Habit de fripier 1695

The History of Consumption and Its Discontents

What we choose to consume, and what we refuse to consume, has become an important part of how we define ourselves. Consumer activists, for example in anti-sweatshops movements have contributed to give high visibility to consumer advocacy. It is, however, hardly a recent political cause. Why and when did we start speaking of consumption society? How has consumption become central in defining human activity? What is a citizen-consumer?

In this course we will explore the emergence of new forms of consumption from the late 19th century, and read about the critiques addressed to them. Answering critiques, enterprises and public institutions have in turn developed skills to communicate with the consumer. The line between information and persuasion will be a topic of debate in the course, as well as the transfers and exchanges in know-how and experts. Cases will approach the history of multinational advertising agencies, the evolution of marketing and propaganda techniques under totalitarian regimes, and renewed forms of consumers’ activism. These questions will be further explored up to and including the Cold War.

I taught this course to MA and BA students at the University of Oslo

Fall 2017.

Engraving attributed to Nicolas II de Larmessin, Les Costumes grotesques et les métiers, 1695.