Conspicuous leisure

Last updated
Idleness, by John William Godward, c. 1900 Godward Idleness 1900.jpg
Idleness , by John William Godward, c. 1900

Conspicuous leisure is a concept introduced by the American economist and sociologist Thorstein Veblen, in The Theory of the Leisure Class (1899). Conspicuous or visible leisure is engaged in for the sake of displaying and attaining social status. [1]

The concept comprises those forms of leisure that seem to be fully motivated by social factors, such as taking long vacations to exotic places and bringing souvenirs back. [1] Conspicuous leisure is observed in all societies where stratification exists. Conspicuous leisure contributes to the glorification of non-productivity, thus validating the behavior of the most powerful classes and leading the lower classes to admire rather than revile the leisure class. This aids the leisure class in retaining their status and material position. Veblen's more well-known concept of "conspicuous consumption" is employed when non-productivity can be more effectively demonstrated through lavish spending. [2]

Veblen argued that conspicuous leisure had deep historical roots reaching back into prehistory, and that it "evolved" into different forms as time passed. One example he gave was how, during the Middle Ages, the nobility was exempted from manual labor, which was reserved for serfs. [3] Like owning land, abstaining from labor is a typical display of wealth and one that becomes more problematic as society develops into an industrial one. [4] With the emergence of individual ownership, the leisure class completely stops contributing to the wellbeing of their community. They no longer perform honor-positions, thus totally negating their usefulness to the society. And as society moves away from hunting and agriculture, and towards industrialization, the leisure class can no longer simply take resources from others. This is where Veblen offers us an image of the decaying Lord or Lady who has lost his or her fortune but is unable to engage in labor in order to live. [5] These wealthy elite see labor as menial and vulgar, yet once they can no longer live their worthy life of leisure they suffer from an inability to preserve themselves.

Veblen defines leisure as the non-productive consumption of time. The wealthy consume time unproductively due to a disgust of menial labor but also as evidence of their pecuniary ability to live idle lives. But there are moments when even the noble is not viewed publicly and then he must give a satisfactory account of his use of time. [6] [7] Often his account will manifest through the appearance of servants or some sort of craftsmen. A material proof of leisure is another way that the noble demonstrates his wealth even when he is out of the public's eye. Objects or trophies or knowledge that has no real-world application are all examples of the things that the wealthy use to demonstrate their wealth and their leisure. Also, wearing high fashion garments is an example of display of consumption. [8] Displaying rules of etiquette and breeding, and formal and ceremonial observances are other demonstrations of unproductive (and therefore leisurely) uses of time. [9]

It is also not enough for the leisure class to live a life of idleness; their servants must also engage in the performance of leisure despite their position as hired help. They are given uniforms, spacious quarters and other material items that signal the wealth of their employer: the more lavish the servants' dress and quarters, the more money the master has to spend freely. This is an example of "conspicuous consumption", a form of conspicuous leisure. [9] House servants give the illusion of "pecuniary decency" to the household, despite the physical discomfort that the leisure class feels at the sight of servants, who produce labor.

See also

Related Research Articles

Thorstein Veblen American academic

Thorstein Bunde Veblen was an American economist and sociologist who, during his lifetime, emerged as a well-known critic of capitalism.

Consumerism Socio-economic order that encourages the purchase of goods/services in ever-greater amounts

Consumerism is a social and economic order that encourages the acquisition of goods and services in ever-increasing amounts. With the industrial revolution, but particularly in the 20th century, mass production led to overproduction—the supply of goods would grow beyond consumer demand, and so manufacturers turned to planned obsolescence and advertising to manipulate consumer spending. In 1899, a book on consumerism published by Thorstein Veblen, called The Theory of the Leisure Class, examined the widespread values and economic institutions emerging along with the widespread "leisure time" in the beginning of the 20th century. In it, Veblen "views the activities and spending habits of this leisure class in terms of conspicuous and vicarious consumption and waste. Both are related to the display of status and not to functionality or usefulness."

Conspicuous consumption Concept in sociology and economy

Conspicuous consumption is a term used to describe and explain the consumer practice of purchasing or using goods of a higher quality or in greater quantity than might be considered necessary in practical terms. More specifically, it refers to the spending of money on or the acquiring of luxury goods and services in order to publicly display the economic power of one's income or accumulated wealth. To the conspicuous consumer, such a public display of discretionary economic power is a means of either attaining or maintaining a given social status.

Veblen good Luxury good for which the demand increases as the price increases

A Veblen good is a type of luxury good for which the demand for a good increases as the price increases, in apparent contradiction of the law of demand, resulting in an upward-sloping demand curve. The higher prices of Veblen goods may make them desirable as a status symbol in the practices of conspicuous consumption and conspicuous leisure. A product may be a Veblen good because it is a positional good, something few others can own.

<i>The Theory of the Leisure Class</i> book by Thorstein Veblen

The Theory of the Leisure Class: An Economic Study of Institutions (1899) is a book by Thorstein Veblen about how the possession or pursuit of wealth affects human behavior. More specifically, it is a treatise on economics as well as a detailed, social critique of 'conspicuous consumption' as a function of social class and of consumerism, derived from the social stratification of people and the division of labor, which are social institutions of the feudal period that have continued to the modern era.

Symbolic capital Symbol and its capital

In sociology and anthropology, symbolic capital can be referred to as the resources available to an individual on the basis of honor, prestige or recognition, and serves as value that one holds within a culture. A war hero, for example, may have symbolic capital in the context of running for political office.

The trickle-down effect is a model of product adoption in marketing that affects many consumer goods and services.

