CC 325 A: American Consumer Culture
MWF 3:30-4:20 pm
One of the defining features of American culture is rampant consumerism. How did America come to be this way, and how should we think about it? In this course, we will first review the historical development of American consumer culture, from the country store, to the mall, to the internet. Where have Americans shopped? What have we bought, and how have we paid for it? How has shopping been shaped by marketing, as well as the age, class, gender, and ethnicity of consumers? In the last third of the class, we will evaluate consumer culture’s challenges to other social and religious values. How much is enough? When does the damage of having things outweigh the delights?
The course will include a material culture unit, in which we will think of consumer goods not just as abstractions but as physical things that are often useful and can bring us joy. In two case study units we’ll look closely at Starbucks and Wal-Mart. Finally, we will read Pietra Rivoli’s The Travels of a T-shirt in the Global Economy and think about the vast and unavoidably interconnected dimensions of a single modern act of consumption.