Globalized capitalism has become the dominant economy throughout most of the world, creating what we know as “consumer society.” Drawing on Introducing Sociology: Using the Stuff of Everyday Life, discuss the ways in which contemporary US society has been shaped by this historical movement.

There are many ways you could talk about how US society has been shaped by consumer society. You might want to use the term “sociological imagination” to link personal shopping choices with global economic issues. You could use the term “agency” to talk about how freedom and choice has become tied to consuming. You could also discuss the “material/cultural" framework to show how tangible fabric can produce an array of intangible meanings within consumer societies.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

You might want to start your discussion of consumer society with Karl Marx. According to Josee Johnston, Kate Caims, and Shyon Baumann—the three authors of Introducing Sociology: Using the Stuff of Everyday Life—the nineteenth-century thinker is one of the founders of sociology. He identified the economy as the main force of society.

The three authors show how Marx’s work impacted other sociologists. They expanded upon Marx’s work to show how people weren’t just divided by labor but also by how they consumed. What a person bought reflected who they were and their place in society.

Johnston, Caims, and Baumann tell how working-class people in the 1800s bought practical “tough denim pants” that would last a long time. Meanwhile, people with more money could separate themselves from the less well-off by buying “impractical clothing” like high heels.

You might connect the identification with consuming to another concept the three authors use in the book: the concept of the “sociological imagination.” This term was coined by C. Wright Mills. According to Johnston, Caims, and Baumann, the term lets people connect personal issues to larger social structures.

To show “sociological imagination” in action, Johnston, Caims, and Baumann use jeans. Someone might make the choice to buy a new pair of jeans because they feel their current pair are “looking a little dated.” Yet that personal choice connects to larger, public issues, like slave labor. Johnston, Caims, and Baumann show how a seemingly mundane activity—buying a new pair of jeans—is shaped by the greater public issue of consumer culture and how such a culture tends to be centered on inhumane and degrading labor practices.

You could also discuss the history of consumer capitalism in the context of the material/cultural. You might discuss how consumer capitalism creates meaning or culture from physical or material items like jeans.

You could also trace the story of consumer capitalism within the framework of social structure/agency. You might note how a person’s agency—their capacity to make choices—depends on their place within the social structure. Johnston, Caims, and Baumann write that a wealthy white person will likely have more freedom when it comes to buying jeans than other people. You might also want to discuss why freedom and choice become bound to consuming.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial Team