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Welcome to the Cultures of Consumption research programme newsletters. Our newsletters provided updates on the latest research and activities in the programme.

Issue 6:
December 2006


Programme News


Research Focus








60s fashion'Sixties Fashion' currently on display at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London


Paper dresses, 1967 ©V&A Images/Victoria and Albert Museum, London



Sixties Fashion

A new exhibition and research on fashion in the Sixties challenges the familiar clichés of the ‘permissive society’, ‘Swinging London’, and bohemian creativity. In ‘Sixties Fashion’, now on display at the Victoria and Albert Museum, researchers reveal the influence of longer traditions of clothing production in the city, distinctive patterns of retailing and the pre-existence of particular markets and subcultures with specific tastes.

The exhibit offers new perspectives on London’s fashion landscape between 1955-1975 - emphasising its importance for the subsequent development of the capital as one of fashion’s ‘world cities’. ‘Sixties Fashion’ follows discreet fashion districts, where unique and overlapping versions of fashionable style were produced and consumed. The legacy of aristocratic styles produced for an elite market by couturiers in 1950s Mayfair had a demonstrable effect on the output of Mary Quant in ‘bohemian’ Chelsea. Quant’s subversive artistic approach was equally adaptable and left its mark on the buyers of large department stores and chains in Knightsbridge and Oxford Street. The explosion of tailoring talent around Piccadilly in the early 60s, similarly drew on the older traditions and production networks of Savile Row. It resulted in the parallel trends of a dandified Jermyn Street and the more popular Carnaby Street close by.

The exhibit offers a new way of connecting the hidden networks of clothing design, manufacture and supply with the visible routes of commodity culture in the shop and in the realm of representation. The exhibition will be on display until 25 February 2007.

For more information:
Christopher Breward
Victoria and Albert Museum
telephone 0207 942 2587
email fashion/1960s/sixtiesfashion/ 

Media Consumption and the Future of Public Connection

Fears about declining engagement in politics are widespread, yet media, especially digital media, offer audiences ever more ways of following public issues. How are the two processes related?

New research shows that most people in Britain continue to use media to connect with public life, but feel a gulf between their local actions and national politics. People’s long-term habits (say, watching a daily TV news bulletin) are crucial, but an earlier generation’s news-gathering habits are not yet being replaced by robust new habits in the digital media age. A less affluent minority (generally high media consumers) feel equally disengaged from politics and media.

Wider factors beyond media affect whether it makes sense to spend our time keeping up with the news. Some give other things priority (family, friends), or follow celebrity culture in a way that does not connect with public issues. A majority feel that ‘people like us’ have no say in what governments do; this poses a greater threat to habits of public connection than either apathy or lack of opportunities to talk about public issues (most had such opportunities and were not apathetic). Even the most civically minded may fail to see their local actions as part of the democratic process, because they sense their experience is not taken into account by governments. Research points to a worrying lack of opportunities for citizens to participate in either political or media processes.

For more information:
Nick Couldry
Goldsmiths, University of London
telephone 020 7919 7636


Research Focus

Multinational Retailers in the Asia Pacific is a research project led by Jos Gamble that explores the transfer of management practices and retail concepts by British and Japanese multinational retailers to their subsidiary stores in China. Overseas firms have rapidly expanded their presence in China since foreign participation in the retail sector was permitted in 1992. This comparative project which involves extensive research in several major Chinese cities as well as of firms' domestic operations in the UK and Japan, analyses the reception by and impact upon Chinese employees and customers of the transferred practices.

For more information:
Jos Gamble
Royal Holloway, University of London
telephone: 01784 414094

Modes of Consumption and Citizenship and the Welfare State in the UK is led by Martin Powell and Ian Greener. The project examines how public policies in health care, education and housing have utilised discourses based on citizenship, clientism and consumerism since 1945. Research utilises computer software ('T-lab') to present statistical characteristics of key theoretical texts on consumption in the welfare state and policy statements and other key welfare documents which will be supplemented by iterative close readings of the same documents. The two elements will be mapped onto one another, looking to see how theoretical debates on consumption and citizenship have affected policy in the areas examined.

