American studies

American Culture and Consumption

Module code: T7052
Level 6
30 credits in autumn teaching
Teaching method: Seminar
Assessment modes: Coursework, Dissertation

This module examines America's cultural responses to the shift from a producer to consumer economy over the 20th century. Using stories, novels, plays, art, film, adverts and social science texts in their historical and social contexts we explore how they reflect changing attitudes to American consumer and material culture.

We examine the extent to which American culture is a culture of consumption and at what point, and under what conditions, a critique of consumption manifests itself in the cultural sphere. To develop an understanding of consumer culture and attitudes to money and materialism in the cultural sphere we employ a variety of historical and theoretical critical readings such as Marx's commodity fetishism, Freud's Civilization and its Discontents, Veblen's theory of conspicuous consumption and Frankfurt School theorists' work on the culture industry.

You will examine changing ideas of what constitutes culture and the extent to which this changed notions of American democracy, citizenship, and identity as shown in a variety of media and cultural forms. We also focus on the extent that mass production, technological change and the growth of mass consumption might be viewed differently according to class, race and gender.

Module learning outcomes

  • Critically analyse and interpret a variety of cultural documents and expressive forms, encompassing popular and elite expressions, the mass media and material culture.
  • Deploy both historical and contemporary perspectives in order to contextualize texts and materials in relation to the key social, political and cultural contexts relevant to the module.
  • Design and complete an interdisciplinary research project on themes and issues relevant to American mass culture.
  • Understand and assess significant historic controversies and debates impacting public life in America.
  • Employ research skills in order to communicate a critically informed knowledge of 20st century American consumer society and culture in both written and oral form.