chapter  1
16 Pages

Chapter 1The emergence of modern consumerism

The social and cultural processes surrounding consumption in western capitalism during

the twentieth century have been influ-enced by earlier cultural values, carried by various

social status groups into the modern capitalist period. Among these carriers of cultural

values, the early rational, peaceable, bourgeois capitalists of Britain and Holland, whose

world-view was analysed by the German sociologist Max Weber (1864-1920) in The

Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, have played a crucial role of world

historical significance. Their migration, sometimes forced upon them, across the Atlantic,

laid the basis of the modern United States of America-the social formation which has

come to epitomise the modern consumer’s dreamland, or heaven on earth. The analysis

Weber provided of this group, the early rational, Calvinist capitalists of the seventeenth

century, will be discussed briefly here, before looking at later changes to this cultural

patterning underpinning rational capitalism in the eighteenth century.