If you received an assignment to write an essay on such a topic, then consider that you have got a lucky ticket. There is a lot of information on this topic – it is enough to look around yourself.
The concept of a "consumer society" is associated with the socio-economic and cultural phenomenon, finally stabilized in developed countries in the second half of the XX century. This is not a philosophical category, but rather a socio-theoretical and economic one.
Although the popularity of the concept itself is linked, in particular, with the work of Jean Baudrillard "Consumer Society. Its myths and structures", which appeared in 1970. It refers primarily to the socio-economic phenomenon, and not to a certain intellectual tradition. Moreover, Baudrillard's work aspires to fix the modification of this phenomenon and the emergence of its iconic component in the foreground. It is not an analysis of what can be called a normal model of consumer society, which it makes sense to characterize, first.
Prerequisites for the Emergence of Mass Consumption Society
Speaking about the consumer society, we mean the one of the mass consumption that stabilized immediately after the Second World War when the mass production of consumer goods was finalized.
The second important element arises at the same time due to Keynesian politics and the construction of the model of the social state in different societies that created the conditions for a broad social spread of the consumer culture.
The preconditions for the emergence of consumer society arose, however, earlier. The most important figure in this prehistory is Henry Ford, who was not only a theorist but also a practical entrepreneur who, in the interwar period, created a prototype of a society of general welfare in the framework of his industrial empire. Ford not only created the first model of the "car for people", but also relied on the growth of the well-being of his workers: cars not only became mass produced but turned into a subject of mass consumption. And this was shown not only in the growth of wages but also in the participation of the workers with experience in income of the company.
The Concept of the Social State
In the post-war period, Ford's prototype was elevated to the rank of a state policy within the framework of the so-called model of the social state. It should be understood as a system where the state directly or indirectly redistributes resources – especially the financial ones – from the classical beneficiaries of the capitalist system – the owners - in favor of broad social strata. In the same way, ample opportunities were provided in the social sphere – education and medicine – for those segments of the population that previously did not have access to them. Finally, the pension system was formed.
So, it makes sense to rejoice that, in our time, we have a direct access to education and many other opportunities. Therefore, take all your homework not as torture, but as another step towards development.
The Middle Class as a Basis for Consumption
The concept of the consumer society is correlated with the notion of the middle class, which is sufficiently provided in order to afford a large-scale consumption. The middle class is a class that, in fact, was formed within the framework of the social state. Let us remind you that the classical theory of capitalism, that is, Marxism, did not envision such an opportunity, because, according to Marx, the internal tendencies of the capitalist system are such that the owners only grow richer, and people of hired labor are only poor. As a result, the proletariat simply has nothing to lose.
Of course, the formation of a model of the social state in different countries was also due to the existence of the USSR as a formidable political alternative. In current conditions of the prolonged pressure of the neoliberal economic model, the middle class is gradually disintegrating, and the polarized structure of society is returning.
The middle class was the main beneficiary of the social state, and it formed the powerful modern consumer culture. Naturally, in order for it to realize its consumer demand, it was necessary to have a corresponding industry for the production of consumer goods. That is, a modern mass production of such goods as automobiles, refrigerators, televisions, radios, vacuum cleaners, fans and so on appeared – thus, practically everything that filled advertising magazines in the 1950-1970s.
Transformation of Goods
It cannot be said that consumer goods of this kind did not exist before, but within the consumer society, something that can be defined as the substance of the goods was transformed. The consumer goods of the XIX and early XX centuries – this is a thing designed for a long-term use, often for even more than one generation. Substance of the goods of a developed consumer society is deprived of such a long historical existence – it is reduced to a function, which substance of the thing itself has no knowledge of. This functionality can be both practical and aesthetic in nature, as in a modern smartphone or furniture from the IKEA store.
The very concept of a thing has changed: we change things; we do not fix them.
There was also a whole revolution in the commercial culture together with the invention of supermarkets and shopping centers. In cities with ancient commercial culture, for example, in Damascus, everything is organized in such a way as to protect a buyer from an accidental purchase – there are certain areas specified for a certain type of goods so that you can choose the one suitable among the similar ones.
The idea of a supermarket or a shopping center presupposes an elimination of this ascetic rationality: the unit of a trade transaction is no longer the thing you need, but shopping as a complete act of consumption. Of course, there is a simple explanation of the motives behind these transformations: consumption ceases to be an act that can receive a rational saturation – it is from these nostalgic positions that consumerism is criticized – but becomes, in fact, a form of life, continuously stimulating the growth of the economic production.
Baudrillard also expressed another feature of the consumer society, namely its symbolic component, which, of course, had already become a routine triviality for advertising and marketing specialists. If in a strongly polarized society, there is only one symbolic vector of the consumer orientation – in the direction of the prestigious goods that the higher class can afford, then in a society with a powerful middle class, the symbolic game becomes more complicated, it breaks up: along with the "prestige", "lifestyles", "youth", "way of life" and so on used in the market, the symbolic component is more complex and significant in the terms of influencing the consumers’ motivation. Hence, the attention to the theme of brands appears.
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