Changes in the Culture of Consumption


Isleide Arruda Fontenelle



Research in focus: The status of consumption in understanding the logic and mutations of capitalism.

Consumers are increasingly dominating the capitalist value realization process as sites such as Google allow them, to a certain extent, to produce information that is capable of generating profits.

Objective: To understand the central role of consumption in capitalism.


• A review of the academic literature on the culture of consumption

• An analysis of the main forms assumed by contemporary capitalism and the place of consumption in these new formats based on Marxist dialectic thinking


• Consumption culture is associated with the Industrial Revolution, which generated a surplus of products to be sold, leading to transformations in the constitution of a way of life that is guided by consumption.

• The result of this over-production was accompanied by changes in consumption: with the end of rigid social structures, there was a psychological willingness to believe that it was possible “to be someone else” by buying certain products. The bourgeois culture was the first to appropriate objects as a way of externalizing feelings and locating oneself in the world.

• Over the last three decades of the 20th century, with financial logic becoming dominant in capitalism, consumption remained the central element because indebtedness is nothing more than anticipation of the desire to purchase and a reduction in the temporal gap between the turnover of goods and value realization. The financialization methods of the economy also try to cope with the contradictions of capitalism by counterbalancing increasing inequality with new opportunities for indebtedness, which end up functioning as a pledge.

• With the information revolution, another recent change was the incorporation of immaterial work, of knowledge as the main production force. Relationships between work and consumption have become intertwined. For example, when users of the Google search engine consume information, they produce value because they create a hierarchy of links that is used for commercial purposes.

What's new

• The article shows that the importance of consumption culture precedes the academic literature about its rise; the literature emphasizes the merely symbolic aspects of consumption without giving due importance to its place in the value production process.

• This article elucidates the main mutations that have occurred in consumption culture since the end of the 1970s and proposes that the two main forms assumed by capitalism– financial and immaterial – operate fundamentally on the basis of consumption.

• This article shows that consumption has gained another dimension that is still unexplored, in which the new form of worker-consumer production obeys the subjective logic of the consumer much more than that of the producer

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