According to Oxford English Dictionary (hereafter OED), the word “consumer” first appeared in English as a noun from 15th century. It derived from the verb consume, classical Latinconsūmere to destroy, wear away, to kill, (in legal use) to annul, extinguish (a right, agreement, etc.), to wear down, exhaust, to eat, devour, to take (a medicine), to use up, expend, to swallow up, merge, to spend (money or resources), to spend (time), to waste. It also shares semantic overlaps with French consumer which derived from Anglo-Norman and Middle French.

The original sense of consumer was to indicate a person who or thing which devours, wastes, or destroys; a person who or thing which consumes food or drink (OED). While the early uses of the word relate to destruction or waste, it became more neutralized from 18th century as a person who uses up a commodity or a purchaser of goods or services as opposed to a producer (Williams, 1985).

Historical Background of Consumer and Consumption

McCracken (1988), one of the first scholars offering an overview of the history of consumption, suggested three major historical moments in the development of consumer society. The first stage appeared in the 16th and 17th century Elizabethan England in which Elizabeth I started to employ the symbolic meaning of goods to demonstrate her strength and legitimacy. She demanded noblemen to attend a highly ceremonial court and as a result there was increasing need for them to spend competitively to win her favor. This change in consumption patterns was accompanied by a shift in the symbolic properties of consumer goods which becomes a primer for the consumer movement that would come a century later. The second moment falls within the 18th century characterized by a heightened propensity to spend and new ideas about consumer goods (e.g., styles over utility and aesthetics over function). The third moment describes the introduction of the department store in the 19th century where the purpose of shopping changed from necessity to entertainment due to the expressive powers of goods. Later, the fourth moment was added, the 20th century in the United States where the transition towards mass production and mass consumption rigorously occurred (Bocock, 1993; Gabriel & Lang, 1995; Friese, 2000). This modern sense of consumer mainly relates to the planning and control of industrial markets where the production side of the economy engages in the creation of needs and wants of consumers through advertising (Williams, 1985).

Scholarly Discussion of Consumer and Consumption

Bourdieu (1984) argued that capital provides the foundation of social life in which individuals’ positions are dictated. He introduced the concept of “cultural capital” as a collection of symbols (i.e., skills, tastes, posture, clothing, mannerisms, material belongings, credentials, etc.) that the more capital one has the more powerful position one can occupy in social life (p. 82). Baudrillard (1998) also viewed consumption in the context of social relations. He introduced the notion of “sign-value” which is the mark of style, prestige, luxury, and power (p. 89). It is about a differential system of prestige and status where sign-value becomes more important in interpreting the meaning of commodities. Likewise, the more prestigious one’s commodities, the higher one’s standing in social life. Campbell (1994), on the other hand, asserted that the ultimate goal of consumption is to pursue pleasure for its own sake. He stated that “the contemporary hedonist is a dream artist” that consumer goods promote imaginative experiences like daydreaming or fantasizing which results in hedonic gratification in emotions (p. 78). While Campbell (1994) viewed the underlying motivation for consumption as the pleasure seeking, McCracken (1988) attributes it to an urge for ideals (Friese, 2000). To him, consumers employ the meaning of goods to achieve social and cultural ends in which commodities function as “a bridge to ideals and hopes (p. 198; Mayer 1989).”

Consumer and…

The word customer implies some degree of regular relationship to a supplier whereas consumer relates to a more abstract term in an organized market (Williams, 1985).

Consumerism, the contemporary consumer movement launched in the mid 1960s, encompasses organizational activities of government, business, and concern consumers to protect the rights of consumers: the right to safety, to be informed, to choose, and to be heard (Day, 1982).

Consumer Society
Consumer society is a society organized around consumption where individuals seek for identity and social standing through commodities (Rassuli & Hollander, 1986). In order to be considered as consumer society, there are four conditions as follows:
1) People consume at a level substantially above that of survival-level
2) People obtain goods for consumption through exchange rather than self-production
3) Consumption as an acceptable and appropriate activity
4) People tend to judge others and themselves in terms of their consuming lifestyles

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