Global Consumer Culture

Spring, 2002              


Anthropology E418/618

MW 2:30-3:45  SB 138

Professor's Office: 130 Student Building, phone 855-2555, email: WILKR

Office Hours: MW 10-11 AM



Is the whole world drinking Coke?

New freedoms or a new form of tyranny?


Is the world becoming one big McDonalds, dominated by global brands, multinationals, and Hollywood media? Or is there a resurgence of nationalism and fundamentalism that is creating new kinds of local cultures founded in existing traditions? And is consumerism going to eventually destroy the planet's ecology? This course looks at the phenomenon of consumer culture in general, and then asks how that consumer culture has spread around the world, and what effects it is having on all of us.




The world is in the grip of unprecedented social and cultural changes, as world trade in consumer goods begins a new phase of expansion. Global communications media and cheap air travel have reduced the costs of cross-cultural connections of all kinds, boosting television, tourism and emigration to new levels. At the same time, following the collapse of the Eastern Bloc, capitalism has become more pervasive, less nationally-limited and more powerful all over the world. Global financial integration proceeds at a furious pace, while commodity flows increase, and countries become increasingly dependent on each other for food and basic commodities.


Something important is happening, and we are only beginning to understand what the effects will be on our lives and on the knots of shared identity and practice that anthropologists have always called "cultures." One important dimension of this global change is the dramatic increase in the consumption of goods manufactured, designed and/or marketed by firms based in Europe, North America and Japan. The dramatic global increase in the consumption of "northern" goods has been perceived, in many places, as the greatest threat to the continued existence of local traditions, local cultures and local economic autonomy.


This course will take a critical look at global consumerism as a practice and at the discourse (both popular and academic) about consumerism. We will also read some current theory from transnational studies, anthropology, sociology, history, and cultural studies that can provide tools for evaluating and understanding consumerism.  We will concentrate on approaches that seem ethnographically fruitful, in other words, ways of thinking about consumption that can be put into practice in the interpretation of actual case studies. We are reading some history this semester, some political economy, and some ethnography. Our goal is to forge some connections between the disparate literatures in different disciplines. The basic questions are how people can continue to construct viable cultural and personal worlds in a mass culture that is so powerful, dynamic and anonymous? And what will be the environmental impacts of 10 billion consumers in 50 years? Is there anything we can do about it?


Course Structure


This is a reading and discussion seminar. We will read a selected list of books and articles, and discuss them each week. You are responsible for keeping up with the reading and coming to class meetings where you will participate in the discussions. We will be keeping up a fast pace, so don't fall behind.  Mostly we will be reading recent books.


In addition, you will participate in the seminar as a discussion leader. There is a veritable flood of literature on globalization and consumption right now, in anthropology and other disciplines. I have loads of books and catalogs of more books, many of which look great, but it’s simply too much! So I will ask undergraduates to read one book, and graduate students to read two books, and then give a book review to the class. You should also provide a written book review for each one. I would be happy to connect you with the book review editors at anthropology journals, so you can actually publish your reviews. Much of this stuff is so recent that it has not yet been reviewed, and this would be a good addition to your resume!  If you don’t want to publish in a journal, all the reviews will also go on a webpage devoted to reviews in the anthropology of consumer culture. Professors at Occidental College and Columbia University who are teaching similar classes will also be posting on this website, so we should have a great teaching and learning resource by the end of the semester!


So expect me to break into a lecture from time to time, and to bring in articles for discussion on a regular basis, but also expect to put a good deal into your own contribution to the discussion.


Grading and Course Requirements


One quarter of your grade in the course will be based on my assessment of your class participation, based on how well you keep up with the reading and contribute to class discussion based upon it. I will from time to time ask each of you to take the lead in class discussion, and I will grade you on your performance. Graduate students will be expected to perform at a higher level than undergraduates.


One quarter of your grade will be based on your book review(s).


Graduate students will write 1500-2000 word book reviews. I expect these to be thoroughly polished, well formatted, professional-level publishable work. Go read some book reviews in American Ethnologist if you want some good examples. Undergraduates will write 1200 word reviews.


One half of your grade will be based on an independent research project of your own.


Undergraduates will get a list of suggested topics, and will write 10-12 page papers. Graduate students will write a 15-20 page paper which will require a greater depth of research. I will give you a handout on the written assignment in the second week of class. If you are working on your own field research design right now, I would be happy if you write something furthering your project which relates directly to material culture/consumption issues. I do not want this course to extend into the summer, so you should have a VERY good reason if you want to take an incomplete this semester. You must discuss this with me in advance.


Otherwise I will form the class into topical working groups – each member of the group will be expected to write within that general topic. You will each have a choice to do library or ethnographic research. Within the working groups you will share theoretical sources and discuss each others work – you will also give a group presentation at the end of the class. You are encouraged to do video or graphic presentations.


Working Groups







Required Texts:  (All are available in bookstores on and off campus.)


