the economy in respect to production vital for the creation of the consumer society. While consumption was not a new phenomenon in the nineteenth and twentieth century, people in previous generations have always referred to themselves as modern. Arguably, the World War II period played an integral role in shaping fundamental social, cultural, political and economic factors of the western countries (Sassatelli Roberta, 2007). Professional advertising industries witnessed tremendous growth as key players prioritized the development of capitalist markets as well as idealizing consumers.

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As previously stated, consumption of basic commodities started with the first human society. Consumption of goods and services has been accelerated by the establishment of modern rituals and institutions. Modernity has enhanced the consumption of technology advanced goods such as automobiles, personal computers and DVD players, which are increasingly becoming part and parcel of the public culture. Besides, through advisements industries, the use of these goods and services are promoted to a larger audience, which in turn fuels consumption trends (Zukin & Maguire, 2004).

Modernity has influenced the creation of numerous websites, shopping malls, museums shops and fitness centres where goods and commodities are viewed and later sold for consumption purposes. As explained by Slater (1997), consumption is a broad field that bridges the studies of the sociology of culture and the economy as well as providing new avenues for research in family, social class and gender.

Consumer Products, Sites and Industries in the Modern World

As portrayed in contemporary research, consumer’s products, site and industries were witnessed between the periods of the 1970s up to the beginning of 1980s. During this era, most of the developed economies of the world such as Britain, Germany and the United States were transforming from manufacturing methods and considering post-industrial aspects (Slater, 1997). Consumption was viewed as the underlying factor in the changes happening across these powerful economies. To begin with , the significance of consumption was  highlighted from a historical point of view such as the Benjamin translation of the Bible into English and the study of the Paris Arcades of 1840s (Piore & Sabel, 1984) just to mention but few examples .

The study of the nineteenth-century social histories and the twentieth-century advertising companies provided important information on the topic of consumption. All the above studies were completed with the help of ancient sources, which carried explanation about cities, streets, fashion shops, company records, advertisements and memoirs ideal for describing modernity in consumption (Princen, Maniates, & Conca, 2002). This example gives the account of the changes brought in to match the consumption desires of individuals. Actually, modernity had erased the contributions made by small-scale peddlers and merchants replacing them with large-scale firms and formal modes of bargaining.

Research documents reveal that modernity influenced the creation of massive consumption platforms incorporating consumer products, sites and texts. By that time, modern shopping stores, well-known magazines, advisements and daily newspapers bridged consumers with the desired goods, products and services. As suggested by Featherstone (2011), the strategies used in mass production were successful because they exploited the desires of people. For instance, the desire to be loved, the feeling of dressing well and the confidence of individuals who look gorgeous, as well as the desires of beauty and self-enhancement, were the avenues manipulated by mass production.

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A study carried on John Wanamaker department stores in both Philadelphia and New York reveals that consumption had reached the helms of status, leisure and class. From this study, it is evident that people are just victims of consumption because the department’s stores in both cities were built with social class designs such as enticing electric lights and plate glasses (Piore & Sabel, 1984). Besides, research from memoirs, personal information and speeches reveal that a good number of retail owners were attached to notable universities, reputable banks, and art museum, which are the forces of power to both the economy and the culture of individuals (Scholz, 2011). Yet again Rappaport (2000) claims that displayed goods and commodities on retail departmental stores were the motivating factors behind the mass consumption of men and women.

The above statements are echoed by feminists’ historians who highlighted the openness of the department stores such as supermarkets towards enhancing women independence.   In her fictional explanation, Emile Zola talks about Parisian department stores enticing women with their variety of charming and captive goods. In fact, these shopping stores provided other services to women such as restrooms and tearooms, which were safe from the public eye. In addition, the department stores were ideal places for women to gather and break the boredom of domestic boundaries (Sombart, 1967).Obviously, the sources of these explanations about the consumer habits are obtained from examining cultural aspects such as images and texts. A deep analysis of photographs and images depicting departmental stores indicates various manipulative motives such as see-through window shops.


Post-modernity institutions are different from the preceding social structures as it embraces capitalism with so much glamour. In post-modernity, individuals have expanded their consumption habits to fashion and attractiveness must have toys, elegant homes, and cosy houses, fine foods as well as successful commercial brands. As explained by Gidden (p.196), post-modernity influences all aspects of self-worth under the frameworks of commodity capitalism. In other words, the commodities acquired by individuals express their worth as well as having an impact on the projected image.

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Post-modernity is linked to the creation of a new consumer culture that embraces individuality. According to Slater (1997, p.59), explanation of post-modernity established a whole new process of individualization which considers personal traits and performance rather a standard characters determined by birth and social code. Admittedly, this transition was influenced by all aspects of industrialization and urbanization as access to experiences and goods were open.

As people embraced these enlightened and unknown lives, anciently used approaches towards the identity of individual, family, class and religion were corroded and abandoned.  Post-modernity had granted all people freedom of choosing any approach towards self, opportunities and responsibilities, a privilege enjoyed by influential people in the society. Beck & Beck-Gernshelm (2002) explains that this type of freedom comes with a price in matters concerning security and in the absence of set rules, individuals are at the risk of making wrong choices. In other words, modernity created a critical point in the identity of individuals. Yet again, empirical studies indicate that people have turned to magazines, advice manuals, advertising and self-help groups in order to find their identity.

Historical pieces of evidence suggest that advertising strategies running in the nineteenth century stressed on the need of self-realization (Beck & Beck-Gernshelm, 2002). Indeed, first impressions and the need of elevating an individual’s social status through consumption.  Besides, studying men magazines between the years 1900 to 1950 proves the commitment of the writers, editors and advertisers in portraying new forms of masculinity that enticed the readers into purchasing them (Sombart, 1967). In this view, modernity created the way forward for post-modernity in using texts and products to influence the need of consumers.

