Consuming Behaviours, edited by Erika Rappaport, Sandra Trudgen Dawson, and Mark J. Crowley, takes on the ‘contested arena’ of twentieth-century consumer culture, aligning the ‘histories of identity, politics and pleasure’ to mine the ‘promotion and containment’ of consumer behaviours in Britain and its empire (p. 3). This focus on behaviours rather than consumption or consumer society allows contributors to ‘highlight the similarities between past and present and a range of political, social, cultural and economic activities that revolve around the marketplace but do not necessarily involve purchasing’ (p. 3). In doing so, they make a valuable contribution to a rich body of scholarship on the history of consumption in Britain, which has often privileged early modern and nineteenth-century developments. The collection opens with a comprehensive introduction that gestures to major historiographic developments defining the field. Fourteen subsequent chapters organized into two sections tackle a broad range of topics and concerns. The first section, ‘Gender, Sexuality and Youth: Cultivating and Managing New Consumers’, highlights consumer markets and behaviours of diverse groups of historical actors only beginning to come to the fore in recent scholarship. Indeed, one of the key contributions of the collection is its attention to groups sometimes overlooked in previous histories of modern consumption: queer markets, male fashion and beauty enthusiasts, and football fans. Notably, some of the essays use subjects’ outsider status to juxtapose desirable consumer behaviours against the lived realities—and consumer habits—of these groups. From Brett Bebber’s chapter on attempts to control ‘hooligan’ football supporters—see working-class labourers—to Kate Bradley’s study of coffee bars as spaces for youths excluded from other sites of leisure, essays reveal how these subjects were integral to developing new consumer markets, all as they forged individual and collective identities. To do so, contributors mobilize a range of innovative methodologies. For example, Paul Deslandes reads Mass Observation responses against interwar advertisements to reveal how personal grooming helped men embody a confident, modern selfhood. Elsewhere, Penny Tinkler offers an absorbing analysis of projects of ‘self creation’ in young women’s mid-century photo albums, complemented by revealing ‘photo-interviews’ conducted some 60 years later. But the volume is not only devoted to experiences of the consumer, and subsequent essays consider the power of ‘[m]arketers, advertisers, corporations, political parties, voluntary and state agencies’ (p. 3) in cultivating consumption patterns—and behaviours—amongst the public. This is the aim of the second section, ‘In and Beyond the Nation: the Local and the Global in the Production of Consumer Cultures’, which simultaneously expands the geographic coverage to transnational networks linking the British World. This focus and scope is exemplified in chapters from Bianca Murillo and Erika Rappaport, which foreground intersections of gender, class, and race in the shaping of consumer behaviours across the empire. For Murillo, female agents of the United Africa Company in Ghana propel her ‘social history’ of distribution (p. 160), with women operating as sales representatives for the multinational firm, all while maximizing opportunities for enhanced ‘public authority and economic independence’ (p. 167). Colonial economies also come to the fore in Rappaport’s survey of interwar campaigns to encourage ‘imperial consumer citizen[s]’ (p. 140) to purchase Indian and Ceylonese tea, a process that implicated female consumers, imperial workers and planters, and the Conservative party. Other contributions track initiatives ranging from national savings schemes to post-war housing plans. This attention to multiple levels and locations of consumer intervention works to great effect, making an important historiographic point. With its situation definitively in the British World, the collection forges thought-provoking linkages between modern consumer behaviours that transcended the domestic setting, implicating not only individuals but also intermediaries operating in Britain and its empire. In doing so, many of the essays complicate common narratives underpinning histories of twentieth-century consumption, including the inevitability of a ‘mass consumer society’ in the post-war period or the American colonization of British consumer tastes. For instance, Peter Gurney charts the post-war Labour government’s neglect of organized working-class consumers, arguing that assumptions about consumer affluence damaged the sustainability of the vibrant co-operative tradition. Meanwhile, Stefan Schwarzkopf and Kelly Boyd detail complex responses to the Americanization of advertising and broadcasting, respectively, illuminating strategies of British entrepreneurs and corporate leaders in contending with transatlantic competition while advancing particular understandings of ‘British’ identity. In sum, individual essays in this collection represent some of the leading scholarship currently shaping the field. This includes approaches in cultural history and the history of sexuality, but also social, political, and economic history. But perhaps more importantly, the collection as a whole makes a compelling intervention via its design and organization. While some may critique the inclusion of such a wide array of historical subjects and geographies, it is precisely this ambitious scope that underscores the far-reaching effects of historical processes of consumption. Through its aligning of domestic and imperial phenomena, not to mention its attention to consumers but also producers, corporations, the state, and other invested parties, it foregrounds the expansive implications of twentieth-century consumer behaviours and, in particular, its politicization in times of global crises like economic collapse and world war. This is an especially timely reminder to contemporary readers in a moment when the spending—or withholding—of consumer dollars has heightened significance as a means of expressing positions on social equity, the environment, conditions of labour, and, more generally, global power structures. © The Author . Published by Oxford University Press. All rights reserved. For Permissions, please email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Twentieth Century British History – Oxford University Press
Published: Dec 27, 2017
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