urban consumer culture a
over the past decade, urban residents have experienced a consumer revolution at multiple levels. in terms of material standard of living, sustained economic growth has dramatically increased spending on discretionary consumer purchases and urbanites have enthusiastically consumed globally branded foodstuffs, pop-music videos and fashion. at the same time, however, income distribution has become increasingly unequal. some scholars therefore emphasize the negative exclusionary and exploitative parameters of the new consumer culture seeing nothing more than a ruse of capitalism or marker of all that is negative about post-socialist city life. building on nearly a decade of fieldwork in shanghai, this article disputes such a linear interpretation of subordination and exclusion in favour of a more polyvalent and stratified reading that emphasizes individual narratives unfolding against memories of an impoverished personal past, and a consumer culture that simultaneously incorporates contradictory experiences of emancipation and disempowerment.
a i thank the council on east asian studies of yale university for research grants in support of fieldwork in 1997, 2002 and 2004, and colleagues at the shanghai academy of social sciences for repeatedly extending themselves personally on my behalf.