A sampler for smart shoppers

The Consumption Reader

February 4, 2005

This book collects a wide-ranging set of academic contributions on "consumption" (in the consumer behaviour sense rather than the tubercular). Like many ordinary phenomena that have come under scrutiny from the social sciences, consumption by its very nature feels non-academic. It is the sort of thing that purists scoff at for being too much like common sense to constitute a matter of serious scholarship.

Furthermore, the topic has a rather Eighties feel about it, stemming from maxims such as "I shop therefore I am" and the "greed is good" ethos of the decade. The editors of The Consumption Reader , however, demonstrate that there is more to consumption than such caricatural notions.

The book is organised into five sections - history, geography, subjects and identity, objects and identity and theory - and contributions date from 1934 to 1999. Needless to say, interdisciplinarity is one of its key objectives. The back cover recommends that it be filed under human geography/cultural studies/ sociology. The whole thing is tied together by a scene-setting and necessarily broad-brushed, if a touch breathless, introduction.

Does the book live up to its promise? I would wager that it will find a place more readily on university library shelves than as an essential purchase on student reading lists and that it is probably more suited to the specialist essay or dissertation than to a core course. While it may be novel to have this set of excerpts within the covers of a single book, the fact that it is a reader gives a sense of deja vu about much of the content: Pierre Bourdieu on distinction, Marcel Maus on the gift and potlatch, and Dick Hebdige on subculture are familiar figures. As far as I can see, no new material has been commissioned for this volume, and it does not boast a companion CD-Rom or website.

Although it may not set the bestseller lists alight, The Consumption Reader is commendable as a gimmick-free, clear and comprehensive introduction to an increasingly key topic in the social sciences.

Rupa Huq is senior lecturer in sociology, Kingston University.

The Consumption Reader

Editor - David B. Clarke, Marcus A. Doel and Kate M. L. Housiaux
Publisher - Routledge
Pages - 288
Price - £90.00 and £24.99
ISBN - 0 415 21376 2 and 21377 0

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