Skip to main content Skip to navigation

IP205 Consumption

opening of the Andy Warhol Exhibit at Olin Galleries..

Image credit: roanokecollege / flickr

Dr Kirsten Harris
Dr Kirsten Harris
Module Leader

Core module | 30 CATS

Terms 1-3 | 23 weeks

20 workshops of 2 hours/week
6 hours of research project guidance

Not available to students outside the School for Cross-Faculty Studies

Moodle Platform »

Principal Aims

This module critically examines the role that consumption plays in contemporary and historical societies, and analyses different theorisations and cultural works which engage with issues of consumption. Consumption connects the local and the global, and shapes key aspects of the lived human experience: from the food we eat, to what we wear, to cultural and leisure activities, to services that we engage with such as higher education. Consumption complements its sister second-year core module in Sustainability, with each exploring a major organising concept of contemporary society from different intellectual perspectives. Where Sustainability draws on contemporary ecological, economic and regulatory challenges and the development of effective evidence-based policy, Consumption’s primary focus is on cultural interventions and sociological and historical theoretical frameworks.

Principal Learning Outcomes

By the end of the module you should be able to:

  • Demonstrate an in-depth understanding of historical, sociological and cultural theorisations of consumption, and critically assess a range of frameworks and methodologies;
  • Analyse the language of consumption, and representations and interventions in literature, visual culture and music;
  • Critically consider notions of use, value, waste and decay in relation to consumption;
  • Explore problems and generate well-informed responses to a wide range of issues relating to consumption;
  • Demonstrate advanced cognitive skills such as critical analysis, source-text analysis, qualitative research methods, and oral and written communication skills;
  • Demonstrate meta-cognitive skills such as: planning how to approach a learning task and identifying the appropriate strategies to solve a problem; and
  • Demonstrate the ability to use methodologies from disciplines including (but not limited to) sociology, visual cultures, history, literary studies, and cultural studies to analyse a range of sources in cultural and historical perspective.

Illustrative syllabus

Term 1
  1. Introduction to consumption
  2. Commodification and value
  3. Conspicuous consumption: status and distinction
  4. The nineteenth-century consumer society: The House of Mirth
  5. Consumer sovereignty?: An economic perspective
  6. Branding and advertising
  7. A capitalist condition?: The culture industry
  8. Consuming globally
  9. Landscapes of consumption
  10. A postmodern condition? Constructing the self
Term 2
  1. Inconspicuous consumption: eating, drinking and everyday practices
  2. Altered states: intoxication
  3. The twentieth-century consumer society: American Psycho
  4. “The sex of things”: gender and consumption
  5. “Eating the other”: consuming cultures
  6. Creative, cultural and heritage industries: collecting, culture and public consumption
  7. Cultural production: consumption, commodification and entrepreneurship in UK grime
  8. Consumer activism
  9. The twenty-first century consumer society: sustainability and well-being
  10. Review
Term 3
  1. Research project guidance
  2. Research project guidance
  3. Research project guidance


  • 1 x 1500 word text response paper (25%)
  • 1 x 1500 word critical appraisal (25%)
  • 1 x group presentation (10%)
  • 1 x 3000 word research project, or equivalent output (40%)

Illustrative Reading List

The module’s reading list will encompass a range of theoretical and literary texts and you are required to conduct independent research. For illustration:

  • Ashley, Bob. Food and Cultural Studies (Routledge, 2004)
  • Baudrillard, Jean. Trans. Chris Turner. The Consumer Society: Myths and Structures (Sage, 1998)
  • Bauman, Zygmunt. Consuming Life (Polity Press, 2007)
  • Bocock, Robert. Consumption (Routledge, 1993)
  • Bostrom, Magnus, Michelle Micheletti and Peter Oosterveer, eds. Oxford Handbook of Political Consumerism (Book in development with chapters published in advance online)
  • Cook, Daniel Thomas, and J. Michael Ryan, The Wiley Blackwell Encyclopedia of Consumption and Consumer Studies (Wiley-Blackwell, 2015)
  • De Certeau, Michel. Trans. Steven Rendall. The Practice of Everyday Life (University of California Press, 1984)
  • Ellis, Brett Easton. American Psycho (Random House, 1991)
  • Featherstone, Mike. Consumer Culture and Postmodernism (Sage, 2007)
  • Hilton, Matthew. Prosperity for All: Consumer Activism in an Era of Globalization. Ithaca: Cornell University
  • Jackson, Tim. The Earthscan Reader in Sustainable Consumption. London: Earthscan, 2006.
  • Kravets, Olga, and Pauline Maclaran, Steven Miles and Alladi Ventakesh, eds. The Sage Handbook of Consumer Culture (Sage, 2018)
  • Pettinger, Lynne. Work, Consumption and Capitalism (Palgrave Macmillan, 2016)
  • Reisch, Lucia A., and John Thøgersen. Handbook of Research on Sustainable Consumption (Edward Elgar, 2015)
  • Ritzer, George. Enchanting a Disenchanted World: Continuity and Change in the Cathedrals of Consumption (Sage, 2010)
  • Slater, Don. Consumer Culture and Modernity (Polity Press, 1997)
  • Stillerman, Joel. The Sociology of Consumption (Polity Press, 2015)
  • Thyroff, Anastasia E., Jeff B. Murray and Russell W. Belk (eds). Consumer Culture Theory (Emerald, 2015)
  • Trentmann, Frank. Empire of Things: How We Became a World of Consumers (Allen Lane, 2016)
  • Trentmann, Frank (ed.). The Oxford Handbook of the History of Consumption (Oxford University Press, 2012)
  • Warde, Alan. Consumption: A Sociological Analysis (Palgrave Macmillan, 2016)
  • Veblen, Thorstein. The Theory of the Leisure Class (Modern Library, 2001)
  • Wharton, Edith. The House of Mirth (Oxford University Press, 2008)