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Consumption fantasies in Modern Literature 1820-1860. The making of the modern consumer

Paper i proceeding
Författare Christer Ahlberger
Pia Lundqvist
Publicerad i ESSHC 2010 – Material and Consumer Culture /MAT03: Homemaking, Cherishing and the Senses
Sidor 7
Publiceringsår 2010
Publicerad vid Institutionen för historiska studier
Sidor 7
Språk en
Ämneskategorier Historia


During the first half of the 19th century Sweden was undergoing a rapid integration with the capitalistic world economy. A fundamental part if this process was a profound change of consumption patterns among ordinary people. This change is the focus of our research project. Earlier research has focused on describing and explaining the concrete changes in consumption during this period. Today we have a reasonably good knowledge of the use of new commodities like colonial goods and textiles among different social groups and the sexes. On the other hand we still have little understanding of the context of the consumption. The methods and sources hitherto used in historical studies of emerging and changing consumption patterns simply do not allow us to fully analyse and interpret the attitudes and circumstances of the use of specific consumer items. Our research project takes as its point of departure a notion first conceived by the sociologist Werner Sombart and later developed by the historian Collin Campbell. Campbell claims in The romantic ethic and the Spirit of Modern Consumerism that the origins of the consumer society should be sought in the dreams for new commodities and the desire of satisfaction by the use of new commodities. The purchase creates however disappointment and frustration, since reality does not correspond to the hopes pinned in advance. From this frustration new needs and consumption fantasies are born. The aim of this project is to investigate how these consumption fantasies were created and what they consisted of. The British historian Maxine Berg stresses in Luxury and pleasure in eighteenth-century Britain the connection between our senses and modern consumption. She says that the ”representations of fashion are typically sexualized”. She quotes Sombart who claims that “sensuous pleasure and erotic pleasure are essentially the same”. When capitalism and industrialization extended the opportunities for consumption to the lower classes, this resulted in an obsession for fashion and luxury, a “sensual arousal”. Therefore you can say, that in the first half of the nineteenth century, along with the agrarian, the demographic and the industrial revolutions, Sweden experienced – along with other western countries – a sensual revolution. There is an extremely rich and currently underutilized source for understanding and analyzing the modern consumption society in contemporary literature. Nancy Armstrong, professor in literature, has shown in her study Desire and domestic fiction: a political history of the novel the great impact of the modern novel in 19th century England. Studies of Swedish contemporary literature, has convinced us that it can be used as a historical source. Hence our project has two specific goals: Firstly to deepen the understanding of the creation of the consumer society, and secondly to develop new methods using literature as a historical source: On the one hand, the Swedish fiction emerging during this time and pious literature, on the other.

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