Study Questions: Chapter 7
1. According to George Ritzer, how have the sociology of production and the sociology of consumption been treated historically and up until today?
Answer: Historically, while sociologists have concerned themselves (following Marx) with production, most have avoided looking closely at consumption. Ritzer suggests that sociologists have been uninterested in the sociology of consumption because they view it as trivial. However, he questions why examining issues that affect far more people today (e.g., shopping) is of lesser importance than examining issues that are far from most people’s everyday realities in a post-industrial society (e.g., factory working life). Finally, over the past two decades, more sociological attention is being paid to how we buy and use products and services. Attention is being paid to whether or not we are in a shift from a production-based society, where people are identified by what they do for work, to a consumption-based society, where people are identified by what they consume, in terms of brands, travel, and recreation/leisure. (pp. 159–160)
2. In what ways might the West Edmonton Mall be considered an example of simulacra?
Answer: The West Edmonton Mall (a “cathedral of consumption”) is a good example of Baudrillard’s concept of simulacrum in that it is designed as a superficial representation of real life because it is manufactured or produced based largely on stereotypes. For example, some of its attractions and areas are named after international sites (e.g., Bourbon Street or Chinatown) and its hotel boasts themed rooms based on stereotypes of international destinations (e.g., the Polynesian luxury family room, the Roman luxury room, the African luxury room, the Igloo luxury room, and so on). Patrons are treated to copies of objects and experiences. When we consume the heavily-branded products and services and manufactured environment of the West Edmonton Mall we are consuming what Baudrillard called hyperreality, where things are “more real” than reality. (pp. 164–165)
3. What is embourgeoisement and how is it related to class consciousness and false consciousness?
Answer: Embourgeoisement refers to the patterns of consumption and change in tastes that occur when the working class begins to adopt those of the bourgeois middle class. The concept is related to class consciousness in that working class people, in doing this are not acting in the best interests of their own class. It relates to false consciousness in that the working class, in adopting bourgeois values and consumption patterns, fall into a false consciousness that that enables them to identify with those of the bourgeoisie. They do not, in the words of the author, “resent the capitalist system the way the probably should” and for that reason avoid participating in anti-capitalist actions the way that Karl Marx had imagined they would. (pp. 167–170)
4. How do gender, age, and nationality correlate with consumption?
Answer: While we do not have much empirical sociological research on how gender impacts consumption, marketers do attempt to find out in order to market products and services effectively. We all have ideas about which gender shops more and buys more but nothing much to support our ideas. In terms of age, people’s consumption patterns do shift as we get older. Older people tend to spend more money on shelter and automobiles, for example, and less on food, clothing, and recreation. Internationally, Americans spend the most money on consumption with Canada close behind, while Mexico spends the least (of the countries surveyed). There are differences though, in the nine countries shown. Americans spend far more on healthcare than any other nation, and more on housing and transportation. Canadians do not top any category although spending is high in all categories. Britain spends the most on food, Sweden on clothing, and South Korea on education. (pp. 170–175)
5. What is ethical consumption and how is it related to the affluence hypothesis and consumption as communication?
Answer: Ethical consumption is the practice of either boycotting or choosing a particular product or service based upon ethical values. An example would be intentionally not purchasing anything suspected of being made in a sweatshop. This concept relates to the affluence hypothesis as Ronald Inglehart suggested that, post–World War II, in the west, people have the luxury of being less concerned with basic survival issues so can be more concerned with making socially conscious, or ethical, purchasing decisions. The product is related to consumption as communication as ethically made products and services are often more expensive than cheaper, unethically produced products. For example, one can demonstrate his or her wealth and status today by buying ethically produced products (e.g., organic food and wine, hybrid cars, bamboo clothing). Being “green” is cool. (pp. 163, 170, 184)