For more information:
Martin Powell
University of Stirling
telephone 01786 467693

Liquid Politics charts the formation of the politically self-conscious water consumer in Britain in the modern period. In the nineteenth century, political debates over the rights and responsibilities of water consumers came to the fore at a time of changing modes of access to water, changing habits of water consumption and intermittent failures of supply. In 1880s and ’90s London, ‘the consumer’ was for the first time mobilised as a distinct group in battles between water users, ratepayers and water companies. The project looks at the history behind recent conflicts over drought and waste, and over water quality, pricing, and consumers’ rights and responsibilities.

For more information:
Frank Trentmann
Birkbeck College, University of London
telephone 020 7079 0601



Baby Boomers in Europe: Patterns of Consumption and Lifestyle from Three Countries was the focus of a seminar at the Royal Society on 10 March 2006. Experts from France, Finland, and the United Kingdom presented new research on baby boomers and the dilemmas they face in everyday life.

For further information:
Rebecca Leach
Keele University
telephone 01782 583 359

What Consumers Know: Lessons from New Research on Consumer Perceptions of Food, Motivation, and Ethics was the theme of a seminar jointly organised with the Food Standards Agency on 16 March 2006. The seminar challenged conventional assumptions about the supposed ignorance and motivations of consumers. Researchers presented new findings about how consumers and producers understand food chains, what makes people participate in ‘alternative’ and organic food networks, and about the limits of a consumer identity in ethical consumption.

Frank Trentmann
telephone 020 7079 0601

An international workshop Citizenship and Consumption: Agency, Norms, Mediations, and Spaces, was held at the University of Cambridge, 30 March – Saturday 1 April 2006. The two-day interdisciplinary workshop provided a timely forum for current thinking on consumption and citizenship. Experts looked at civil society and governance, media consumption and culture, welfare and public services, and ethics and environment. A collection of papers will appear as Citizenship and Consumption with Palgrave Macmillan in 2007.

For more information:
Frank Trentmann
telephone 020 7079 0601

Countering Consumerism: Religious and Secular Responses A three-day conference on ‘Countering Consumerism: Religious and Secular Responses’ was held in the Graduate Centre, London Metropolitan University, April 20-22nd 2006. Over a hundred participants from the United States and Europe came together to examine secular and religious critiques of ‘consumerist’ culture and the reasons – and rewards – for seeking alternatives to it. The programme, The Guardian article by Jackie Ashley and Kate Soper’s plenary address can be found at:

Two edited collections based on papers from the conference are in preparation. (Provisional titles: Shopping at the Shrine: Religion and Consumerism and Better than Shopping).

For further information:
Kate Soper
London Metropolitan University
telephone 0207 133 2761

Food and Globalization: Consumption, Markets and Politics in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries was the focus of an international workshop co-sponsored by the Volkswagen Foundation, at the University of Cambridge, 8-10 June 2006. Experts discussed regional and global networks of food, the influence of empires and international institutions, and the role of taste and identity. Food and Globalization: Consumption, Markets and Politics in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries will appear with Berg Publishers in 2007.

For more information:
Frank Trentmann
telephone 020 7079 0601

How financial services and housing wealth influence other dynamics of consumption will be the question addressed by two forthcoming events organised by the research project:

Banking on Housing; Spending the Home
On 7th February the project will launch its key findings. This will be followed by a Think Tank on 8-9th February 2007 at University College, Durham. This international meeting will bring together financial experts and academic researchers from Australasia, Europe and North America to discuss the management of house price appreciation (and price volatility), the use and misuse of housing wealth, and the emerging options for hedging housing risk.

For more information:
Prof. Susan Smith
University of Durham
telephone 0191 334 1946




book cover imageChristopher Breward and David Gilbert (eds),
Fashion's World Cities

Book cover image - Consuming Cultures, Global Perspectives: Historical Trajectories, Transnational Exchanges

John Brewer and Frank Trentmann (eds),
Consuming Cultures, Global Perspectives: Historical Trajectories, Transnational Exchanges £17.99
(Oxford and New York: Berg, 2006).

To order a copy of either book visit:

Jo Littler, Clive Barnett, Kate Soper, Consumers: Agents of Change? Soundings, 31,(2005), pp.147-160.

