module specification

CP5020 - Cultures of Consumption (2018/19)

Module specification Module approved to run in 2018/19
Module title Cultures of Consumption
Module level Intermediate (05)
Credit rating for module 30
School The Sir John Cass School of Art, Architecture and Design (The Cass)
Total study hours 300
81 hours Scheduled learning & teaching activities
219 hours Guided independent study
Assessment components
Type Weighting Qualifying mark Description
Coursework 50%   Essay (2000 words) on department store/ shopping mall (primary research)
Coursework 50%   Essay (2000 words) on the ethics of consumption
Running in 2018/19 No instances running in the year

Module summary

This year-long, level 5 module, Cultures of Consumption,  will examine the development of mass consumerism in the late nineteenth century as a basis for students to consider their own role and that of others as consumers in a Western, late capitalist society and how that is central to the creation of identity. The module complements the level 4 module, ‘Cultures of Production’.

Students will develop knowledge and a critical understanding of a range of theoretical approaches to the study of consumption as it relates to our material and visual culture and in particular they will be asked to reflect on their own practices as consumers, with special emphasis on the ethics of consumption.

There will be a number of study trips to allow students to observe and analyse key sites of consumption: West End department stores, suburban shopping malls and ‘niche’, independent shops, restaurants and cafés.

There are two assessments for the module: a 2000-word critical essay on the ethics of consumption and a 2000-word essay, which draws on primary research, interviews and archives, on a London department store or shopping mall.

This module will enable students to:

• have the critical and theoretical knowledge and analytical tools to understand and describe the creation of identities through consumption;
• form judgments about ethical issues related to consumption;
• source, record and deploy a range of archival sources as research tools;
• have a critical awareness of their own roles as a consumer within a wider cultural context.

Prior learning requirements

Pass and completion (120 credits ) or prior level


The class will be organised as a series of weekly lectures, study visits to key sites of consumption, seminar reading groups and online discussion groups (hosted on Weblearn).

The syllabus will typically begin by looking at the development of a bourgeois political economy and an organised market with goods and services for sale.  The growth of the city and the spectacle offered by the new department store culture in Paris and London in the nineteenth century will help provide the context for a number of study trips to London shopping centres and department stores. LO1,LO2,LO4

The module will consider the utopian element inherent in consumption as a leisure activity and also examine the argument that consumption is a form of political resistance, especially when it contributes to the forging of identities. Running alongside this will be a debate about the ethics of consumption, about globalisation and how transnational consumer groups attempt to challenge global capitalism, especially in the new era of virtual consumption. LO1,LO2,LO4

Working with archives – both official and unofficial – will form a key part of the learning experience.  Students will be encouraged to keep a variety of different types of records on their study trips; to record their own habits of consumption; and to use a range of archival sources for their essay on contemporary shopping. LO3

Balance of independent study and scheduled teaching activity

Students will normally have a weekly lecture, followed by a seminar, where they will be expected to participate and engage in discussion of a text or texts that will have been provided on Weblearn in advance. They may also be asked to bring in objects, images or other media to act as examples, case studies etc.
Other sessions will be used to explore sites of consumption (usually, but not exclusively, in London) and students will be expected to develop a portfolio of photographs, sketches and other media as a record of these visits and which can be used for their assessments.
They will be expected to draw on primary sources for their essay and this could be in the form of questionnaires, interviews, archival work, all of which will involve negotiation and time management.

Scheduled teaching ensures that independent study is effective and addresses the learning outcomes and assessment tasks. Students are expected to, and have the opportunity to, continue with their studies outside of scheduled classes. There will be a range of learning strategies deployed and individual learning styles will be accommodated. The module’s learning outcomes, its contents and delivery, have been scrutinised and will be regularly reviewed to ensure an inclusive approach to pedagogic practice.

The module and course utilise the University’s blended learning platform to support and reinforce learning, to foster peer-to-peer communication and to facilitate tutorial support for students. Reflective learning is promoted through assessment items and interim formative feedback points that ask students to reflect on their progress, seek help where they identify the opportunity for improvement in learning strategies and outcomes, and make recommendations to themselves for future development. Throughout the module, students build a body of work, including reflections on progress and achievement.

The School’s programme of employability events and embedded work-related learning within the curriculum supports students’ personal development planning. Through these initiatives, students are increasingly able, as they progress from year to year, to understand the professional environment of their disciplines, the various opportunities available to them, and how to shape their learning according to their ambitions.

Learning outcomes

On completion of this module, students will be able to:

1. analyse, describe and evaluate contemporary consumption in respect of the creation or adoption of identities;
2. evaluate contemporary consumption in respect of its impact and specifically ethical implications;
3. draw on a range of primary resources (such as interviews, questionnaires, online surveys, photographic materials, archival sources of various kinds) in their seminar discussions and assessments;
4. question their decisions as consumers, drawing on a wide variety of theoretical texts, personal observation and group activities.

Assessment strategy

The module has two essays, weighted at 50% each. The first will be a 2000-word essay which will draw on primary sources as well as theoretical materials, to discuss a London department store or shopping mall. The second essay, also 2000 words in length, will provide a critical discussion of the ethics of consumption.


Clark, H. and D. Brody (2009) Design Studies: A Reader Oxford: Berg (especially section six ‘Design and Global Issues’)
Clarke, D.B. et al (2003) The Consumption Reader London: Routledge
Jeremiah, D.  (2000) Architecture, Design and the Family in Britain, 1900-70 Manchester: MUP
Lee, M.J.  (ed) (1999)  The Consumer Society Reader Oxford: Blackwell
Lees-Maffei, G. andHouze, R. (eds) (2010) The Design History Reader Oxford: Berg
Marx, K. ‘Commodities: Use-Value and Exchange-Value’, extract from Capital, Vol. One (1865-6), in David McLellan (ed) (1977) Karl Marx: Selected Writings, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Marx, K. ‘The Fetishism of the Commodity and its Secret’, in Martyn J. Lee (ed) (2000) The Consumer Society Reader, London: Routledge.
Paterson, M. (2006) Consumption and Everyday Life London: Routledge
Sassatelli, R. (2007) Consumer Culture London: Sage
Satterthwaite, A. (2001) Going Shopping London: Yale University Press
Scanlon, J. (ed.) (2000) The Gender and Consumer Culture Reader, New York: New York University Press
Turow, J. and McAllister, M.P. (2009) The Advertising and Consumer Culture Reader London: Routledge
Woodward, I. (2007) Understanding Material Culture London: Sage