Do we live in a ‘consumer culture’?
Sociologists have different perspectives in relation to whether we are currently living in a consumer culture. A consumer culture refers to attitudes, behaviour and values that are influenced by the consumption of material goods. The concept of consumerism stresses the importance of economic prosperity and social cultures as they have an impact on human behaviour and lifestyles. Individuals are defined by what they consume and the material possession they own could either create pleasure or pain. Some sociologists may argue consumer culture is a fundamental part of society because individuals need material goods in order to survive. Sociologists have argued that consumerism affects every society whether directly or indirectly. (Marx 1970) has discovered that the family plays a major role in sustaining capitalism. The family is considered to be a ‘unit of consumption’ who consume goods that are on offer such as ‘food’ and ‘clothing’. The capitalists insist on families consuming the latest products as they make profits by selling their merchandise and meeting the demands of consumers. The media target children as they are easily persuaded and they are able to ‘pester’ their parents into purchasing more items. For instance, food companies such as Mc Donald’s appeal to children because they are given incentives such as ‘toys’ with their meals, which encourages them to buy more food. Children who lack the latest gadgets are stigmatised at school as they are considered to be unpopular. Individuals want to seek approval from their peers, which causes them to attain more material goods to prevent themselves from being an outcast. From a functionalist perspective (Murdock 1949) considers that the ‘nuclear family’ performs essential functions for a capitalist society. The mother reproduces a new generation of children, which is important for society because a new labour force is created. The workers make a major contribution to the economy as they accumulate material goods and society would cease to function without their labour. The parents are a vital source of ‘primary socialisation’, where they teach their children the mainstream norms and values of society. Children are able to distinguish between right and wrong through rewards and punishment. For instance, a child may have their ‘toy’ confiscated from them if they behave badly .This encourages them to become passive and obedient and they develop the correct frame of mind needed for work. Radical feminists (Greer 2000) believe that society is unequal because men benefit from consumer goods at the expense of women. Functionalists (Parsons 1955) state that the male is the breadwinner who financially supports the family. This suggests that women are economically dependent on the male for material resources, which means that men have the power to monitor how much money they distribute to the woman. Radical feminists have identified that capitalist advertisements maintain a patriarchal society buy producing goods such as ‘cleaning products’ that reinforce society’s expectations of a woman. Liberal feminists believe that consumerism has empowered women as the commercialisation of housework has created new labour saving devices for them to use. For instance, readymade meals lift the burden off women who are expected to perform traditional domestic roles such as cooking for the family. The position of women is changing as they can work to earn an income, which can be used to buy goods and services. Marxists have revealed that capitalism and consumerism is a global phenomenon. He argues that we are living in a consumer culture because society is based on capitalism, where people are motivated by profit. He believes that there is a distinct class division between two main social groups, which include the ruling class (bourgeoisie) who own the means of production, and the working class (proletariat) who sell their labour. Consumerism creates class...
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