Oslo Summer School in Comparative Social Science Studies 1997

Consumption and Identity

Main Discipline: Social Anthropology
Lecturer: Professor Daniel Miller
Institution: London College University, UK
Dates: 28 July - 1 August, 1997

This course takes a topic which was almost entirely neglected until recently, but is currently becoming a major area of study within the social sciences. As well as reviewing older approaches it will outline new theoretical developments and present new research findings. It begins with a review of these recent studies of consumption from a number of different disciplines. It then compares consumer societies with other societies and examines the impact of modern consumption in different social contexts and in relation to social differences such as gender and hierarchy. One theme, explored in more depth, revolves around local-global relations and the question as to whether consumption produces global homogenization or is appropriated into local difference.

The middle section of the course develops a particular approach to consumption as objectification and applies this to a variety of case-studies such as shopping and the consumption of the media. This includes an examination of consumption as an expression of moral or cosmological values. These case studies are also used to consider the methods involved in studying consumption and identity. The last part of the course starts by giving consideration to the relationship between consumption and capitalism or alternative economic regimes. Finally, the course will address the growing significance of consumption in legitimating the political rhetoric of consumer choice and economic models of the market and the consequences of these developments.

Basic readings

The lecturer
Professor Daniel Miller (Ph.D., Archaeology and Anthropology, Cambridge University) is currently Professor at the Department of Anthropology, London College University. His research interests are material culture and mass consumption. He has conducted field work in Indonesia, the Solomon Islands, Trinidad, and London. He has published various books and papers on topics ranging from soap opera and style to house decoration and shopping. His latest study was an ethnographic study of consumption in Trinidad, exploring comparative approaches to modernity and capitalism. He is currently conducting an ethnographic study in Northern London.