It is well-understood that the consumption of goods plays an important, symbolic role in the way human beings communicate, create identity, and establish relationships. What is less well-known is that the pattern of their flow shapes society in fundamental ways. In this book the renowned anthropologist Mary Douglas and economist Baron Isherwood overturn arguments about consumption that rely on received economic and psychological explanations. They ask new questions about why people save, why they spend, what they buy, and why they sometimes-but not always-make fine distinctions about quality.
Instead of regarding consumption as a private means of satisfying one’s preferences, they show how goods are a vital information system, used by human beings to fulfill their intentions towards one another. They also consider the implications of the social role of goods for a new vision for social policy, arguing that poverty is caused as much by the erosion of local communities and networks as it is by lack of possessions, and contrast small-scale with large-scale consumption in the household.
A radical rethinking of consumerism, inequality and social capital, The World of Goods is a classic of economic anthropology whose insights remain compelling and urgent.
This Routledge Classics edition includes a new foreword by Richard Wilk.
"Forget that commodities are good for eating, clothing, and shelter; forget their usefulness and try instead the idea that commodities are good for thinking." – Mary Douglas and Baron Isherwood
Table of Contents
Foreword to the Routledge Classics Edition Richard Wilk
Part 1: Goods as an Information System
1. Why People want Goods
2. Why They Save
3. The Uses of Goods
4. Exclusion, Intrusion
5. The Technology of Consumption
6. Consumption Periodicities
Part 2: Implications for social policy
7. Separate Economic Spheres in Ethnography
8. International Comparisons
9. Consumption Classes
10. Control of Value.
Mary Douglas (1921-2007) was one of the leading anthropologists of her generation. She studied anthropology at Oxford University before undertaking fieldwork with the Lele people in the Congo. She completed her doctorate in 1952 and accepted an appointment at University College London, where she was instrumental in establishing the department, remaining for twenty-five years. Her first book, Purity and Danger (1966), studied the concepts of pollution and taboo and is regarded as a classic of social anthropology. From the mid-1970s to 1980s she held a variety of appointments in the United States, in New York and Northwestern University, Illinois. She was elected a fellow of the British Academy in 1989 and made a distinguished fellow of University College London in 1994. In 1992 she was appointed CBE, and later DBE in 2007.
Baron Isherwood is an English economist and specialist on consumer behaviour, currently with the Department of Health and Social Security in the United Kingdom.
"A pioneering work of the anthropology of consumption" - The Guardian
"The most widely read British social anthropologist of her generation" - The Guardian
"A master at discerning order in unexpected forms and surprising places" - The New York Times