Global Consumer Culture From Marx to McDonalds


9:30-10:45 T,Th

Office Hours: T,W,Th 3-4 PM, or by appointment

 Are nations and ethnicities disappearing?

Is the whole world drinking Coke?

New freedoms or a new form of tyranny?

 Course Description

 Class Organization and requirements

 Texts and Readings


 Rules and Disclaimers

  List of Book Reviewers

  Final Paper Assignment

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 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 globalism 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 its simply too much! So I will ask each of you to read two books this semester, and to give a book review to the class. You should also provide a written book review for each one, consisting of a minimum of 1500 words. 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 donít want to publish in a journal, all the reviews will also go on our class webpage, and I will encourage you to submit them to

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.

One quarter of your grade will be based on your two 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.

One half of your grade will be based on an independent research project of your own. This should be in the 15-page 5-6,000 word range. 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.

Otherwise I want you to write a paper that focuses on a particular commodity which is widely consumed in some part of the world. You can pick something as mundane as a kind of shoes, or as unfamiliar as the black caterpillars eaten in Burkina Faso. Then you will take either a temporal or a spatial approach to the context of the item - tracking its consumption history, or the way consumption links particular people and groups. Then you will analyze the context of consumption from one or more of the theoretical perspectives we will be learning in the class.

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.

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

Course article package

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.

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

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

Two years ago when I taught this course I used different books. For reference, these are the ones I used last time which you are not required to read this time (but which you will find rewarding if you have the time).

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 13 Course Introduction ------

Jan 15-22 History of Modern Consumption Walvin: Fruits of Empire

Jan 27-29 Global Change 1 - Political Economy Korten: When Corporations Rule

Feb 3-10 Global Change 2 - Social models Featherstone: Global Culture

Feb 12-24 Theories of Consumption Miller: Acknowledging Consumption

Feb 26- March 3 Global Environmental Issues TBA

March 5-12 Ethnographic Cases : Local & Global 1 Tobin: Re-made in Japan

March 24-30 Local and Global 2 Miller: Capitalism: An Ethnographic..

April 2-9 Local and Global 3 Burke: Lifebuoy Men, Lux Women.

April 14-21 Student Book Reviews

April 23-30 Student research symposium -----

Final Paper DUE: 9 AM, Tuesday May 5, in my 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:

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.




Books chosen for review by each student:

Virginia Visconti

The McDonaldization Thesis (Sage 1997)

Sociology on the Menu (Routledge 1997).

Layla Al-Zubaidi <>

Carole Counihan and Penny Van Esterik (eds): "Food and culture"

Hugh Mackay (ed): " Consumption and everyday life".

Nabil Echchaibi <>

International Communication and Globalization - edited by Ali Mohammadi

Identity and Difference - edited by Kathryn Woodward

Ann Marie Reed <>


The Sex of Things, De Grazia.

david allen koppers <>

Global Pop by Timothy D. Taylor

"Cristina M. Alcalde" <>

1. Tice, Karen E. Kuna Crafts, Gender, and the Global Economy. Univ. of Texas Press, 1995

2. Orlove, Benjamin. The Allure of the Foreign:Imported Goods in Postcolonial Latin America. U. Michigan Press,1997.

Lena Michaela Mortensen <>

Collecting in a Consumer Society, Russell Belk, (Routledge, 1995)

Cross-Cultural Consumption: Global Markets, Local Realities, David Howes, (Routledge, 1997

Candice Marie Lowe <>

"Gender Issues and Consumer Behavior", edited by Janeen Arnold Costa, SAGE Publications 1994.

"Private Screenings: Television & the Female Consumer", Edited by Lynn Spigel and Denise Mann, Univ. of Minnesota Press, 1992


"Marketing in a Multicultural World: Ethnicity, Nationalism & Cultural Identity", Edited by Janeen Arnold Costa & Gary J. Bamossy, SAGE