The French social space of material consumption between 1985 and 2017
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The more it changes the more it stays the same: The French social space of material consumption between 1985 and 2017
The British Journal of Sociology, First published: 19 July 2022 - Open Access paper
The alleged homogenization of material consumption patterns in Western societies in the end of the twentieth century has been a central argument of scholars who predicted a general flattening of class inequalities. However, divisions in material consumption practices and their evolution have largely been neglected in studies of the social stratification of lifestyles.
Drawing on six waves of the French Households Budget Surveys (INSEE) from 1985 to 2017 and Geometric Data Analysis, this article shows that the two main structuring oppositions in the French space of material consumption remained unchanged over 32 years.
A total of 28 categorical variables were computed, referring to consumption practices, habits and material possessions in five different areas: food consumption and supply; electric and electronic devices; home energy consumption; clothing; and transportation.
Two divides are strongly but not exclusively associated with social class.
- The first persistently opposes integration with and exclusion from mass consumption.
- The second opposes connected and autonomous consumption styles.
However, between 1989 and 2011, the practices associated with these divides have changed and households have experienced a major shift in their position toward the most integrated and connected poles.
The divide between connected and autonomous consumption styles reflects a strong opposition in terms of professions (between managers and farmers/industrial workers), but also in terms of cultural capital.
This study paves the way for comparisons to assess the permanence of those two polarities in material consumption—not only across periods, but also in different countries.