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Citizen-Consumers Wanted: Revitalizing the American Dream in the Face of Economic Recessions, 1981–2012

Gokcen Coskuner-Balli

Journal of Consumer Research, 2020, vol. 47, issue 3, 327-349

Abstract: This article brings the sociological theory of governmentality to bear on a longitudinal analysis of American presidential speeches to theorize the formation of the citizen-consumer subject. This 40-year historical analysis—which extends through four economic recessions and the presidential terms of Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama—illustrates the ways in which the national mythology of the American Dream has been linked to the political ideology of the state to create the citizen-consumer subject in the United States. The quantitative and qualitative analysis of the data demonstrates 1) the consistent emphasis on responsibility as a key moral value, albeit meshed with ideals of liberalism and libertarianism at different presidential periods; 2) that the presidents iteratively link the neoliberal political ideology and the national mythology of the American Dream through a sophisticated morality play myth, wherein they cast the citizen-consumer as a responsible moral hero on a journey to achieve the American Dream; and 3) that the presidents use three main dispositives—disciplinary, legal, and security—to craft the citizen-consumer subject in their response to economic recessions. These findings extend prior consumer research on consumer subjectivity, consumer moralism, marketplace mythology, and politics of consumption.

Keywords: citizen-consumer; American dream; neoliberalism; governmentality; consumer subjectivity (search for similar items in EconPapers)
Date: 2020
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Handle: RePEc:oup:jconrs:v:47:y:2020:i:3:p:327-349.