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Consumerism in Twentieth-Century Britain
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  • 6 b/w illus.
  • Page extent: 396 pages
  • Size: 228 x 152 mm
  • Weight: 0.629 kg
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 (ISBN-13: 9780521538534 | ISBN-10: 052153853X)

DOI: 10.2277/052153853X

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 (Stock level updated: 17:01 GMT, 25 November 2015)


This book is the first comprehensive history of consumerism as an organised social and political movement. Matthew Hilton offers a groundbreaking account of consumer movements, ideologies and organisations in twentieth-century Britain. He argues that in organisations such as the Co-operative movement and the Consumers' Association individual concern with what and how we spend our wages led to forms of political engagement too often overlooked in existing accounts of twentieth-century history. He explores how the consumer and consumerism came to be regarded by many as a third force in society with the potential to free politics from the perceived stranglehold of the self-interested actions of employers and trade unions. Finally he recovers the visions of countless consumer activists who saw in consumption a genuine force for liberation for women, the working class and new social movements as well as a set of ideas often deliberately excluded from more established political organisations.

• The first comprehensive history of consumerism as an organised social and political movement • Examines the history of the Co-operative movement, the Consumers' Association, the National Consumer Council, the Office of Fair Trading as well as international consumer organisations • Contributes to an expanding inter-disciplinary discussion of the role of consumption in modern society


Introduction: luxury's shadow; Part I. Necessity: 1. Socialism, cooperation, free trade and fair trade: the politics of consumption in the nineteenth century; 2. Revolutionary shoppers: the Consumers' Council and scarcity in World War I; 3. The right to live: consumer 'ideology' in inter-war Britain; 4. The price of depression: consumer politics after World War I; 5. Austerity to affluence: the twilight of the politics of necessity; Part II. Affluence: 6. The new consumer: good housewives and enlightened businessmen; 7. The professionals: the origins of the organised consumer movement; 8. Individualism enshrined: the state and the consumer in the 1960s; 9. The right to shop: consumerism and the economy; 10. The duty of citizens: consumerism and society; 11. Affluence or effluence: globalisation and ethical consumerism; Conclusion: the quantity or the quality of choice.


'… due to the meticulously prepared index and the immensely well researched bibliography the outcome is a book that not only makes a compelling argument but can be used as a handbook for everyone researching nineteenth and twentieth-century consumer culture.' H-Soz-u-Kult

'… an essential source-book for social historians.' Contemporary Review

'This is a hugely impressive study. It is hard to imagine how Hilton's study will fail to establish consumerism squarely (and rightly) at the center of historical understanding of twentieth-century Britain or to become itself, for scholars and students alike, vital reading in the debate about interpreting this. As buys go, this is a must …'. EH.NET Book Review

'Hilton's book is a valuable addition to the field of popular culture and the political culture of consumption because it offers an important chronology for the rise and fall of consumerist organizations in twentieth-century Britain. Hilton is thorough in outlining the twists and turns of consumerist organizations and the political environment in which they existed. As an introduction to organized consumer movements, Hilton's book sets the standard for the future … Hilton's book provides a vital service for future scholars by laying a historical foundation for studying consumerism. As an organizational history, informed by changes in the socio-political environment, it is unparalleled.' H-Net Book Review

'A wholly original piece of work … For historians of consumption, it is essential that this book was written. It does vastly more than put down a marker for a putative consumer movement, it brings a mass of new information to the record and is revelatory of the twists, turns, insinuations and impasses of consumer-oriented campaigning in the last 100 years. The prodigious energy that has been invested in researching this book has ensured that a wealth of detail exists which will undoubtedly be swooped upon, and new work is bound to follow in its wake …'. Business History

'Both in originality of concept and in scope of research, Hilton has written a deeply impressive book that allows us to think about twentieth-century political and intellectual history in new and fruitful ways. … this remains a superb book of far-reaching importance that, one imagines, will place consumerism at the centre of subsequent twentieth-century British historical scholarship and set the initial terms of debate.' Twentieth Century British History

'This is a path-breaking and ambitious study of organized consumerism in the many guises it has taken over the past century. . . we clearly need [a] proposed study of consumers and consumerism, which would sit alongside this excellent account of activists and organizations to provide us with a fully nuanced history of this fascinating topic. Hilton's superb monograph has provided extremely strong foundations on which to build that account.' Cultural and Social History

'Hilton's book is an example of the vurgteoning interest in the history of consumption … the richness of the text and the original research behind it will make a starting point for future research on consumerism in twentieth century UK.' Journal of Consumer Policy

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