Program Details

Consumers: The Sociology and Politics of Buying, Borrowing, and Branding

Lynn Appleton

Course Description

“I shop, therefore, I am.” This series of lectures will draw on theory and research in sociology, political science, anthropology and cultural studies to illuminate how the consumer role was developed, its relationship to the role of citizen, and its connection to the emergence of the second Gilded Age in the United States. Dr. Appleton will turn a sociological lens on the role of consumption in social control. The commoditization of American private life, from the displacement of “real food” by processed food to the use of branded products to define identity will be examined. The origins and consequences of the Lake Woebegone paradox: that most Americans believe that they are smarter shoppers and more prudent spenders than everybody else will be discussed. The behind-the-scenes changes in law and regulatory policy that have created a financialized American economy, built on a precarious scaffold of personal debt, will be looked at. Attendees will leave the lecture with a new ability to see how consumption is intimately connected to contemporary politics, personal and social problems, economic globalization, and the rise of neoliberalism. They also will develop an increased appreciation for the emancipatory power of the delight that humans take in choice, aesthetic judgment, and ownership – adding a whole new dimension to their people watching skills.


  1. Democracy and Capitalism as Foundations of Western Modernity: Institutional change and conflict. The rise of the selfish self.
  2. “Selling Ice to Eskimos”: Inventing needs and directing wants. Can we buy our way to happiness? Cathedrals of consumption.
  3. From Billboards to Branding: How commodities moved from the utilitarian to the emotional. How commodities colonized our lives.
  4. Intoxicating Commodities: Prescription drugs, alcohol, cheap clothing, and fast food.
  5. Post-Industrial Peasants: The expansion of debt, the end of savings. Neo-liberalism and financialization.
  6. An American Economy that Doesn’t Make Anything but Sells Everything: From Henry Ford’s crisis of overproduction to a post-Fordist world of infinite desires and global production.
  7. How Children Become Consumers: How consumer culture changes childhood.
  8. Hoarding and Clutter: “Does this spark joy?” Disorders of consumer culture. The not-so-cheap thrill of bargain hunting.

About the Instructor

  • Dr. Lynn Appleton (PhD, University of Chicago) is Professor Emerita in the Department of Sociology at FAU. She has won every teaching award given by FAU, including Distinguished Teacher of the Year. Her research has been in a diverse range of fields but has always focused on questions of power.  Currently, she is working on questions of medicalization and social control.

Upcoming programs presented by Lynn Appleton.

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