With post-modernity concepts such as lifestyles, preferences and tastes were created.  These concepts have been used in the classification of consumer commodities in terms of desirability, acceptability and value (Bauman, 2000). Data obtained from French consumers on their lifestyles, possessions and choices indicates that individuals were well informed on matters of social codes and statutory requirements because it allowed consumers to demonstrate their taste and distinction in goods.

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Research carried out by Bauman (2000) explains that taste determines the consumption margin in post-modern societies as lifestyle choices depend on an individual’s access to economic, cultural and social capital. For instance, elite consumers tend to prefer one kind of commodities that are used by their counterparts, which creates a camouflaged lifestyle falling under the patterns of consumption. Besides, Post-modernity has played a fundamental role in influencing cultural intermediaries as witnessed in by the growth of global marketing, advertising, media, tourism and fashion among other forms of acquiring goods and services (Charters, 2006, p.240).

The era of post-modernity witnessed more individual emphasis on the aspects of self-improvements where money, time and energy are directed towards acquiring individual status symbols. Certainly, people’s appearance and behaviours are crucial as they create impressions about individual’s cultures and consumption taste as well as an image for their occupations. Indeed, the success of their workplaces calls for good branding in body appearance such as dieting, conducting plastic surgery, working out and improving fashion sense (Kaplan, 2017).

Contemporary research on career women suggests that their consumption for fashion is derived by their need for a self-presentation. Interviews carried out on career women and fashion designers reveal that skirt and trouser suits work well for career women as their appearance creates a sense of professional authority and power (Zukin & Maguire, 2004). Besides, the period of post modernity assembled all the available fashions options for women to eliminate the anxiety of choice.  In fact, fashion has offered women the required freedom to choose their appearance and image representation. On the other hand, image consultants were forced to put up with the demands of their clients in designing appropriate image for their work services in circumstances where personal appearance depicts the image of the company or corporation (Featherstone, 2011).

The advertising strategies used in post-modernity era are aimed at manipulating consumers into believing that the products acquired will enhance their individuality. However, this is not the case as markets provide a specific type of goods. Admittedly, the corporate world sets the stage for directing consumers into shopping experiences (Giddens, 1991).  In addition, Giddens asserts that the image portrayed by the corporate world corrupts individuals in their journey towards self-identity. Moreover, in searching for the self-identity, people are pitted against the influences created by commodities and the sold identities are similar in nature to the standard accepted by tradition aspects.

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The era of Fordism and post-Fordism witnessed the mass production of standardized goods and people had a variety of commodities to exercise abundance in spending. As explained by Piore & Sabel (1984), Fordism was fundamental in mass production and bundles of consumption of normalized commodities. The era witnessed an accelerated consumer culture as well as the regulation and saturation of market incorporating high standards of uniformity. In terms of fashion, there were similarities in respect to similarity and role was solely controlled by successful commercial houses in Paris and London, which served superior classes (Piore & Sabel, 1984). Admittedly, Fordism and post-Fordism era used fashion to form class distinction as the clothing patterns produced conveyed the class status of the consumers.  Moreover, as consumers accepted the trends in fashion, both economic and cultural patterns shifted towards global corporations and global markets as consumption (Piore & Sabel, 1984).


Consumption bridges the gap in political, cultural practices and social patterns of the world. Besides, consumption is a late outcome of industrial revolution because it is influenced by production a mode of capitalism. Interwar period and post-war era played an integral role in shaping the fundamental factors of consumption including; social, cultural, political and economic aspects of the western countries. As the world transitioned to modernity, consumption practices were influenced by the production of technology sophisticated goods and services such as automobiles, DVD players and personal computers. The consumption of these commodities has become part and parcel of the popular modern life. Besides, through modernity new patterns of consumptions have emerged through websites, museum shops and fitness centres where commodities are displayed, viewed and purchased through formal bargaining.

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  1. Bauman, Z. 2000,Liquid Modernity. Cambridge: Polity.
  2. Beck, U., & Beck-Gernshelm, E. 2002, Individualization. London: SAGE.
  3. Charters, S. (2006). Aesthetic Products and Aesthetic Consumption: A Review. Consumption Markets & Culture, 9(3), 235-255.
  4. Featherstone, M. 2011, Consumer culture and postmodernism. London: Sage Publications.
  5. Giddens, A. 1991, Modernity and self-identity: Self and society in the late modern age. Cambridge: Polity Press.
  6. Kaplan, e. A. 2017, rocking around the clock: Music television, postmodernism, and consumer culture. S.l.: Routledge.
  7. Piore, M. J., & Sabel, C. F. 1984, The second industrial divide: Possibilities for prosperity. New York: Basic Books.
  8. Princen, T., Maniates, M., & Conca, K. 2002, Confronting consumption. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
  9. Rappaport, E. D. 2000, Shopping for pleasure: Women in the making of London’s West End. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
  10. Rattansi, A. 1982, The Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844. Marx and the Division of Labour, 67-71. doi:10.1007/978-1-349-16829-3_12
  11. Sassatelli Roberta. 2007, Consumer Culture. SAGE.
  12. Scholz, J. 2011, Radical consumption: shopping for change in contemporary culture. Consumption Markets & Culture, 14(4), 397-399. doi:10.1080/10253866.2011.604498
  13. Slater, D. 1997, Consumer culture and modernity. Cambridge: Polity.
  14. Sombart, W. 1967, Luxury and capitalism. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.
  15. Trentmann, F. 2004, Beyond Consumerism: New Historical Perspectives on Consumption. Journal of Contemporary History, 39(3), 373-401.
  16. Zukin, S., & Maguire, J. S. 2004, Consumers and Consumption. Annual Review of Sociology, 30, 173-197.
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