Consumerism , also consumerism or consumerism (from the Latin consumere - to consume), is a way of life that is aimed at always satisfying the need for new consumer goods. It can serve , for example, social distinction or the pursuit of identity , meaning in life and happiness . A pathological extreme form is shopping addiction . The term consumerism is mostly used with critical intent.
In 1899, the American sociologist Thorstein Veblen (1857–1929) stated that the upper class in the United States was enjoying a widespread consumption of validity that was only demonstrative in character. By “ conspicuous consumption ” he understood consumer behavior that goes far beyond the fulfillment of primary needs and primarily serves to increase social prestige. In the 1920s and 1930s, a consumer culture developed in the United States: in the course of prosperity and Fordism , a consumer-oriented middle class emerged. The rapid development of technology and the growing range of consumer goods (especially household appliances, radios and cars) made consumers strive for ever newer goods. This new “ materialism ” undermined traditional values and norms of smaller urban communities, as the sociologists Robert Staughton Lynd and Helen M. Lynd demonstrated in their 1929 and 1937 urban sociology studies of Middletown .
After the Second World War , in connection with the increasing individualization of society, a pattern of consumption emerged in Europe in which consumption was used to construct identity. Since people could no longer deduce who they are from their group or their origin, they define themselves through the collection and consumption of carefully selected products. In the world of goods, the image of a product became more important than its actual use value . It was not so much the product itself that was consumed as the stream of symbols attached to it, spread via the mass media.
In the interpretation of the Frankfurt School , the culture industry also serves to obscure the class consciousness of the workers by generating false needs and a “false consciousness” . According to Adorno , the culture industry reduces the individual to the role of consumer. In addition, consumerism is a ruse that integrates them into the capitalist system and prevents them from rebelling.
In 1970 the French sociologist Jean Baudrillard formulated the fear that the appearances produced by the mass media would “collapse” reality. The modern individual lives in a fictional "spectacle reality".
Pier Paolo Pasolini advocated the thesis in 1975 that consumerism was a new form of totalitarianism because it went hand in hand with the claim to extend consumerism to the entire world. One of its consequences is the destruction of the diversity of social forms of life and the leveling of cultures in a global consumerist mass culture , which charges the ideas of freedom with a “duty” to consume and causes people to fulfill the consumer imperative with the “feeling of freedom”.
According to Erich Fromm , the corresponding dispositions , which made it possible to compensate for inner emptiness, boredom, weariness and chronic depression in the act of buying or consuming, belonged to the character image of modern man. The consumer-oriented attitudes, passions and behaviors of the so-called consumerist social character would find an exaggerated expression in the clinical picture of shopping addiction .
A popular critique of consumerism was presented by John de Graaf , David Wann and Thomas Naylor . You speak of "affluenza", the affluence sickness or the "time sickness of consumption"; this made-up word combines “influenza” and “affluence” (prosperity, wealth, abundance). The authors cite debt , overproduction of goods, vast amounts of waste, and anxiety , feelings of alienation and despair as symptoms of this disease . The disease is caused by the greed for more and more material goods. As a way of recovery, the consistent departure from the consumerist lifestyle - in the sense of " voluntary simplicity " - offers itself .
Turning away from traditional consumer criticism, proponents such as Norbert Bolz see consumerism as a global counterweight to religious fundamentalism. Consumerism is assigned the role of pacifying the world by allowing its positive effects to be shared with all peoples. The western consumer culture is being expanded around the world regardless of the negative ecological consequences. Even if it should ultimately remain victorious against all its enemies (religious fundamentalists , critics of globalization , critics of consumerism and growth ), consumerism as the “immune system of world society” (Bolz) could only perish on itself. Bolz's point of view contradicts Panajotis Kondylis , who connects with the establishment of hedonistic ways of life the "end of ideologies", but not the end of conflicts in the world.
Partly due to different translations of consumerism, there are conceptual ambiguities, since in addition to consumerism , the term “consumerism” is also common. Consumerism (from the English consumerism : consumerism) is an ideology-critical expression from the social sciences, according to which personal happiness is achieved with the consumption of economic goods. Consumerism describes a consistent consumerism, whereby consumption becomes a substitute religion. In this sense consumerism is synonymous with consumerism.
The tendency of many people to identify with products or services and to make their self-esteem dependent on them is described as “everyday consumerism”, which is empirically proven in the German shopping addiction studies . Products with commercial brand names and status-enhancing promises are preferred. Insofar as the concept of consumerism is perceived as derogatory, many of those affected reject it and prefer to justify their consumption with rational arguments ; they reject the idea that they are “forced” to consume. People who affirm the ideology of consumerism do not evaluate the products they buy or consume as intrinsically valuable, but use them specifically as social status symbols and signals to surround themselves with like-minded people.
Consumerism has a different meaning in the economy . Here this expression is used essentially as an equivalent to German consumer protection , especially in the sense of the consumer movement. It is about the systemic consumer criticism of deficiencies in the supply of goods and services as well as the legal protection of consumers in cases of dubious sales and marketing practices, brand counterfeiting , faulty product quality, misinformation, etc.
- Consumer society
- Refusal to consume
- Affluent society
- Consumer criticism in art and design
- Planned obsolescence
- Gear Acquisition Syndrome
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- Benjamin Barber : Consumed! How the market seduces children, infantilizes adults and undermines democracy , Beck, Munich 2007, ISBN 978-3-406-57159-6
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- Erich Fromm : To have or to be , dtv, Munich 2011, ISBN 978-3-423-19519-5 .
- Franz Hochstrasser: Consumerism. Critique and Perspectives , Oekom, Munich 2013, ISBN 978-3-86581-326-8 .
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- John de Graaf, David Wann, Thomas Naylor: Affluenza. Zeitkrankheit Konsum , (translated by Elisabeth Liebl), Riemann, Munich 2002, ISBN 3-570500-26-8 .
- Gerhard Scherhorn : Sustainable Consumption. On the way to social anchorage , oekom , Munich 2003, ISBN 3-928244-85-X .
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- Thorstein Veblen: Theory of the leisure class . Introduced by Robert Lekachman . Penguin Books, New York 1994 ( online , accessed July 4, 2012).
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- Pier Paolo Pasolini: Buccaneers' writings. The destruction of the culture of the individual by the consumer society. Wagenbach, Berlin 1975.
- John de Graaf, David Wann, Thomas Naylor: Affluenza. Time sickness consumption. Riemann, Munich 2002.