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"You've Never had it So Good": Consumer Society in the 20th Century West


Industrialisation fundamentally changed not only the ways in which people in Europe and the United States worked and lived, but also the ways in which they shopped. The advent of mass production in the early twentieth-century extended these changes: with more manufactured products available to more people than ever before, new methods needed to be developed to persuade consumers what to buy and new markets needed to be identified. At the same time, technological developments and changes in working patterns led to the emergence of new forms of consumption: mass entertainment (such as cinema) and mass spectator sport. This seminar will focus on the development of mass consumer culture in twentieth-century Europe and the United States, with a particular emphasis on advertising, gender and mass media.

Seminar Questions:

  1. How did the advent of mass production impact on the consumer experience?
  2. What role did advertising play in the formation of mass consumer society?
  3. In what ways was the emergence of mass consumer society linked to changes in gender roles following the First World War?
  4. What place does mass entertainment have in our understanding of the history of consumption?


  • Julia Sneeringer, 'The Shopper as Voter: Women, Advertising and Politics in Post-Inflation Germany', German Studies Review, Vol. 27, No. 2 (2004), pp. 476-501
  • David George Surdam, Century of the Leisured Masses: Entertainment and the Transformation of Twentieth-century America (New York, 2015), Chapter 11

Further Reading:

  • Rachel Alexander, Imagining Gender, Nation and Consumerism in Magazines of the 1920s (Cambridge, 2022)
  • Rachel Bowlby, Carried Away: A History of Modern Shopping (New York, 2002)
  • Richard Hornsey, '"The Modern Way to Loveliness": Middle-Class Cosmetics and Chain-Store Beauty Culture in Mid-Twentieth-Century Britain', Women's History Review. Vol. 28, No. 1 (2019), pp. 111-138
  • Richard Hornsey, '"The Penguins are Coming": Brand Mascots and Utopian Mass Consumption in Interwar Britain', Journal of British Studies, Vol. 57, No. 4 (2018), pp. 812-839
  • Siegfried Kracauer. 'Popular Advertisements' [1949] in Siegfried Kracauer, Selected Writings on Media, Propaganda, and Political Communication (John Abromeit, Jaeho Kang and Graeme Gilloch eds.) (New York, 2022)
  • Paul Lerner, The consuming temple: Jews, department stores, and the consumer revolution in Germany, 1880-1940 (Ithaca, 2015)
  • Janet Ward Lungstum, 'The Display Window: Designs and Desires of Weimar Consumerism', New German Critique, No. 76 (1999), pp. 115-160
  • J. Winship, 'Culture of Restraint: The British Chain Store, 1920-1939' in Peter Jackson, Michelle Lowe, Daniel Miller and Frank Mort (eds.), Commercial cultures : economies, practices, spaces (Oxford, 2000)