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Lauding the Leisure Class: Symbolic Content and Conspicuous Consumption


  • Alan Shipman


Symbolic consumption is assessed as an evolution of previously identified conspicuous consumption, after this has undergone a “de-materialization” that is socially, as much as ecologically, driven. As Veblen observed, the shift of wealth towards new forms of physical and financial capital with industrialization compels traditional wealth-holders to redefine privilege in terms of cultural capital. Accompanying social changes enable them to do so. The limited reproducibility of items consumed for their symbolic value, and slow transmissibility of the means of symbolic consumption, force holders of new wealth to compete for status on terms set by the established leisure class. Conspicuity shifts from quantity to quality, from the appropriation of materially valued products to the appreciation of culturally valued products. This paper examines some key implications of a shift from “waste” to “taste” in conspicuous consumption for the social and natural environment, and for economic development. In particular, it explores the possibility of branded products representing the mass production of symbolic goods in high-income economies; and the brand premium's potentially beneficial consequences for global income distribution, when branded production relocates to lower-income economies in conditions of free trade.

Suggested Citation

  • Alan Shipman, 2004. "Lauding the Leisure Class: Symbolic Content and Conspicuous Consumption," Review of Social Economy, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 62(3), pages 277-289.
  • Handle: RePEc:taf:rsocec:v:62:y:2004:i:3:p:277-289 DOI: 10.1080/0034676042000253909

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Fernando Jaramillo & Hubert Kempf & Fabien Moizeau, 2001. "Conspicuous Consumption, Social Status and Clubs," Annals of Economics and Statistics, GENES, issue 63-64, pages 321-344.
    2. repec:adr:anecst:y:2001:i:63-64:p:17 is not listed on IDEAS
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    Cited by:

    1. Jon D. Wisman & Matthew E. Davis, 2013. "Degraded Work, Declining Community, Rising Inequality, and the Transformation of the Protestant Ethic in America: 1870–1930," American Journal of Economics and Sociology, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 72(5), pages 1075-1105, November.
    2. Congshan Zhang & Maktoba Omar & Nathalia C. Tjandra, 2016. "An Investigation of Key Market Growth Factors that Influence the “Luxurisation” of Golf Industry in China," Journal of Business, LAR Center Press, vol. 1(1), pages 21-28, March.
    3. Ross, Cody T., 2016. "Sliding-scale environmental service payments and non-financial incentives: Results of a survey of landowner interest in Costa Rica," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 130(C), pages 252-262.
    4. Ekinci, Yuksel & Sirakaya-Turk, Ercan & Preciado, Sandra, 2013. "Symbolic consumption of tourism destination brands," Journal of Business Research, Elsevier, vol. 66(6), pages 711-718.
    5. Martha A. Starr, 2006. "Macroeconomic dimensions of social economics: Saving, the stock market, and pension systems," Working Papers 2006-09, American University, Department of Economics.
    6. Chau-kiu Cheung & Eileen Yuk-ha Tsang, 2015. "Political-Economic Coalition Among Entrepreneurs, Professionals, and Cadres in Guangdong, China," Sociological Research Online, Sociological Research Online, vol. 20(4), pages 1-14.


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