Institutional economics focuses on understanding the role of the evolutionary process and the role of institutions in shaping economic behavior. Its original focus lay in Thorstein Veblen's instinct-oriented dichotomy between technology on the one side and the "ceremonial" sphere of society on the other. Its name and core elements trace back to a 1919 American Economic Review article by Walton H. Hamilton. Institutional economics emphasizes a broader study of institutions and views markets as a result of the complex interaction of these various institutions. The earlier tradition continues today as a leading heterodox approach to economics.

In sociology, taste or palate is an individual or a demographic group's subjective preferences of dietary, design, cultural and/or aesthetic patterns. Taste manifests socially via distinctions in consumer choices such as delicacies/beverages, fashions, music, etiquettes, goods, styles of artwork, and other related cultural activities. The social inquiry of taste is about the arbitrary human ability to judge what is considered beautiful, good, proper and valuable.

Positional goods are goods valued only by how they are distributed among the population, not by how many of them there are available in total. The source of greater worth of positional goods is their desirability as a status symbol, which usually results in them greatly exceeding the value of comparable goods.

Productive and unproductive labour are concepts that were used in classical political economy mainly in the 18th and 19th centuries, which survive today to some extent in modern management discussions, economic sociology and Marxist or Marxian economic analysis. The concepts strongly influenced the construction of national accounts in the Soviet Union and other Soviet-type societies.

Anti-consumerism is a sociopolitical ideology that is opposed to consumerism, the continual buying and consuming of material possessions. Anti-consumerism is concerned with the private actions of business corporations in pursuit of financial and economic goals at the expense of the public welfare, especially in matters of environmental protection, social stratification, and ethics in the governing of a society. In politics, anti-consumerism overlaps with environmental activism, anti-globalization, and animal-rights activism; moreover, a conceptual variation of anti-consumerism is post-consumerism, living in a material way that transcends consumerism.

The Theory of Business Enterprise is an economics book by Thorstein Veblen, published in 1904, that looks at the growing corporate domination of culture and the economy.

Thorstein Veblen Farmstead United States historic place

The Thorstein Veblen Farmstead is a National Historic Landmark near Nerstrand in rural Rice County, Minnesota, United States. The property is nationally significant as the childhood home of Thorstein B. Veblen (1857-1929), an economist, social scientist, and critic of American culture probably best known for The Theory of the Leisure Class, published in 1899.

High society (social class) People with the highest levels of wealth and social status

High society, also called in some contexts simply "society", is the behavior and lifestyle of people with the highest levels of wealth and social status. It includes their related affiliations, social events and practices. Upscale social clubs were open to men based on assessments of their ranking and role within high society. In American high society, the Social Register was traditionally a key resource for identifying qualified members. From a global perspective, see upper class. The quality of housing, clothing, servants and dining were visible marks of membership.

Workmanship is a human attribute relating to knowledge and skill at performing a task. Workmanship is also a quality imparted to a product. The type of work may include the creation of handcrafts, art, writing, machinery and other products.

Conspicuous conservation is a term which describes consumer behavior, in which consumers purchase environmentally friendly products in order to signal a higher social status.

Paradox of Prosperity is a term used widely in many instances in economics, social theory and general commentary. In inter-generational analysis, Professor Gilbert N. M. O. Morris defines the term through an analysis of the familial dynamics and social proclivities of what Tom Brokaw has called the "Greatest Generation". Morris argues that:

"A paradox of prosperity is revealed and shown to be stable in the cycles of economic advancement between generations. I would put the matter this way: If one accepts, for example, that Mr. Brokaw's 'Greatest Generation' were characterised by prudence, diligence, and patriotism in deed rather than word, that very generation produced its opposite in the generation that followed it. That is to say, I have found it repeated across the ages and across cultures, that the more diligent a previous generation, as a natural propensity, the more licentious the generation that follows. Invariably therefore, the generation that exhibits the more cogent properties of character for the best sort of citizenship fails to produce a generation of the same or similar characteristics."

Guilt-free consumption (GFC) is a pattern of consumption based on the minimization of the sense of guilt which consumers incur when purchasing products or commercial services.

Hype culture

The term hype culture refers to a cultural trend within contemporary consumer culture, that corresponds to the constant search of the last "big thing". This phenomenon circulates around the concept of expectation, more precisely it is characterized by an attitude of excessive and positive expectations that consumers attach to products, services or technological advancements which have yet to be released.


  1. 1 2 Scott, David (2016), "Conspicuous Leisure", The Blackwell Encyclopedia of Sociology, American Cancer Society, pp. 1–2, doi:10.1002/9781405165518.wbeos0704, ISBN   978-1-4051-6551-8
  2. "What does conspicuous leisure look like nowadays? | The Artifice" . Retrieved 2020-04-20.
  3. "Thorsten Veblen: The Theory of the Leisure Class: Chapter 3: Conspicuous Leisure". Retrieved 2020-04-20.
  4. Gross, Daniel (2009-07-01). "No Rest for the Wealthy". The New York Times. ISSN   0362-4331 . Retrieved 2020-04-20.
  5. "Leona Toker - Conspicuous Leisure and Invidious Sexuality in Jane Austen's Mansfield Park". Connotations. Retrieved 2020-04-20.
  6. "The Heavens: a photographic exploration of tax havens" . Retrieved 2020-04-20.
  7. Bronner, Fred; de Hoog, Robert (2019-11-13). "Conspicuous leisure: The social visibility of cultural experiences". International Journal of Market Research: 1470785319880715. doi: 10.1177/1470785319880715 . ISSN   1470-7853.
  8. Carter, Michael. "Thorstein Veblen". LoveToKnow. Retrieved 2020-04-20.
  9. 1 2 "The Hipster Labor of Conspicuous Leisure". Retrieved 2020-04-20.