Urban Planning Development

Cities and consumption by Mark Jayne

By Mark Jayne

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As such, consumption became increasingly significant in its role, as it conferred status and thus increasingly played an instrumental part in underpinning an emerging new social hierarchy. With the social structure increasingly being based on the high-profile consumption practices, Veblen identified an elaborate system of rank and grade which marked through consumption a person’s place in the social world and class hierarchies. This is a process called ‘pecuniary emulation’, and Veblen was correct to identify the extent to which consumption was having a growing significance in the construction of everyday life.

For example, in 1899, Thorstein Veblen, the first sociologist to describe the importance of consumption in the modern life, depicted the increasing importance of consumer goods as markers of social prestige and status. Veblen identified the rise of the nouveaux riches of late nineteenth-century America as an important social group who drew on their ability to buy goods and services in order to show their wealth and success. Veblen (1899) shows that this had much to do with a mimicking by this ‘new leisure class’ (who had grown wealthy from the economic industrial revolution through coal, steel, textiles and other industrial production) of the consumption practices of the upper classes of Europe.

The corporate order, with its assembly-line techniques, job differentiation and increased organisational size, demanded a different type of factory and office space and a more regulated and regimented flow of time and work. In sum, the domination of consumption through the logic of Fordist production was established in the modern city through the production of standardised goods. Such goods, with a functional aesthetic amenable to automated mass production, could now be sold to the large numbers of people in close proximity to one another in urban areas.

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