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Lauding the Leisure Class: Symbolic Content and Conspicuous Consumption

Alan Shipman

Review of Social Economy, 2004, vol. 62, issue 3, 277-289

Abstract: Symbolic consumption is assessed as an evolution of previously identified conspicuous consumption, after this has undergone a “de-materialization” that is socially, as much as ecologically, driven. As Veblen observed, the shift of wealth towards new forms of physical and financial capital with industrialization compels traditional wealth-holders to redefine privilege in terms of cultural capital. Accompanying social changes enable them to do so. The limited reproducibility of items consumed for their symbolic value, and slow transmissibility of the means of symbolic consumption, force holders of new wealth to compete for status on terms set by the established leisure class. Conspicuity shifts from quantity to quality, from the appropriation of materially valued products to the appreciation of culturally valued products. This paper examines some key implications of a shift from “waste” to “taste” in conspicuous consumption for the social and natural environment, and for economic development. In particular, it explores the possibility of branded products representing the mass production of symbolic goods in high-income economies; and the brand premium's potentially beneficial consequences for global income distribution, when branded production relocates to lower-income economies in conditions of free trade.

Keywords: conspicuous consumption; cultural capital; brands; globalization; environment; Veblen; Bourdieu (search for similar items in EconPapers)
Date: 2004
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DOI: 10.1080/0034676042000253909

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