Consumerism and Evolution of Consumer Society Thesis

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Everybody consumes. Consumerism, however, moves beyond that basic fact and assesses the reasons for the consumption. People consume for a variety of reasons and these reasons have evolved over the past several centuries to bring us to the type of consumerism we see in society today. Consumption has moved from meeting basic needs to illustrating status and has finally incorporated entertainment into its mix. Indeed, all of these elements were present in society one hundred years ago. This last century has seen substantial technological and societal development; however, that has accentuated certain aspects of consumption in favor of others.

This paper shall attempt to trace the development of modern consumerism over the past few centuries, to identify which significant shifts have brought us to the modern consumer culture we experience today.

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The most reasonable antecedent of modern consumerism is the distinction that was present in medieval times between the nobility and the peasantry. This was the primary class distinction in Europe at the time, and the distinction was reinforced in part by the methods and patterns of consumption. Peasants, with little money, were forced to rely on subsistence as a method of acquiring nutrition. There was little if any opportunity to overeat, and their lack of budgets dictated the types of vegetables and meats they ate. The primary objective was to maximize nutrition. This represents the most basic level of consumption. This basic level still exists today, especially outside of the developed world. Hundreds of millions of the world's people consume for strictly for the purpose of sustaining their own lives.

Thesis on Consumerism and Evolution of Consumer Society Assignment

This is juxtaposed with the next stratus, conspicuous consumption. This type of consumption, as practiced by landowners, royalty and other nobility, was practiced in part to differentiate themselves from the peasantry. In highly-stratified medieval societies, consumption was a means to show one's status to the world. At the time, most countries only had two, maybe three strata of society. The boundaries between each were demarcated by political power and wealth. Wealth at the time was largely measured by consumption.

This concept of consumption as a means to display status still exists today. The wealthy are able to purchase the biggest homes, the flashiest cars and all manner of luxury items entirely unaffordable to the majority of the populace.

The biggest difference between the use of consumption to display status then and now is that there are many more strata today. When a middle class began to rise in urban society, the first new strata in society in several hundred years had emerged. The members of this stratus needed to differentiate themselves from the peasantry, but now the ruling class needed to differentiate themselves not only from the peasantry but from the new middle class as well. Food consumption patterns illustrate how this played out. The peasantry remained strictly associated with subsistence levels of consumption. The ruling class, however, had to differentiate themselves a bit more. Spices, for example, could be afforded by the middle class as well. Therefore, the ruling class began to use fewer spices in their cooking. Likewise they moved towards vegetables that were insufficiently nutritious to meet the needs of peasant diets, such as mushrooms and herbs.

The same trends emerged with the rise of the bicycle and subsequent rise of the automobile. The bicycle was easy to produce and had many interchangeable parts. It very quickly became a mass market product. The automobile, however, was not a natural mass market product. It was complex, and did not have interchangeable parts. It was also expensive. Bicycles were affordable even to the working classes. Automobiles were not, and therefore remained the provenance of the wealthy classes. Working classes did not at the time have easy access to credit that could facilitate purchases of automobiles. When the development of the assembly line dramatically improved efficiencies and economies of scale in automobile manufacturing, the price dropped. This brought autos more towards the mainstream. Finally, credit became available to the working class, which along with the continued production improvements allowed the automobile to become a mass market product. As with food, however, we saw that the wealthy were able to maintain their status. While the working classes were driving cars produced on assembly lines, the wealthy retained the handcrafted… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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How to Cite "Consumerism and Evolution of Consumer Society" Thesis in a Bibliography:

APA Style

Consumerism and Evolution of Consumer Society.  (2008, December 1).  Retrieved November 27, 2020, from

MLA Format

"Consumerism and Evolution of Consumer Society."  1 December 2008.  Web.  27 November 2020. <>.

Chicago Style

"Consumerism and Evolution of Consumer Society."  December 1, 2008.  Accessed November 27, 2020.