Emulative Consumption

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Conspicuous consumption is the notion that the key motivation behind consumer consumption behaviours is to signal wealth and status. It was initially proposed by Veblen in 1899. It theorises that consumers display their wealth and position in the social hierarchy publicly through lavish expenditure on consumption, leisure activities and services. Consumers distinguish themselves from those who are in lower social classes through conspicuous consumption. The theory was proposed to explain the evolution of a leisure class in the US. Veblen argued that as the working class started to generate wealth, members of the leisure class, who do not work but depend on income from the working class, signal their superior position in the social hierarchy through private property, extensive leisure activities and lavish consumption. The key to emphasising superiority is to waste more money than is necessary. Over time the focus on leisure activities reduced due to the evolution of effective communication networks within and between the classes and improved mobility. This meant that communities are more dispersed and not as close-knit as they used to be. Hence signals of wealth and position are displayed more effectively through lavish expenditure on consumption and services, not leisure activities (Trigg, 2001). Though conceptualised to explain the behaviour of the leisure class in response to the increasing wealth of the working class in the late 1800s in the US, it is also argued that conspicuous consumption behaviour can be observed across all social classes (Veblen, 1899) and it has an influence on sustainable development. Indeed, in recent decades policymakers have turned their attention towards promoting sustainable consumption. Sustainable consumption is defined as the consumption of goods and services that are produced in an economic manner using techniques and materials that do minimal damage to the environment, are socially equitable and meet the basic needs of all humans.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationEncyclopedia of Sustainable Management
EditorsS. Idowu, R. Schmidpeter, N. Capaldi, L. Zu, M. Del Baldo, R. Abreu
Place of PublicationSwitzerland
PublisherSpringer Nature
Number of pages5
ISBN (Electronic)978-3-030-02006-4
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 5 Apr 2020


  • Consumerism
  • Emulative consumption
  • Invidious consumption
  • Sustainable consumption


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