By Lynne Pettinger
Sonic branding, guerrilla marketing, celebrity endorsements, customer service excellence and multi-channel advertising are just some of the popular sales techniques that currently promote consumerism in contemporary capitalism. Considerable energy is devoted to encouraging consumers to desire new fashions, to celebrate 'good design', to have feelings for brands and to immerse themselves in sensory experiences, without worrying about the ethics of their practices.
Work, Consumption and Capitalism looks at how consumption is produced by focusing on the multiple kinds of work that make consumption possible, from advertising creatives to fashion designers, from self-service checkouts to the hippest barista in the coolest coffee shop. The text encourages students to consider the place of consumerism in global capitalism to develop their own answers to the question: How is consumption made possible?
This wide-ranging study of the relations between work, consumption and capitalism draws on interdisciplinary research in cultural and economic sociology, history, marketing studies and cultural studies. With research tasks and discussion questions at the end of each chapter and case studies throughout, it stands as an accessible introduction for students of Sociology, Business and Management, Media and Communication, Cultural Policy and Cultural Studies.
"Overall, the book is a hybrid between a sophisticated if dense textbook and a monograph that seeks to promote a relatively simple thesis. This is stated clearly in the book’s introduction entitled 'The production of consumption': consumption is not something that just happens but is produced through the work of whole armies of designers, marketers, brand managers, salespeople and many others, including consumers themselves. Thus the work of the designer, who conceived the eye-catching cover, is contributing to the consumption of the product, every bit as importantly (and maybe even more importantly) as the work of the author who toiled to write the text. This work is what Pettinger calls commercial work, the kind of work that she illustrates early on in her book with reference to jeans – work that goes into enhancing the symbolic value and meaning of jeans, turning them into desirable products. More generally, the book explores commercial work as 'work that produces consumption. It considers the design, marketing and selling of consumer products: goods, services and experiences' (8) focusing on those who do this kind of work. Commercial work, argues Pettinger, is global in as much as brands have a global reach but also as most products involve labour carried out in numerous countries and regions. At the same time, Pettinger is keen to explore the ways in which commercial work and the macro-processes of global capitalism 'operate under the skin and in the bones of daily life: abstract processes have a real impact on social life, and on our bodies' (8). Thereafter 'the body' as well as global processes become central concerns of the author. [...] This chapter also introduces alternative views of the concept of the market – neoclassical concepts of civilizing markets, Marxist concepts of destructive markets and Polanyian embedded markets, Weberian feeble markets and Actor Network Theory-inspired concept of markets as moral projects. [...] The reader is impressed by the book’s scholarly, indeed encyclopaedic, qualities. Pettinger draws concepts and theories from a wide range of discourses in sociology, organization studies, economics, marketing and several others [...] the book’s didactic style, which regularly affirms that many things are important, many things are complex and many things can be studied from many different angles. These may be important messages to convey to undergraduate students but may leave them perplexed or confused, as the author hedges her bets and presents different approaches, criticizing each from the perspective of the other. She presents views of critics of consumerism but also of its apologists and, while generally sympathetic to the critics, she invariably returns to the 'It’s complicated, it’s sad' refrain which may not address the intellectual curiosities or anxieties of 20-year olds [...] More mature scholars will find much to learn fromthis book, if they can put up with its somewhat meandering exposition that necessitates sometimes as many as five cross references to other chapters in a single page. The book is particularly useful in drawing bridges across discourses and in filling some of those holes in our knowledge that we all carry. [... ] One of the tendencies of the book that concerned me and eventually irritated me was the currently fashionable manner of referring to people as bodies, naturalizing the body almost as blatantly as it is now unfashionable to essentialize the subject. [...] A more significant failing of the author, in my opinion, is the scant attention given to resistance, whether resistance of consumers or resistance by workers, both topics of very considerable interest and huge bibliographies. [...] Pettinger does a fine job in demonstrating the complex and inter-related dimensions of this work and the demands it makes on 'bodies'. She does a less thorough job in unpacking the deeper meaning of this work, the discontents and the illusions that it engenders, the social, spiritual and environmental damage that it wreaks and the resistance that it prompts."
- Podcast with Pettinger about the book, New Books in Critical Theory, 4 May 2016
Table of Contents of Work, Consumption and Capitalism
- Global Capitalism
- Doing Work
- Taking Seriously the Production of Consumption
About Lynne Pettinger
Lynne Pettinger is an Associate Professor in Sociology at the University of Warwick, UK. Her research explores how market cultures are generated, and how ethics, aesthetics and emotions are worked on in global consumer capitalism. She has developed these themes in projects on sales work, sex work and music work, and is currently studying green collar work, and Higer Education's role in the production of 'employable' workers for the global culture industries.