To provide a critical understanding of the historical development of consumer capitalism, the fundamental elements of contemporary sociological theories of consumer action and the main issues related to the politics of consumer culture. To illustrate how theories may work in practice, by addressing key contemporary empirical phenomena in the sphere of consumption, with particular attention to social boundaries and social identities, commercial institutions and the new challenges posed by environmental issues and the process of globalization/localization. Besides a sound competence in the sociology of consumption, students will also develop capacities of critical reading and writing, as well as oral presentation and team-work.
Expected learning outcomes
The expected learning outcomes relate to the development of the capacity for critical understanding of social scientific analyses of contemporary consumer cultures. Students must also demonstrate the ability to apply the acquired theoretical knowledge to understand the main emerging phenomena of contemporary consumer capitalism. It is expected that thanks to shared reading in class of classical texts students will develop critical skills applicable to the analysis of contemporary society and that thanks to both groupwork parallel to classes and final workshops for sharing questions emerging from the course they will improve their ability to both write about and communicate what they have learnt.
Lesson period: Second trimester
(In case of multiple editions, please check the period, as it may vary)
This unit aims at providing a theoretically informed sociological understanding of contemporary consumer cultures and practices. While adopting an interdisciplinary outlook, it mainly deals with the sociology of consumption, concentrating on contemporary social phenomena of global relevance. The unit starts by discussing the historical development of so-called consumer capitalism, highlighting the relevance of urbanization, colonialism, changes in social stratification (class, gender) and international commerce. It then focuses on the most important theories of consumer action, considering how economics, sociology and anthropology have provided a number of distinctive perspectives on the functions, meanings and mechanisms of consumption. It finally considers the politics of consumer culture. It thus addresses: cultural industries as a vehicle for hegemonic views of the "consumer"; commercially mediated spaces as institutional contexts for a variety of dominant or alternative and critical consumer practices and identities; the process of globalization/localization as realized through the global standardization of commodity chains and alternative, locally grounded market circuits; consumer identities with particular attention to gender codes in consumer culture, media and emotional scripts; consumer places and institutions with attention to the coding of emotions and social relations; food practices and rituals as examples of consumption.
Prerequisites for admission
Goffman. E. (1979) Gender Advertisement, Chap. 3 Hochschild, A. R. (2003) The Commercialization of intimate life, Chap. 1 Sassatelli, R. (2007) Consumer Culture, Sage.