In modern times, the term “consumerism” has been associated with a preoccupation with the acquisition of good and commodities.
Traditionally, it has been used with negative connotations-as a “problem” that indicates a lack of discretion among “buyers” and “consumers” regarding what good to buy them in an increasingly commercialized environment.
Among Marxist thinkers especially, what happened has been linked to exploitation under industrial capitalism.
“Consumerism” has been associated with the growth of industrial capitalism in Europe from the 18th century and its global spread thereafter -a development that was accompanied by economies of scale and increases in production and productivity.
During industrial capitalism, such increase was sustained by growth in demand, both in the immediate neighborhood of centers of production and further. Improvements in technology and extensive use of the division of labor enabled manufacturers to produce on a large scale for “wants”, “needs” and “fashion”.
Commercialization of leisure and the penetration by innovative manufactures, of religious practices, public health, and education reinforced the hajj of. Acquisition and increasing “consumption” In European society, in these circumstances, availability of goods ceased to be a substantial problem.
Rather, more important were means to ensure that they were in demand and “consumed”. If this was not achieved, “gluts” and economic depressions would take place, affecting employer and employee alike.
The critical vision stirred a concern with the rights of the consumer. And this in turn made question of consumption a matter for politics-as it was anyway at another level, given that in societies where needs and wants were continuously the object of discussion and representation, public figures were concerned about the symbolism that advertisers and manufacturers toyed with and what goods they projected.
Consumption came, consequently, to be associated with citizenship, since it was connected with social status and politics.
Duly, the critique of consumerism has been met with perspectives that sharply differ with it perspectives that argue the benefits of variety in the market for the consumer and the necessity of regular consumption for economic and social stability. The popularity of the critique has consequently varied considerably.
Most recently, writing on consumption, “material culture” (the attitude of consumers, producers and society in general to the world to the world of manufactured “things”) and material politics” has firmly established that whatever the value of the critical appraisal of consumerism, manufactures’ practice and consumer experience cannot be easily straitjacketed.
This is all the more true in regions of the world where consumer societies of a sort have existed in the past (India, China, Africa) and which came to industrial capitalism late and in unusual circumstances.