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American Culture: Consumer Culture

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1 American Culture: Consumer Culture
Lecture Four American Culture: Consumer Culture

2 What is Culture? Culture is the lens through which we see the world
Gives shape and meaning to our daily lives Culture is a social process – we create and recreate culture Culture is shared, learned, taken for granted, symbolic, and it varies across time and place

3 Material and Non-material Culture
Material Culture (or material goods) The material objects we create are usually the first indicators of cultural differences Non-material culture Beliefs – the truth of it all Values – the right and wrong Norms – the rules Rituals – practice and reaffirmation Language – the heart of it all

4 US Dominant Culture: Consumer Culture
The dominant culture in American society today is the consumer culture A consumer culture in one in which we define ourselves and our value in society in terms of goods we purchase Consumer culture both unifies us and differentiates us from one another

5 The Ritual of Shopping In a consumer society consumption is a process by which we reflect our values, beliefs, and norms. Shopping today has become a cultural ritual that reinforces our beliefs and values

6 Overspent American Max Weber argues that our actions and behavior – like work and consumption – are guided in part by what we believe and value (culture). Film Questions: According to Juliet Schor, what is consumption competition? According to Schor, what are the cultural forces that cause Americans to work longer hours and spend more than they can afford in order to participate in a consumption competition with others?

7 Overspent American In the book Overspent American sociologist Juliet Schor found that in a consumer culture – where our social value is determined by the goods we consume – we are participating in consumption competition We work more to make more money to be able to spend more money on “stuff” And increasingly we go into debt to buy more stuff

8 Consumption Competition
Consumption Competition: the process by which we consume goods to demonstrate our status to others Schor says in consumption competition we focus on visible goods and primarily what she calls the “Big Three”: The house we live in The car we drive The clothes we wear

9 Symbols of Consumer Culture
Brands act as symbols of social status in consumption competition If you look around you on any given day you can see how ubiquitous brands have become in our society – they are on everything and everywhere Research has shown that brands are powerful reflectors of latent functions

10 Our Consumption, Our Values
If we are consuming goods today to gain and reflect social status in society today, what values & beliefs are reflected in our consumption of material culture?

11 Socialized into a Consumer Culture
Socialization: the lifelong process of social interaction through which individuals acquire self identity and the social skills needed for survival in society Socialization is central to society, without learning the culture of a society we could not get along in that society However, when we act based on our cultural ideas, values, and beliefs we recreate that society

12 Mass Media and Socialization
There are many agents of socialization in our society today –family, school, peer groups – but one of the most powerful socializing agents today is the mass media and, more specifically, advertising We live in an “advertising environment” Ads occupy a vast cultural space in our lives and are present in virtually all social contexts from the labels visible on our clothes to the ads on TV

13 Role of Mass Media Mass Media plays a central role in the consumer culture Increases the symbolic value of “Brands” through advertising that associates latent functions with brands Stretches our reference groups, whereby we feel we are competing with the people on TV (TV shows like “MTV Cribs” is a good example) and not just our neighbors How much influence does mass media have? Adults see an average of 2000 advertisements a day Children see an average of 40,000 commercials a year We use 6.5 hours of mass media a day

14 Advertisements and Socialization
The goal of advertising is to sell products and one of the ways advertising does this is to associate latent functions with the products advertised Often ads tell us we lack something the is socially valued, but we can have it we buy the product advertised

15 Conspicuous Consumption
According to the sociologist Thorstein Veblen in his book The Theory of the Leisure Class “conspicuous consumption is…a heightening or reaffirmation of social status.” In other words, the choices regarding the goods we consume are related to how those goods will heighten our status in society Products that are visible to others are the ones that we tend to buy with latent functions in mind

16 The Functions of Consumption
In a consumer society consumption has both manifest and latent functions A manifest function is an intended or expressed outcome The manifest function of goods is the intended purpose A latent function is an unintended or unexpressed outcome The latent function of goods is the one that gains meaning only in the social context and social interaction

17 Let’s look at some products and think about the manifest and latent functions…

18 Cadillac Escalade SUV What are the Manifest and Latent Functions?

19 Chanel Lipstick What are the Manifest and Latent Functions?

20 Apple iPod What are the Manifest and Latent Functions?

21 Consumer Society

22 Your Ads For each ad you picked, answer the following questions:
What is the manifest function of the product advertised? What is the latent function associated with the product in the ad? What reference group is the ad appealing to? Do you think the ad focuses more on the latent or manifest function?

23 Are We Prisoners of Socialization?
Socialization is powerful, but we have a ‘self’ We are unique individuals and we are actively involved in the construction our own identities We can examine and find common cultural message about what it means to be valued in American society, but as individuals we can (and do) chose to accept or reject those cultural ideas This is how cultural change happens – we recreate culture when we start to redefine our values, beliefs, and norms Society shapes individuals…but we also shape society

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