The Theory of the Leisure Class and Conspicuous Consumption

Author: Thorstein Veblen was an American economist and sociologist, along with being the leader of the institutional economics movement. He was born to Norwegian parents, and studied at well-known American colleges.

Context: The Theory of the Leisure Class was written in 1899, following the Industrial Revolution and during a time of more widespread prosperity as a result of industrialization.

Language:Using a didactic, matter-of-fact tone, Veblen uses the repetition of words such as “consumption”, “leisure”, “vicarious”, “superior”, “servants”, and “classes” to instill the key message of the work into readers’ minds. His tone is almost satirical in the way that he pokes fun at the way people use material goods as a sign of status.

Audience: Veblen writes for an audience interested in economics, sociology, or both.

Intention: Veblen’s intention is to make people aware of the consumerist culture that has taken over society as a result of the division of labor and the division of classes.

Message: Veblen’s message is to convey to society that consumption has become a way of conforming in modern society. He criticizes the way that the consumption of material goods has become a means of proving wealth and status, and points out the association between honor and material acquisitions. He also claims that clothing has become a way of expressing status, rather than a way of protection.

3 thoughts on “The Theory of the Leisure Class and Conspicuous Consumption

  1. I would agree that a lot of Veblen’s appears as if he’s “poking fun” at the leisure class, and his writing toward them seems to be derisive and mean-spirited. He doesn’t sound very objective, and he gives the impression of being a fairly stubborn and opinionated person. Whether his opinions on the leisure class are correct or not, I think the way he delivers his message is pretty childish.

  2. In addition to seeing how the division of classes is perpetuated through the consumption of luxury items, he notes that this becomes even worse as the entire segment of materialism is creating a workforce for laborers. Through the creation of luxury items, the laborers are being employed to create a lifestyle they will never have the opportunity to live in.

  3. It is interesting note the similarities between Veblen’s two pieces. Although “Conspicuous Consumption” was written three years after “The Theory of the Leisure Class” they have very similar messages. That speaks a lot to what the time period was like and how the middle class behaved in that period.

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