Consumer history and the dilemmas of working-class history

Cross, Gary
December 1997
Labour History Review (Maney Publishing);Winter1997, Vol. 62 Issue 3, p261
Academic Journal
The article presents the author's view on consumer history and the dilemmas of working-class history. According to the author, the consumption of wage-earners suggests a culture of classlessness, the irrelevance of the work groups, and, with this, the diminished possibilities for collective action. That the twentieth century culminates in a consumer society seems to make this a disappointing century to many. This view of twentieth-century labor history allows cultural studies to dispense with concrete analysis of work except as an economic precondition and negative psychological background to consumption culture. Domestic consumption is far more than passive and manipulated. Through home goods, families displayed and expressed themselves as both members of chosen communities and as unique. Indeed, consumer items probably provided a valued balance between belonging and autonomy. Domestic consumption provided rich alternatives to routinised work time. Cyclic and confined moments of freedom in the weekend were experienced in and through goods.


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