Janet Newman and Elizabeth Vidler, Discriminating Customers, Responsible Patients, Empowered Users: Consumerism and the Modernisation of Health Care Journal of Social Policy, 35(2)(2006), pp.193-209.

Elizabeth Shove and Mika Pantzar, Fossilisation, Ethnologia Europaea (Journal of European Ethnology), 356(1- 2)(2005), pp.59-63.

Axel Klein, Chewing it Over: The Legal Status of Khat, Drugs and alcohol today, 5(3),(2006).

Lewis Holloway, Rosie Cox, Laura Venn, Moya Kneafsey, Elizabeth Dowler andHelena Tuomainen, Managing Sustainable Farmed Landscape through ‘Alternative’ Food Networks: A Case Study from Italy, Geographical Journal, 172(3)(2006), pp.219-229.

Peter Jackson, Polly Russell and Neil Ward, Mobilising the ‘Commodity Chain’ Concept in the Politics of Food and Farming, Journal of Rural Studies 22,(2006), pp. 129-41.

Lesley Whitworth, Inscribing Design on the Nation: The Creators of the British Council of Industrial Design, Business and Economic History On-Line, 3 (2005)


Nick Couldry, Culture and Citizenship: the Missing Link?, European Journal of Cultural Studies, 9(3)(2006), pp.321-339.

Jane Whittle, Housewives and Servants in Rural England, 1440-1650: Evidence of Women’s Work from Probate Documents, Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, 15(1)(2005), pp.51-74.

Bronwen Morgan, Turning Off the Tap, Urban Water Service Delivery and the Social Construction of Global Administrative Law, European Journal of International Law, 17 (2006), pp.215-247.

David Gilbert (guest editor), Special Issue: Shopping Routes: Networks of Fashion Consumption in London’s West End, 1945-79, London Journal, 31(1)(2006).

New Working Papers:

Richard Simmons, Johnston Birchall and Alan Prout, Cultural Tensions in Public Service Delivery: Implications for Producer-Consumer Relationships [working paper no. 26, February 2006].

Simon Biggs, Chris Phillipson, Rebecca Leach and Annemarie Money, Baby Boomers and Adult Ageing in Public Policy: The Changing Relationship Between Production and Consumption [working paper no. 27, May 2006].

Paul Higgs, Martin Hyde, Chris Gilleard, Christina Victor, Dick Wiggins and Ian Jones, From Passive to Active Consumers? Trends in Ownership of Key Goods in Retired and Non-retired Households in the UK from 1968-2001 [working paper no. 28, June 2006].

Ian Greener, Martin Powell, Nick Mills and Shane Doheny, How Did Consumerism get into the NHS? An Empirical Examination of Choice and Responsiveness in NHS policy Documents [working paper no. 29, October 2006].

Matt Watson and Elizabeth Shove, Materialising Consumption: Products, Projects and the Dynamics of Practice [working paper no. 30, October 2006].

For a full list of working papers and programme publications see:



The Cultures of Consumption research programme seeks to facilitate dialogue between research in academic and public bodies. On this page we will provide you with updates and links to work done elsewhere.

1. I will if you will: towards sustainable consumption. This is the final report from the Sustainable Consumption Roundtable, jointly hosted by the National Consumer Council and Sustainable Development Commission which recommends radical action for government and business in order to help people tackle climate change and environmental problems.

2. The United Nations Environment Programme hosts a creative gallery on sustainability and sustainable consumption advertisements

3. Patient experience Which? is campaigning for patients’ care to be truly patient-centred. The first part of the campaign focuses on in-patient hospital care. To ensure they are campaigning on the issues consumers care most about, they are asking patients and their carers to tell them what really matters, and to share their experiences – good and bad – of healthcare services. Experience%20final-445-96212.pdf

4. RESOLVE is a new research group examining the links between lifestyles, values and the environment. Based at the University of Surrey and funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, RESOLVE’s aim is to provide robust, evidence-based advice to policymakers in the United Kingdom and elsewhere who are seeking to understand and to influence the behaviours and practices of ‘energy consumers’. Further details of the work programme, aims and objectives can be viewed by visiting the following link:





Issue 1
Sept 2003

Issue 2
April 2004

Issue 3
Dec 2004

Issue 4
June 2005

Issue 5
Feb 2006


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