All About the Sociology of Consumption

Why We Consume and Why It Matters

Buying and consuming are things we do everyday and probably take for granted as a normal, often mundane, though sometimes exciting part of life. But when you look beneath the surface of these universally common activities, as we sociologists like to do, you see that consumption and the central role that it and consumer goods play in our lives is about much more than simply meeting material needs. Find out here how sociologists study these topics, and why we believe that they are among the most important topics for research.

of 16

What is the Sociology of Consumption?

Women shopping together for jewelry
Peathegee Inc/Getty Images

What is the sociology of consumption? It is a subfield that places consumption at the center of research questions, studies, and social theory. Find out what kinds of research sociologists conduct within this subfield here.

of 16

How Do Sociologists Define Consumption?

A woman stocks up on bulk goods at Costco with her young son in tow. Consumption is an everyday part of life, so sociologists define it in broad ways.
Chicago resident Sharon Szafoni and her 5-year-old son Mathew shop in the bulk-foods aisle with a large grocery cart March 8, 2002 in a Costco Wholesale store in Niles, IL. Tim Boyle/Getty Images

Consumption is not just about purchasing and ingesting. Find out why sociologists believe that consumption has social and cultural purpose and value, as well as what is at stake in the activity.

of 16

What Does Consumerism Mean?

A smiling man proudly shows his newly purchased iPhone 6.
First day of the IPhone 6 and IPhone 6 Plus release in Spain with the firsts buyers in the Barcelona's city Apple Store, September 26, 2014. Artur Debat/Getty Images

What does consumerism mean? How is it different from consumption? Sociologists Zygmunt Bauman, Colin Campbell, and Robert Dunn help us understand what happens when consumption becomes a way of life.

of 16

What is a Consumerist Culture?

Nicki Lisa Cole

What does it mean to live in a consumerist culture? And why does it matter that we do? This article addresses this concept, developed by sociologist Zygmunt Bauman, and some of the consequences of living this way.

of 16

Is it Possible to Be an Ethical Consumer? Part 1

Ecologically sustainable laundry service in Brussels, Belgium. Nicki Lisa Cole

What would it mean to be an ethical consumer in today's world? This article addresses the environmental and social issues behind consumer goods that must be overcome.

of 16

Is it Possible to Be an Ethical Consumer? Part 2

Occupy Wall Street protestors in New York City, October 2011. Leepower

Despite our best intentions, there are quite a few pitfalls and limitations to the idea of shopping for change. Find out what those are here.

of 16

Why Apple's Brand is the Secret to Its Success

Apple's iPhone 6S showcases what the company's brand has become known for.
Apple's iPhone 6S, released in September 2015. Apple, Inc.

What's in a brand? A study of Apple's reveals what makes it so powerful economically and culturally. 

of 16

What is Cultural Capital? Do I Have It?

A well dressed woman steps out of a car as a chauffeur holds the door, signaling the cultural capital of a wealthy individual.
C K Ltd/Getty Images

Pierre Bourdieu developed one of the most important theoretical concepts in sociology: cultural capital. Click to learn all about it, how it relates to consumer goods, and how it affects your life.

of 16

Why Marketers Need 'Manliness' to Sell Scarves to Men

An adult man with a scruffy beard wears a pink t-shirt and a purple scarf, showing that even manly men can wear these items.

A sociologist reflects on why some men think that wearing a scarf is "gay," and why there is a campaign to make scarves "manly."

of 16

What Are the Human Costs of iPhone?

SACOM dropped a protest banner at the launch of the iPhone 6 at an Apple Store in Hong Kong, September, 2014. Bloguerilla

Apple's iPhone is one of the most beautiful and technologically advanced on the market, but it comes with a significant human cost throughout its supply chain.

of 16

Why We're Not Really Doing Anything About Climate Change

An overflowing trash can speaks to our unsustainable consumer habits and their negative effects on pollution and climate change.
An overflowing trash can in New York City. Miguel S. Salmaron/Getty Images

Climate scientists have been telling us for decades now that we must reduce greenhouse gas emissions, yet they rise every year. Why? The allure of consumer goods has a lot to do with it.

of 16

What's the True Price of Chocolate?

Behind every bar of chocolate is poverty and abuse. Get to know the real cost of chocolate.
Luka/Getty Images

How does chocolate get made, and who is involved in this global process? This slide show provides an overview, and a look at the hidden costs behind chocolate.

of 16

How to Keep Child Labor and Slavery Out of Halloween Chocolate

Cocoa pods are seen on the Ivory Coast stand during the Salon du Chocolat at Parc des Expositions Porte de Versailles on October 30, 2013 in Paris, France. Richard Bord/Getty Images

Child labor, slavery, and poverty have no place in our Halloween candy. Find out how choosing fair or direct trade chocolate can help.

of 16

11 Fascinating Facts About Halloween

Halloween masks are offered for sale at Fantasy Costumes on October 28, 2011 in Chicago, Illinois. Scott Olson/Getty Images

Facts about Halloween spending and activities, from National Retail Federation, with some color sociological commentary about what it all means. 

of 16

What Thanksgiving Reveals About American Culture

A full plate at Thanksgiving dinner symbolizes American abundance, belonging, and identity.
James Pauls/Getty Images

According to sociologists, overeating on Thanksgiving is an act of patriotism. Say what?! 

of 16

Christmas by the Numbers

Men dressed in Santa costumes drunk beers in a bar, signaling the central role of consumption in the celebration of Christmas.

A round-up of what we did, how we spent, and our environmental impact this Christmas.