Devising Consumption

Cultural Economies of Insurance, Credit and Spending

By Liz Mcfall

© 2014 – Routledge

196 pages | 43 B/W Illus.

Purchasing Options:
Paperback: 9781138645356
pub: 2016-01-02
Available for pre-order
US Dollars$54.95
Hardback: 9780415694391
pub: 2014-09-11
US Dollars$145.00

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About the Book

The book explores the vital role played by the financial service industries in enabling the poor to consume over the last hundred and fifty years. Spending requires means, but these industries offered something else as well – they offered practical marketing devices that captured, captivated and enticed poor consumers. Consumption and consumer markets depend on such devices but their role has been poorly understood both in the social sciences and in business studies and marketing.

While the analysis of consumption and markets has been carved up between academics and practitioners who have been interested in either their social and cultural life or their economic and commercial organisation, consumption continues to be driven by their combination. Devising consumption requires practical mixtures of commerce and art whether the product is an insurance policy or the next gadget in the internet of things . By making the case for a pragmatic understanding of how ordinary, everyday consumption is orchestrated, the book offers an alternative to orthodox approaches, which should appeal to interdisciplinary audiences interested in questions about how markets work and why it matters.


"Truly ground breaking, both as a study of the operation of the 1911 National Insurance Act and in its use of insurance company and credit brokers' records. Original research that blazes a trail that nobody else working in the field of mass consumption and welfare will in the future be able to ignore." - John Pemble, Senior Research Fellow at Bristol University, UK and author of Venice Rediscovered and The Mediterranean Passion.

"That a cultural and sociological approach to economic topics can be extremely powerful was first demonstrated by Max Weber in The Protestant Ethic. Liz McFall’s Devising Consumption is an extremely interesting and well executed study in the very same genre. Choosing two institutions that are little known she also does something that Weber would have applauded: she carefully documents and analyzes how the poor have spent their resources and how others have tried to profit from this. This book will interest anyone with a lively sense of how those with few material resources fare in the market system." - Professor Richard Swedberg, Cornell University, USA

"Liz McFall’s timely book covers 150 years of ‘doorstep finance’ of the working-class British neighbourhoods. With a goal of ‘ventriloquising the silent poor’ (p. 171), McFall draws on archival documents, such as record books and advertisements, to show how markets for consumer finance were ‘devised’ by companies and the door-knocking agents who made their business possible. The book’s introduction and five chapters cover what these products were, why they were in demand, how they were sold and marketed, and how the products evolved from the 1800s up until the 1970s."- Erin B. Taylor, European Association of Social Anthropologists

Table of Contents

Introduction 1. Unearthing the ‘Very Dirt of Private Fact’: The work of market devices 2. Groovy Like the Market: Problems with fit and adaptation in government schemes to insure the poor 3. Organising Charisma: The role of doorstep finance agents 4. Following the Lines from Conversation to Marketing and Back 5. The Practical Heart of Markets 5.1. Building the Industrial Assurance Portfolio 5.2. Door-Stepping the (Relatively) Affluent Poor Epilogue

About the Author

Liz McFall is Head of Sociology at the Open University. Her work explores how markets are made especially for challenging or controversial products like industrial life insurance, doorstep and payday loans. In ‘Devising Consumption’ she offers a pragmatic approach to understanding how technical, material, artistic and metaphysical elements collide in consumer markets. Liz is author of Advertising: a cultural economy (2004), co-editor of Conduct: sociology and social worlds (2008) and co-editor of the Journal of Cultural Economy.

About the Series


Culture, Economy and the Social

This series establishes the importance of innovative contemporary, comparative and historical work on the relations between social, cultural and economic change. It publishes empirically-based research that is theoretically informed, that critically examines the ways in which social, cultural and economic change is framed and made visible, and that is attentive to perspectives that tend to be ignored or side-lined by grand theorising or epochal accounts of social change. The series addresses the diverse manifestations of contemporary capitalism, and considers the various ways in which the `social', `the cultural' and `the economic' are apprehended as tangible sites of value and practice. It is explicitly comparative, publishing books that work across disciplinary perspectives, cross-culturally, or across different historical periods.

We are particularly focused on publishing books in the following areas that fit with the broad remit of the series:

  • Cultural consumption
  • Cultural economy
  • Cities and urban change
  • Materiality, sociality and the post-human
  • Culture and media industries
  • Culture and governance
  • Emerging forms of cultural and economic practice

The series is actively engaged in the analysis of the different theoretical traditions that have contributed to critiques of the `cultural turn'. We are particularly interested in perspectives that engage with Bourdieu, Foucauldian approaches to knowledge and cultural practices, Actor-network approaches, and with those that are associated with issues arising from Deleuze's work around complexity, affect or topology. The series is equally concerned to explore the new agendas emerging from current critiques of the cultural turn: those associated with the descriptive turn for example. Our commitment to interdisciplinarity thus aims at enriching theoretical and methodological discussion, building awareness of the common ground has emerged in the past decade, and thinking through what is at stake in those approaches that resist integration to a common analytical model.

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Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
HISTORY / General
POLITICAL SCIENCE / Public Policy / City Planning & Urban Development
SOCIAL SCIENCE / Sociology / General