Thorstein Veblen on Conspicuous Consumption

Author: Thorstein Veblen, born in Wisconsin in 1857, was an economist and sociologist. He grew up in Minnesota, raised by his parents to value education and hard work. Perhaps this is the root for his distain of what he termed as “conspicuous consumption” and waste of the Gilded Age.

Context: He wrote Conspicuous Consumption in 1902 in his book The Theory of the Leisure Class. He wrote this during the second industrial revolution.

Language: Veblen’s tone is critical, informative and philosophical.

Audience: Veblen’s audience is the upper class and other philosophers or sociologists.

Intent: Veben’s intent in this piece is to deconstruct the consumer culture of the “Gilded Age” and enlighten people on America’s money lust and thirst for status. He exposes the upper class’ need to show off their status by buying items in excess and splurging on superfluous extras.

Message: His overall message in this piece is the harm in society’s need for status based on wealth. He believes it is a waste for people to spend extraordinary amounts on what they don’t need just to prove to society that they have the means to. He has brings up the problems this causes for the economy and the character of people as well. Veblen argues that this culture creates a bigger divide between the rich and poor and is wasteful of resources. According to him, people should not consume more than is necessary for quality of life- it is bad form and extremely wasteful.

The Theory of the Leisure Class

Author- Thorstein Veblen, American sociologist and economics, grew up with a lot of familial emphasis on education and caused resentment for “conspicuous consumption”
Context- 1899, takes place during the Gilded Age of America (economic boom that brought many immigrants from Europe)
Language- matter- of- fact language, extremely critical
Audience- became and instant success, highly praised, meant to be widely read
Intent- to shows the superficiality of the societal trend and to show the societal rift between those that can afford luxury items and those that produce the items (how that impacts class perception)
Message- criticism of how materialism of luxury goods became a symbol of wealth and of “conspicuous consumption” (displaying luxury items to maintain social status), uses dress as an example of display of goods to indicate one’s status