Conspicuous Consumption: an Analysis of Class, Family, and Spending Habits

Topics: Social class, Working class, Sociology Pages: 8 (2780 words) Published: October 17, 2012
Conspicuous Consumption: An Analysis of Class, Family, and Spending Habits

The topic I will explore in this paper is conspicuous consumption, and its relationship to our present day class system. Merriam-Webster defines conspicuous consumption as follows: "lavish or wasteful spending thought to enhance social prestige". After reading the definition, there were a number of factors that made me immediately drawn to this topic. Naturally, many of the issues pertaining to the family deals primarily on person to person relationships (e.g. "diversity in couples, divorce, the consequences of gender roles", etc.), yet this issue seemed to provide a different angle on the problems evident in modern day families (as well as their dynamics). I have always believed consumerism, i.e. the things we buy and why we buy them, to be a very important and relatively overlooked subject in relation to inter-family relationships. Being as we have all been found guilty of buying things we don't need, or trying to represent ourselves with our purchases, there are an endless amount of social factors associated with this topic. It is the patterns of some of these social factors that I am going to explore in this paper. My main focus, however, will be that of class; the effect ones class has on an individual’s conspicuous spending, as well as an individuals’ perceived method of social stratification in response to other individuals’ class and spending habits. I will also scrutinize said classes’ opinion of the state of the modern day family, and how it relates to trends in spending.

 My main reference point while gathering background information was, naturally, Thorstein Veblen’s book "The Theory of the Leisure Class". Written in 1899, “Theory” is a socio-economic work that discusses a so-called “Leisure class”, and its relation to the working class and social stratification. According to this sociological theory, Veblen believes there is a separate working and leisure class, with the working class manufacturing goods, and the leisure class, by way of business, consuming them. Consequently, my vital concurrent idea in the crafting of this papers sociological structure, and in turn my interview questions, is as follows: in our current day and age, the increase and overall affectedness of business (compared to the year 1899) is monumental. Due to this advancement in business, the “leisure class” consumer structure has spread to unprecedented classes and walks of life, causing its participants to vary in their overall economic situations. It is for this reason I decided to focus my interviews primarily on the issue of class, which is a stratification entirely participating and vital to the existence of said leisure class. It is obvious that business could not thrive with only one economic group actively consuming, but what is it that makes these separate classes, with all of their differences and stigmas towards each other, participate in the same overall pattern of spending? According to Velben, there is one primary theme tying together leisure consumption. When speaking on the topic, he explains “…the emergence of a leisure class coincides with the beginning of ownership…From the ownership of women, the concept of ownership extends itself to include the products of their industry, and so there arises the ownership of things as well as of persons.” 1 While this seems like a reasonable explanation, (being that the amount we own, and the meaning our purchases hold to us, is greater than ever) I believed the overall cause of one’s leisure spending to be more developed. As a society, we are rarely self-sufficient beings, and as a whole advance our lives, jobs, and education primarily for the purpose of ownership and consumption. But what do we wish to gain from all of this? The answer is clearly status; we have been socialized into administrating hierarchal views and methods of economic stratification upon others, and wish for...

Cited: 1Veblen, Thorstein. 1899. The Theory of the Leisure class. NY: Macmillan Company
2Goffman, Erving. 1959. Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. Carden City, NY: Double Day Anchor Books
3Wallace, Ruth and Wolf, Alison. 2006. Contemporary Sociological Theory: Expanding the Classical Tradition. 6thEd. NJ: Prentice Hall.
4 Frank, Robert H.1999.Luxury Fever: Why Money Fails to Satisfy in an Era of Excess. The Free Press
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