module specification

CP5020 - Cultures of Consumption (2019/20)

Module specification Module approved to run in 2019/20
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
210 hours Guided independent study
90 hours Scheduled learning & teaching activities
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 2019/20 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 you to consider your 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’.

You 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 you will be asked to reflect on your own practices as a consumer, with special emphasis on the ethics of consumption.

There will be a number of study trips to allow you 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.

Prior learning requirements

Pass and Completion of Prior Level

Module aims

This module will enable you 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
  • apply a critical awareness of your own role as a consumer within a wider cultural context


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.

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. 

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.

Learning and teaching

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.

Learning outcomes

On completion of this module, you 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 your seminar discussions and assessments
  4. question your decisions as a consumer, 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.


Belk, R.W. and Lamas, R. (eds) (2012) The Routledge Companion to Digital Consumption, London: Routledge (especially the chapter ‘The post-human Consumer’)
Clark, H. & Brody, D. (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
Cova, B. et al (eds) (2011) Consumer Tribes, London: Routledge (especially the chapters ‘The War of the eTribes: online Conflicts and Communal Consumption’ and ‘New Consumption Communities and the re-enabling of 21st century Consumers’)
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. &Houze, 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