COOL CLASSES: “Reproducing Difference: The Sociology of Taste, Consumption, and Lifestyle”

This sociology course examines how consumption, lifestyle and taste come together to operate as a site of class difference and social reproduction.

Class name: Reproducing Difference: The Sociology of Taste, Consumption, and Lifestyle

Taught by: Visiting Assistant Professor of Sociology Elise Herrala


Here’s what Herrala had to say about her class:

This course examines how and in what ways consumption has come to occupy a central—and often unquestioned—place in our everyday lives. As economists argue, consumer behavior is supposedly based on the agentic actor, free in both will and economic spirit. For the consumers of a democratic capitalist state, however, the power bestowed upon a “sovereign consumer” is inflated, obscuring the level of social control, creating an illusion of consumer choice as democracy. So why do we buy what we do? And what do our purchases say about us? In this course, we look at consumption beyond the practical acquisition of goods and services and uncover how it can serve as a marker for one’s social standing and, likewise, how social position can dictate consumption habits. And together, consumption and social position shape what we call “lifestyle.”

My goal for this class is that students will learn to examine consumption critically to see the ways in which it shapes and organizes society. We begin the class by situating the rise of consumer culture historically, examining how attitudes to consumption shifted with changes in production and how “needs” have been socially and culturally constructed. Using both classical and contemporary social theory (from Marx to Bourdieu to Baudrillard) throughout the semester, we uncover the varied and diffuse ways consumption and commodities influence identity, social status, and social relations. Ultimately, I hope the students will see how consumption, lifestyle, and taste come together to operate as a site of class difference and social reproduction.


See what other courses the Sociology Department is offering this semester.

Photo: (cc) Diariocritico de Venezuela

Cool Classes is a series that highlights interesting, unusual, and unique courses that enrich the Haverford experience.