Polity Press, Cambridge
This review discusses the second, revised edition of Celia Lury's book Consumer Culture, which was first published in 1996. Lury looks at the topic of consumer culture from the perspective of cultural sociology, arguing alongside other sociologists that it reaches far beyond the realms of the economic. Her aim is to provide students and other interested readers with a good, easily accessible overview of the different aspects of consumer culture and the different angles from which it can be regarded. To achieve that, the book is divided into eight segments.
The first chapter introduces the concepts of material culture (culture manifesting in and being influenced by objects) - of which consumer culture is regarded as a particular form - and of items as carriers of meaning. The following part concentrates on the economical aspects of consumption, whereas chapter three deals with the role and changed perception of objects (signifying something beyond their actual value in economy and daily use) and their interrelationship with subjects (do people communicate with objects?) to highlight the roles attributable to consumer goods. The history of consumer culture is discussed in the subsequent fourth chapter, with a focus on an account of the relations of capital, class and contemporary consumer culture in the UK after WWII and before the turn of the millennium, covering Fordism and Postfordism, as well as immaterial labour and the concepts of cultural capital (Bourdieu 1984) and lifestyle (Featherstone 1991).
Chapters five to seven respectively address the role of social groupings by the examples of race and gender, the roles of brands, media and marketing as mediators between economy and consumers, and consumer choice in the light of consuming ethics. While in many parts of the book consumer identity and the amounts of choice the individual may or may not have in their role as consumer have been an issue to some degree, the final chapter puts a spotlight on identity. It gives some examples for possible ways of identifying multiple consumer types, introduces the concept of life politics, and talks about the idea of consumption as a means of forming exclusive social groups.
All in all, Lury gives a good overview of the sociological concepts of consumer culture, drawing from a large pool of literature reaching from sociological classics such as Marx and Simmel to recent publications, thus also providing the reader with many starting points to further their study of the topic. Consumer Culture is enriched with a number of examples from everyday life that link the reader's personal experiences with the subject matter at hand, as well as a select number of illustrations. The second edition has been thoroughly revised. Chapters have been rewritten, renamed and supplemented with up to date examples, brushing on contemporary developments in the market.
The publication thus is aimed at readers seeking a theoretical overview; it will not be as helpful for people interested in a discussion of the various methods of researching consumers and consumption. It also only brushes the topic of consuming as a means of gaining access to or demonstrating membership of a specific social group. Nevertheless, I do recommend this book to students of sociology or social history, as well as to everyone else interested in a discussion of consumption that moves beyond its economic mechanisms. Consumer culture these days is at the heart of our lives; this monograph illustrates that.
University of Edinburgh
BOURDIEU, Pierre (1984) Distinction. A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.
FEATHERSTONE, Mike (1991) Consumer Culture and Postmodernism. London: Sage.