The Conspicious Body: Capitalism, Consumerism, Class and Consumption

In: Worldviews: Global Religions, Culture, and Ecology


A little over a century ago, Thorstein Veblen introduced us to the now commonplace term "conspicuous consumption": the idea that we consume, at least in part, in order to display to others our social power. While the conceptual utility of this term is just as valid today as it was the day Veblen penned it, further elaboration is now required to account for shifting cultural and economic imperatives. In this paper, I argue that we are entering a new era of conspicuous consumption; an era where surrounding oneself with "nice things" is becoming increasingly insufficient for our modern sensibilities in our quest to display status and power. Rather, we are progressively striving to become the "nice thing" itself—to literally embody conspicuous consumption. I locate this conspicuous body within evolving historical tensions of consumer capitalism; tensions which the conspicuous body attempts to resolve (but not without social, cultural, and ecological consequences). This paper also represents an attempt to introduce into the socio-environmental literature the body as a legitimate topic of inquiry. While the body has recently experienced an increase in attention by some social and cultural scholars, such interest has been lost among most environmental sociologists; a surprising point, particularly given the fact that through the body, self and the environment become embodied.

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