SO4B9      Half Unit
The Sociology of Consumption

This information is for the 2021/22 session.

Teacher responsible

Dr Rebecca Elliott STC S211


This course is available on the MSc in Culture and Society, MSc in Economy and Society and MSc in Sociology. This course is available with permission as an outside option to students on other programmes where regulations permit.

This course has a limited number of places (it is controlled access). Places are allocated based on a written statement. Priority will be given to students on the MSc in Culture and Society, MSc in Economy and Society and MSc in Sociology. This may mean that not all students who apply will be able to get a place on this course.

Course content

Why do we want the things we want and what do those things say about us? How does consumption reflect and reproduce differences and inequalities of various kinds? What are the social origins of market demand? How did consumption-centred cultures develop and what are their ecological consequences? What does it mean for consumption to be ‘sustainable’ or ‘ethical’?

This course offers a sociological engagement with consumption. It begins from the premise that while we may think of ourselves as individual consumers, how we use resources, our taste for particular goods, and our everyday consumption habits and practices are socially derived and socially structured in profound ways. Issues related to consumption are situated at the intersections of economic, cultural, and environmental sociology and the course will draw on theory and empirical research from all three subfields.

Topics covered in the course include: the social origins of taste; the rise of consumerism; collective consumption and energy use; commoditization and the social biography of things; and consuming online.


25 hours of seminars in the MT.

Teaching arrangements may be adjusted if online teaching is required at any point.

Reading Weeks: Students on this course will have a reading week in MT Week 6, in line with departmental policy.

Formative coursework

Students will be expected to produce 1 essay in the MT.

1500 word formative essay due in week 10 of MT.

Indicative reading

  • Besbris, Max. 2020. Upsold.
  • Bourdieu, Pierre. 1984. Distinction.
  • Bourdieu, Pierre. 2005. Social Structures of the Economy.
  • Brand, Ulrich and Markus Wissen. 2021. The Imperial Mode of Living: Everyday Life and the Ecological Crisis of Capitalism. Verso.
  • Cairns, Karen, Josee Johnston and Nora MacKendrick. 2013. “Feeding the ‘Organic Child’: Mothering through Ethical Consumption.” Journal of Consumer Culture 13(2): 97–118.
  • De Grazia, V. (ed.) (1996). The Sex of Things: Gender and Consumption in Historical Perspective. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.
  • Kopytoff, Igor. 1986. “The Cultural Biography of Things: Commoditization as Process.” Pp. 64-91 in Arjun Appadurai (ed.) The Social Life of Things.
  • Marx, Karl. 1867. “The Fetishism of Commodities and The Secret Thereof.” In Capital, Volume I.
  • Schor, Juliet. 2010. Plenitude.
  • Skotnicki, Tad. 2021. The Sympathetic Consumer. Stanford University Press.
  • Veblein, Thorstein. 1899. The Theory of the Leisure Class.
  • Warde, Alan. 2005. “Consumption and Theories of Practice.” Journal of Consumer Culture 5(2): 131–53.
  • Wherry, Frederick. 2006. “The social sources of authenticity in global handicraft markets: Evidence from northern Thailand.” Journal of Consumer Culture 6 (1), 5-32.
  • Zukin, Sharon, Scarlett Lindeman, and Laurie Hurson. 2016. “The Omnivore’s Neighborhood? Online Restaurant Reviews, Race, and Gentrification.” Journal of Consumer Culture 17(3): 459-479.


Essay (90%, 3000 words) in the LT.
Group presentation (10%) in the MT.

An electronic copy of the assessed essay, to be uploaded to Moodle, no later than 4.00pm on the third Thursday of Lent Term.

Attendance at all seminars, completion of set readings and submission of set coursework is required.

Course selection videos

Some departments have produced short videos to introduce their courses. Please refer to the course selection videos index page for further information.

Teachers' comment

LSE offers three courses addressing consumption: MG404 Consumer Insights: Behavioural Fundamentals and PB417 Consumer Psychology address consumer behaviour. SO4B9 Sociology of Consumption takes a more macro level and examines consumption at society level. MG404 is designed for the students of Management to complement their curriculum, and PB417 targets the (future) decision-makers and advisers in business and organisations dealing with consumers, including non-commercial. SO4B9 is primarily intended for students on Sociology programmes with interests in culture, inequality, and the relations between the economy, the environment and society.
There are some similarities in the content of MG404, PB417 and SO4B9. Broadly, PB417 and MG404 courses introduce the psychological foundations of consumer behaviour, and are intended to equip students to apply psychological theories to business situations. There are, however, important differences in the orientations of the two courses.
MG404 is intended for students studying management and related disciplines who want to learn how to influence consumer behaviour (e.g., how to construct persuasive advertising or sway purchase decisions). MG404 introduces the principles of consumer behaviour that firms need to recognize in order to successfully market their products and services, and which consumers themselves can use to make optimal decisions.
PB417 provides a skillset and a toolbox of theories and methods for analysing consumer demand, finding the levers for change and building sustainable business models. For assessment, students choose a real case and write a set of (justified) recommendations to the CEO. PB417 may especially be of interest to students across a broad range of programmes who are interested in developing new modes of relationship with consumers or building sustainable business models as an alternative to the current consumer society.
The courses share some content where appropriate; other content differs in accordance with the different goals of the two courses.
SO4B9 critically examines consumption patterns and practices as rooted in culture, political economies, material infrastructures, and social structures. The course introduces a range of social theory engagements with the question of consumption, which provide diverse ways of thinking about the relations between individuals, societies, and the planet. For assessment, students will develop sociological analyses of their consumption practices in relation to the social theory introduced on the course.

Important information in response to COVID-19

Please note that during 2021/22 academic year some variation to teaching and learning activities may be required to respond to changes in public health advice and/or to account for the differing needs of students in attendance on campus and those who might be studying online. For example, this may involve changes to the mode of teaching delivery and/or the format or weighting of assessments. Changes will only be made if required and students will be notified about any changes to teaching or assessment plans at the earliest opportunity.

Key facts

Department: Sociology

Total students 2020/21: Unavailable

Average class size 2020/21: Unavailable

Controlled access 2020/21: No

Value: Half Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Personal development skills

  • Leadership
  • Self-management
  • Team working
  • Problem solving
  • Application of information skills
  • Communication