1st Edition

Addictive Consumption Capitalism, Modernity and Excess

By Gerda Reith Copyright 2019
    192 Pages 8 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    192 Pages 8 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    In this engaging new book, Gerda Reith explores key theoretical concepts in the sociology of consumption. Drawing on the ideas of Foucault, Marx and Bataille, amongst others, she investigates the ways that understandings of ‘the problems of consumption’ change over time, and asks what these changes can tell us about their wider social and political contexts. Through this, she uses ideas about both consumption and addiction to explore issues around identity and desire, excess and control and reason and disorder. She also assesses how our concept of 'normal' consumption has grown out of efforts to regulate behaviour historically considered as disruptive or deviant, and how in the contemporary world the 'dark side' of consumption has been medicalised in terms of addiction, pathology and irrationality. By drawing on case studies of drugs, food and gambling, the volume demonstrates the ways in which modern practices of consumption are rooted in historical processes and embedded in geopolitical structures of power. It not only asks how modern consumer culture came to be in the form it is today, but also questions what its various manifestations can tell us about wider issues in capitalist modernity.

    Addictive Consumption offers a compelling new perspective on the origins, development and problems of consumption in modern society. The volume’s interdisciplinary profile will appeal to scholars and students in sociology, psychology, history, philosophy and anthropology.

    Introduction: Consumer Capitalism and Addiction

    PART I: The Shifting Problem of Consumption

    1. Luxurious Excess: The Emergence of Commodity Culture

    2. Industrial Modernity: The Birth of the Addict

    3. Intensified Consumption and the Expansion of Addiction

    PART II: Addictive Consumptions: Drugs, Food, Gambling

    4. Drugs: Intoxicating Consumption

    5. Food: Embodied Consumption

    6. Gambling: Dematerialised Consumption



    Gerda Reith is Professor of Sociology in the School of Social and Political Sciences at the University of Glasgow, UK. Her research interests lie in the intersections of sociology, political economy, public health and psychology, with a particular focus on the substantive areas of consumption, risk and addiction. She has written and lectured extensively on the empirical and theoretical issues around these topics, and her work has been translated into a number of languages, including Korean, Chinese, Spanish and Hungarian. Her book, The Age of Chance: Gambling in Western Culture (Routledge) won the Philip Abrams Prize for the best book in sociology for 2000.

    "Skilfully charting the intersection of longstanding debates about the cultural ambivalences surrounding modern consumerism with the more specialised debates concerning the medicalisation of addiction, Reith brilliantly demonstrates their profound and enduring relationships to one another. Addictive Consumption is a fascinating and important study. Indeed, a tour de force!"

    - Darin Weinberg, Reader in Sociology, King's College, University of Cambridge, UK

    "This book is a banquet of provocative ideas. Reading it, you’ll find yourself wanting to underline every third sentence, better to remember what the author said and how she said it. Here’s one thought to munch on: capitalism sets us the incompatible goals of being both champion producers and champion consumers. People who over-achieve as consumers (perhaps at the expense of their productivity) risk being accused of having an "addiction" - to eating, shopping, drinking, gambling, sex, and so on - variously explained and treated by pathology experts. The personal manifestations may vary, but they are all symptoms of a deeper social disorder: late capitalism. After reading this book, the notion of ‘responsible gambling’ will make about as much sense as the notion of ‘responsible cannibalism’."

    - Lorne Tepperman, Professor of Sociology, University of Toronto, Canada

    "In an analysis informed by classic works of the sociological canon and some of the most important social theorists of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, Reith masterfully excavates the complex social relations concealed by the various discourses of addiction, demonstrating how the meaning and expanding scope of addiction reflect the contradictions of our hyper-consumption society. Although this is a scholarly work, it is a must-read for any thoughtful person who feels a sense of disquiet about our modern preoccupation with consumer goods and the growing problems of addiction in contemporary society."

    - Stephen Lyng, Professor of Sociology, Carthage College, USA

    "The publication of Addictive Consumption is a crucial and important development for social scientists involved in the field of addiction research. Professor Reith examines the ‘shifting trajectories’ of those commodities implicated in ‘discourses of addiction’ within a historical, socio-economic and political perspective. In so doing, she provides us with an essential understanding of the contradictory nature of contemporary health and public policy interventions directed at the individual, which stigmatize those in the most marginalized groups, while allowing the wider societal environment to continue encouraging excessive consumption."

    - Geoffrey Hunt, Professor, Centre for Alcohol and Drug Research (CRF), School of Business and Social Sciences, University of Aarhus, Denmark 

    "Reith distills the literature on consumption and addiction into a biting, Laschian commentary on a system that encourages collective excess while celebrating the neoliberal ideal of individual responsibility. The result is a meticulous dissection of the cultural contradictions of a supercharged consumer capitalism that sorts, labels and blames failed managers of hedonism – the bingers, the obese, the machine gamblers – even as it empties their pockets."

    - David T. Courtwright, author of Dark Paradise and Forces of Habit

    "This book tells a fascinating story of excess and necessity, the inseparable extremities of consumption in capitalism, from colonial exploitation to neoliberalism. It describes how control theory has developed from repression to brain-based addiction. Commercial capitalism dematerializes consumption, fuels desires but individualizes responsibility. An indispensable gateway to key issues in contemporary society."

    - Pekka Sulkunen, Professor Emeritus of Sociology, University of Helsinki, Finland, Past President, European Sociological Association

    "Ideas about consumption and addiction rarely come together. The aim of this book is to explore their inter-relations by taking both historical and empirical approaches zooming in on specific instances of consumption, namely, drug consumption (alcohol, smoking, ecstasy), excess food (junk food, sugar, obesity), and gambling addiction. Drawing on the ideas of Foucault, Marx, and Bataille, amongst others, the author investigates the ways that understandings of Bthe problems of consumption^ change over time and asks what these changes can tell us about their wider social and political contexts. Through this, she uses ideas about both consumption and addiction to explore issues around identity and desire, excess and control, and reason and disorder. She also assesses how our concept of Bnormal^ consumption has grown out of efforts to regulate behaviour that historically was considered to be disruptive or deviant, and how in the contemporary world the Bdark side^ of consumption has been medicalized in terms of addiction, pathology, and irrationality."

    -Dr. Lucia A. Reisch, Journal of Consumer Policy, 2019