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The Sociology of Consumption

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Abstract

During the second half of the twentieth century there was a rapid growth in the sub-discipline of the Sociology of Consumption. Consumption is now well established as a central topic for sociologists and others seeking to address a number of contemporary and pressing global issues, such as sustainability and health. The Sociology of Consumption is armed with a range of concepts that are capable of conceptualising how resource intensive and unhealthy ways of consuming might be shifted, but contemporary patterns of consumption persist, as discourses about the autonomy of the individual and the power of technological innovation continue to dominate. In this chapter, I trace the development of this sub-discipline to show that the Sociology of Consumption has much to offer those seeking to shape ways of living and consuming. I begin by saying something more broadly about the field, and then give more detail on the development of key approaches and positions: (1) “mass culture,” (2) “consumer culture,” (3) distinction and taste, and (4) more recent developments. I conclude by arguing that ideas from these positions would better inform approaches to “real world” issues, through the example of sustainable consumption.