Capitalist consumption frequently gets characterized in the negative: it is seen as competitive, shallow, wasteful, and socially insignificant in comparison to the power of production. Yet industrialization led to the rise of modern nations, huge cities, changing careers and social mobility. Amid these profound changes, the practices of capitalist consumption help people both form identities and shape their social relations. Working with the authors that we have read –Marx, Weber, Veblen, Simmel, Galbraith, and Klein— pick two key practices and explain how people can actively build social position through their consumption. At what costs are those social positions achieved? Be sure to illustrate your answer with concrete ethnographic examples.
Many writers have characterized modernity as a culture that uneasily blends the fleeting with the enduring. Do Marx’s, Weber’s, Veblen’s, Simmel’s, Galbraith’s and Klein’s ideas concerning material practice and modern life support this characterization? In your answer, present ideas (about consumption, production, needs, motives, etc.) that illustrate both sides of this issue —the fleeting and the enduring—and illustrate these ideas with concrete examples. Do you think that this tension between the ephemeral and the eternal helps to explain the worries about materialism that we see in our society today?