By Mark Jayne
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Additional info for Cities and consumption
This was focused on a whole range of initiatives—from the provision of libraries and museums, and the building of public bath houses, municipal sewerage systems and electricity and gas supplies, to the promotion of ‘rational Cities and consumption 28 recreation’ for working-class leisure time such as sports and woodwork. This raft of urban reform and infrastructure was pursued by the industrialists who dominated urban political power and sought to exert control over their workers in order to improve their profitability.
It was left for local authorities to provide the infrastructure and service provision that the free market at this time did not deem profit-worthy—in sum, providing the support for urban growth, workers and factories such as utilities, sewerage, poor relief, refuse collection, education and transport. In order to unpack how the relationship between collective consumption and consumer culture was theorised it is important to begin with the work of Karl Marx. While Marx was very much involved in theorising the role of production in capitalist societies, the concept of the commodity is a springboard for many theories of consumption—in particular, what constitutes human needs and how those needs are met through the production process.
It was, according to this view, imposed on the masses by the culture industry and turned people into passive consumers of material that did not meet their real needs. Mass culture was crucial to maintaining a capitalist society. Workers were willing to accept boredom and exploitation at work because they could escape during their leisure hours into the pleasure of popular culture, shopping, watching films and listening to jazz. Following Simmel, Veblen and Marx, a very influential thinker who has illuminated our understanding of the impact of consumption was Pierre Bourdieu.