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Objects in Sociology

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Abstract

it has been a mystery to me why my fellow sociologists have paid so little attention to objects — to their creation, design, and the specifics of their consumption. If they write about mass-produced goods at all, sociologists tend to treat them as distractions from other putatively more worthwhile aspects of existence. We inherit as a Freud-Marx blend, a vision of consumer goods as fetish. Stuff provides noxious evidence of corrupted sensibilities, hegemonic oppression, or false needs. Thorsten Veblen, foreshadowing the French social theorist Pierre Bourdieu (1984), warned of conspicuous consumption and the role of elites in using the consumption apparatus to set up anxieties that reinforced elite dominance over everyday life. Depending on the telling, for the poor as well as the strivers somewhat higher-up, symbolic ‘come-ons’ ensnare.

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