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Wed 12 April
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Thu 13 April
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Fri 14 April
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Sat 15 April
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Wednesday 12 April 2023 11.00 - 13.00
S-2 MAT10 Consumer Preferences and Practices
SEB salen (Z)
Network: Material and Consumer Culture Chair: Jon Stobart
Organizers: - Discussants: -
Marcus Falk : Consumption Patterns in the Rural Early Modern Household, Southern Sweden 1670-1860
This paper is a study of living standards and material culture of early modern rural households in southern Sweden between ca. 1670 and 1860, building on a new dataset of circa 600 rural probate inventories from each of the periods ca. 1670-1720, 1780-85, and 1860-65, to a total of ca. ... (Show more)
This paper is a study of living standards and material culture of early modern rural households in southern Sweden between ca. 1670 and 1860, building on a new dataset of circa 600 rural probate inventories from each of the periods ca. 1670-1720, 1780-85, and 1860-65, to a total of ca. 1800 inventories, drawn from a wide area of various economic and geographical character. Most previous studies of Swedish probate records have been mainly focused to post-1750 period urban households; with this newly gathered dataset dating back to the late 17th century we can identify changes in the patterns of material living standard and consumption brought forth by the “agrarian revolution” and population growth period in Sweden after 1750 before industrialization took off in the 1870s.
The “industrious revolution” theory (de Vries, 2008), with its focus on the correlation between the introduction of new consumption trends in the early modern period and the concurrent increases in labour productivity, driven by increasing demand for new consumption goods, has since its publication been influential for our understanding of pre-industrial economic development. It has however been criticized, especially in its application on the more peripheral economic regions, such as Scandinavia, where research on early modern wages and consumption prices suggest a decline in the material welfare of early modern working households as an increasingly larger share of income would have been necessary to uphold consumption (Gary, 2018) – clashing with the idea presented by the “Industrious revolution” theory that increased labour productivity was driven by increased consumption of luxury and comfort goods. The high level of detail in Swedish probate records allows us to analyse not only the material culture of the household, e.g. what types of objects and consumption goods they owned, but also the correlation between consumption and productive capacity, as well as between different types of consumption.
In this paper, we aim to measure the consumption of the new forms of comfort goods central to the changing trends in the “industrious revolution” theory – which includes colonial goods such as tea and coffee, specialized tables such as tea- and gaming-tables, cushioned chairs, porcelain and glass, as well as clocks and paintings – in relation to other more traditional forms of consumption, e.g. value items such as silver and pewter. By further comparing this relation to household productive capacity – measured as a combination of level of pluriactivity and share of household wealth dedicated to income generating capital, – their socio-economic status – owner occupiers, tenant farmers, crofters, labourers, soldiers, - as well as position on the household life cycle, geographical circumstances, and credit capacity, a more detailed and nuanced conclusion of the correlation between household production and consumption strategies, regional economic development, and new consumption trends can be drawn. This has not only implications for our understanding of the mechanisms of the industrious revolution within the European periphery, but for our understanding of Early modern living standards and the household economy more broadly. (Show less)

Matleena Frisk : Before Green Thinking: Shortening Lifespan and Disposability of Products in Finland from the Second World War to the 1970s
This presentation focuses on how and why products’ shorter lifespan became desirable in the shift from scarcity to affluence. Consumers must accept lower quality and learn to throw things away to find disposable and short lifespan products practical. Theoretically, I draw from social practice theory, that addresses practices as a ... (Show more)
This presentation focuses on how and why products’ shorter lifespan became desirable in the shift from scarcity to affluence. Consumers must accept lower quality and learn to throw things away to find disposable and short lifespan products practical. Theoretically, I draw from social practice theory, that addresses practices as a combination of cultural meanings and norms, material and technological aspects and users’ competences. To study how everyday life changed when these products were adopted into use, I utilize a variety of sources: industry archives, statistics, advertising, and magazine articles on the products and their use. Usage and cultural meanings transformed materially relatively similar items into different products: paper tablecloths turned from war-time low-quality substitutes into carefree disposables by the 1970s. Prior to the breakthrough of environmental thinking in public debate, consumption was criticized mainly as waste of resources, materialism, and rejection of the simpler lifestyles of the past. In the 1960s’ women’s magazine Anna, fabric table napkins or serviettes were portrayed as a sign of unnecessary attachment to material things, while disposable cups and plates, together with habits such as drinking straight from the bottle or choosing modern, non-decorative furniture, communicated the desired informal, relaxed atmosphere. In this cultural context, accepting the short lifespan and disposing could be seen as signs of a dynamic and forward-looking attitude. New products intertwined into everyday practices. (Show less)

Dziugas Misevicius : On the Taste and Smell of Obshchepit in Vilnius during the Soviet Era
The connections with the Western World keeping the culture of Lithuania alive were terminated with the Iron Curtain separating Europe during the time of the second Soviet occupation. Strict full-scale food technology and recipe standards were introduced to the public catering sector during the Soviet times, thus destroying the freedom ... (Show more)
The connections with the Western World keeping the culture of Lithuania alive were terminated with the Iron Curtain separating Europe during the time of the second Soviet occupation. Strict full-scale food technology and recipe standards were introduced to the public catering sector during the Soviet times, thus destroying the freedom of culinary art and its improvising possibilities as natural phenomenon inherent to cooking. The more socialism “matured”, the worse the situation of the gastronomy sector was: as food stores lacked the most basic of products, the kitchens of private homes soon took on the spirit and style of obshchepit (Russian word for public catering (???????)). It took more than four decades for the Soviet regimen to instill a warped culinary aesthetics in the majority of Lithuanian minds. Even nowadays, the food service style of the Soviet times seems to break through in the acquired and now “own” tastes and eating habits, choice of food products and dishes, their garnish and service. Such a phenomenon is understandable as the usual and the same food products that the people have had since their childhood, the smell and taste of the dishes prepared out of these products seemed to accompany people throughout the majority of their lives.