            Course article package – on reserve in the Geography Library in the Student Building

Korten, D. 1995 When Corporations Rule the World. Kumarian.1887208011

            Chin, E. 2001 Purchasing Power. Minnesota. 0816635110

            Schor, J. and D. Holt 2001 The Consumer Society Reader. New Press. 1565845986

Waters, M. 1995  Globalization. Routledge. 0415105765

Slater, D.  1997  Consumer Culture and Modernity. Polity. 0745603041

Hansen, K. 2000 Salaula. Chicago. 0226315819

Miller, D. 2001 Car Cultures. Berg. 185973412X

Klein, N. 1999 No Logo. Picador. 0312271921


In past years I have used different books in this class – I like to keep up with the latest work, but this does not mean that older books are not important and useful. You are not required to read these books,  but you will find them all rewarding.


Burke, T. 1997 Lifebuoy Men, Lux Women. Duke. 0822317621

Miller, D. 1998  A Theory of Shopping. Polity. 0745619460

Horowitz, D. 1992 The Morality of Spending. Elephant. 0929587774

Durning, A. 1992 How Much Is Enough? Norton. 039330891

Dominguez, J. V. Robin, J. Dominguez 1999. Your Money or Your Life. Penguin


Ryan, J., A. Durning.1997 Stuff: The Secret Lives of Everyday Things.

Northwest Environment Watch. 1886093040

Tobin, J. (ed.) 1992 Re-Made in Japan. Yale.

            Featherstone, M. (ed.)  1990 Global Culture. Sage.

            Walvin, J. 1997  Fruits of Empire. NYU.

            Miller, D. 1995 (ed.) Acknowledging Consumption. Routledge.

            Miller, D. 1997  Capitalism: An Ethnographic Approach. Oxford.

            Miller, D. 1994 Modernity: An Ethnographic Approach. Berg.

Taussig, M. The Devil and Commodity Fetishism in South America. North Carolina.

Basch, L. et al. 1993 Nations Unbound. Harwood.

Fiske, J. 1989 Understanding Popular Culture. Routledge.

McCracken, G. 1988 Culture and Consumption. Indiana.

            O'Barr, W. 1994  Culture and the Ad. Westview.

            Andrae, G & B. Beckman 1985 The Wheat Trap. Zed.




Course Schedule and Text Readings


Date                             Topic                                                   Read                                              .


Jan 7                                       Course Introduction                                                            ------

Jan 9-16                                  Globalization                                                         Waters: Globalization

Jan 21-28                                Global Political Economy                                    Korten: When Corporations Rule

Jan 30-Feb 11                        Theories of Consumption                                   Schor and Holt: Reader

Feb 13-25                               Consumption and Modernity                            Slater: Consumer Culture & Modernity

Feb 27 –March 6                  Contemporary Material Culture                         Miller: Car Cultures

March 18-27                          Consumption and Poverty at Home                  Chin: Purchasing Power

April 1-3                 Consumption and Global Poverty                     Hansen: Salaula

April 8-10                               Critical Thinking about Consumption              Klein: No Logo

April 15-22                             Book Reviews

April 24-29                             Research symposium


Final Paper DUE: 5 PM, Tuesday April 30 in the Anthropology office.


Disclaimers, stylistic guidelines, legal advisories, etc:


You are responsible for keeping up with the readings and for attending class regularly. Late assignments will be accepted, but grades will be reduced. Incompletes are only given with good reason, and if I am notified two weeks before the final exam date. You are not allowed to copyright any of my class handouts or other materials, nor can you publish them or use them in public presentations without my permission.


You are encouraged to discuss with classmates and colleagues, and to collaborate in studying, reading, digesting, and synthesizing class materials. I encourage you to form study groups and/or reading discussion circles. BUT, all written work you turn in must be your own individual work, unless you make arrangements with me in advance for a co-authorship. Co-authored work gets one grade which is shared by all authors.


Plagiarism is a serious breach of academic ethics. Use full footnotes and references for all quoted or attributed materials. Since we will be publishing class work on the web, we need to pay careful attention to copyright restrictions on fair use. We also need to use a uniform style for text and references:


·         American Anthropologist reference and bibliography style is required for all class materials. This means in-line citations. Check out a recent issue.

·         All materials should be in Times New Roman font, 12 point type with 1-inch margins all around.

·         Any files submitted must be in either Microsoft Word or WordPerfect Windows or DOS formats, or in HTML. Turn off all hyphenation. Try to use as little italic and bold or underline style as possible, and avoid table formats unless required. Spell check and virus check everything.


I am always available for consultation and discussion in my office. Please don't wait until the last minute to discuss problems, readings, or issues with me! I am always very busy, but I will always make time to talk about something.


Email is often the best way to ask me brief questions, to check on assignments, or make short comments. If you miss class, contact me by email to find out if you have been assigned some discussion for the next week. I will make up a class mailing list early in the semester and will use it constantly to send you messages about current events, bibliographies, assignments, and course readings. I will be happy to forward messages from class members to the entire group; lets use this resource as much as possible.


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