The Rise of Consumer Capitalism in America, 1880 - 1930: 1st Edition (Paperback) book cover

The Rise of Consumer Capitalism in America, 1880 - 1930

1st Edition

By Cesare Silla


240 pages | 34 B/W Illus.

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This book offers a genealogical account of the rise of consumer capitalism, tracing its origins in America between 1880 and 1930 and explaining how it emerged to become the dominant form of social organization of our time. Asking how it was that we came to be consumers who live in societies that revolve around an ever-spinning circle of production and consumption, not only of goods, but also of events, experiences, emotions and relations, The Rise of Consumer Capitalism in America presents an extensive analysis of primary sources to demonstrate the conditions and forces from which consumer capitalism emerged and became victorious.

Employing a Weberian approach that brings liminality to the fore as a master concept to make sense of historical change, the author links an in-depth empirical investigation to supple sociological theorizing to show how the encirclement of all aspects of life by the logic of consumer capitalism was a time-bound historical creation rather than a necessary one. A fascinating study of the appearance and triumph of the "ideology" of our age, this book will appeal to scholars of social and anthropological theory, historical sociology, cultural history and American studies.


"The focus on the historicity of the consumer subjectivity and its specificity as a type (and relatedly that of consumer capitalism) is what sets Silla’s study apart from much of the existing work on the history of consumption. […] I would recommend the book to all interested in the history of consumption and marketing, whether they are beginners or advanced scholars. In particular, the book would be of value to scholars with interest in the concept of liminality. Silla demonstrates the value of this notion well in illuminating the aspects often obfuscated in the historical works due to the tendency to focus on periodisation and/or specific periods, rather than the in-between phases in their accounts. Also, Silla does a particularly fine job in explaining how to do a genealogical study. And finally, the volume would serve as a valuable reference for those interested in a more sociologically informed understanding of the current marketing practices and consumption phenomena." - Olga Kravets, Rassegna Italiana di Sociologia

Table of Contents

Lists of Tables and Figures



Introduction: Revisiting the Genealogy of Consumer Capitalism Through Liminality

Part I: On the Threshold of a New Era: Making Way for Modernity

1. A New Economic Life

2. Souls in Transition

Part II: Making the Consumer City: The Theatricalization Of Urban Life

3. The Chicago World’s Fair Of 1893 And the Urban Ideal

4. The City as Spectacle

5. The Presentation of Self in Urban Daily Life

Part III: The Genesis of The Consumer: ‘Image-Making’ And the Production of Desire

6. The Personality of Business

7. The New Basis of Civilization

8. Subjects of Desire

Part IV: Marketing Professionalism: The Engine of Consumer Capitalism and Its Lasting Effect

9. Marketing Plan and Consumer Research

10. Relationship Marketing and The Experience Economy

11. Planned Obsolescence and The Consumption Engineer

Concluding Remarks



About the Author

Cesare Silla is Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the Department of Sociology at Catholic University of Milan.

About the Series

Contemporary Liminality

Contemporary Liminality

This series constitutes a forum for works that make use of concepts such as ‘imitation’, ‘trickster’ or ‘schismogenesis’, but which chiefly deploy the notion of ‘liminality’, as the basis of a new, anthropologically-focused paradigm in social theory. With its versatility and range of possible uses rivalling and even going beyond mainstream concepts such as ‘system’ ‘structure’ or ‘institution’, liminality is increasingly considered a new master concept that promises to spark a renewal in social thought.

In spite of the fact that charges of Eurocentrism or even ‘moderno-centrism’ are widely discussed in sociology and anthropology, it remains the case that most theoretical tools in the social sciences continue to rely on taken-for-granted approaches developed from within the modern Western intellectual tradition, whilst concepts developed on the basis of extensive anthropological evidence and which challenged commonplaces of modernist thinking, have been either marginalised and ignored, or trivialised. By challenging the assumed neo-Kantian and neo-Hegelian foundations of modern social theory, and by helping to shed new light on the fundamental ideas of major figures in social theory, such as Nietzsche, Dilthey, Weber, Elias, Voegelin, Foucault and Koselleck, whilst also establishing connections between the perspectives gained through modern social and cultural anthropology and the central concerns of classical philosophical anthropology Contemporary Liminality offers a new direction in social thought.

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Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
SOCIAL SCIENCE / Sociology / General