The goal of this paper is to review the Soviet public catering sector based on the current historiography, Soviet archival documents and publications and memories of witnesses who lived in the Soviet period. The paper will briefly touch upon the roots and structure of food service sector, the legal mechanism of taste control, the typical dishes of those times, their preparation and service culture and the sanitary conditions, in other words, its “taste and smell”. (Show less)

Sarah-Maria Schober : Celebrating Transcience. Early Modern Materialities of the Ephemeral
Judging by the origins of the word “consumption” from Latin “consumere” goods that are consumed are not only transformed but utterly destroyed and extinguished during the process. This observation stands in contrast with the – primarily premodern – focus of consumption studies on durable goods used by the historical consumers ... (Show more)
Judging by the origins of the word “consumption” from Latin “consumere” goods that are consumed are not only transformed but utterly destroyed and extinguished during the process. This observation stands in contrast with the – primarily premodern – focus of consumption studies on durable goods used by the historical consumers as stores of value. Between 1500 and 1800 the usage of perishables was however widespread. While in many cases non-durability was indeed a problem – of how to conserve goods like the highly sought-after codfish for example before a long ship journey – in others ephemerality actually was at the centre of a material’s desirability.
Tulips, fireworks, or ice sculptures, for example, were meant to perish and were celebrated for the short moments of their occurrence or bloom. With the intensive use of evaporating values, the elite could emphasise their status and the fact that they could afford to let value decompose itself. This is reminiscent of the Veblen-effect, according to which in certain cases more expensive goods are more in demand than cheaper ones. The reason for the supposed paradoxes is the same: status gain through "conspicuous consumption".
Perhaps the most emblematic example for the early modern crave for ephemerality were perfumes. Odours possess a very specific temporality: Evaporating quickly they count as transient, but they are also proof of the distiller’s skills to prolongate nature’s ephemerality by an act of cultural human appropriation – using at the same time also for this purpose natural materials like musk or civet to fixate the smells. I thus argue in this contribution that perfumes like other non-durables owed their intense early modern economic success (1) to their ephemeral temporality and (2) to its fascinating interplay with human intervention.
One of the reasons why the appeal of the ephemeral has not received as much attention to date as it deserves is, of course, the extension of ephemerality into the archives. Non-durables are simply not there anymore. In the case of perfumes, however, a rich material documentation of the carriers of smells exists. Pomanders, furs, praying beads, gloves, ointment boxes etc. – consumer objects all in themselves – framed perfumes and could add to them visual or tactile supplementary and more lasting meanings. As such they were also used as spaces to negotiate the ephemeral, its values and connotations – especially with regard to the question of how ephemerality and durability were connected to acts of human intervention as well as to the interaction with and envisioning of nature. (Show less)

Ilja Van Damme, Lith Lefranc : Gender, Class, Age and Consumption. Shoplifting and Criminal Detection Bias during the Development of a New Retail Culture in Antwerp, c. 1870-c. 1940
Historical debates about shoplifting are a persistent trope in literature on European fin-de-sicèle consumer cultures. Especially the notion of ‘kleptomania’ has elicited considerable debate among historians. Being in itself a nineteenth-century medical concept and ‘invention’, the kleptomania diagnosis is now increasingly seen as a reaction to these same, rapidly changing ... (Show more)
Historical debates about shoplifting are a persistent trope in literature on European fin-de-sicèle consumer cultures. Especially the notion of ‘kleptomania’ has elicited considerable debate among historians. Being in itself a nineteenth-century medical concept and ‘invention’, the kleptomania diagnosis is now increasingly seen as a reaction to these same, rapidly changing retail landscapes around 1900, and the expected effects e.g. department stores and persuasive advertising campaigns were believed to have had on the supposedly fragile constitution of bourgeois women. While research on the discursive aspects of ‘moral panic’ surrounding the notion of female shoplifting dominates much of the older literature, the practice of shoplifting itself still warrants further empirical testing and scrutiny. This is where our paper would like to make the difference, questioning for modernizing Antwerp (Belgium) between c.1870-c.1940 if the detection of shoplifting was in itself biased by notions of class, gender and age-specific profiling. Adopting an innovative data-driven methodology on the basis of newly digitized Antwerp police reports, we question the likelihood of women being detected for shoplifting. Did women effectively figure more prominently in numbers of shoplifting, and what were the demographic and class-based characteristics of these women (their age and profession)? Can we hypothesize on the missing numbers of male shoplifters, remaining undetected due to the prevailing biased construction of the kleptomania neurosis, which informed both the actions of retail store managers and patrolling police agents? Finally, what do our historical research results tell us about the practice of and reasons for shoplifting itself, and the way it was changing through time in response to a modernizing retail landscape in Antwerp? (Show less)



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