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.