Advertising and Consumer Culture: Postgraduate Symposium

University of York · 31 May 2013

Advertising and Consumer Culture
Third Annual Postgraduate Symposium
University of York
Centre for Modern Studies
Bowland Auditorium
Humanities Research Centre
Friday 31 May 2013

About the Symposium

Commercial speech – advertising – makes up most of what we share as a culture . . . As the language of commercialism has become louder, the language of high culture has become quieter.

– James B. Twitchell, Twenty Ads that Shook the World
Throughout the modern period, advertising and consumer culture have dominated everyday life; moreover, the trappings of commercialism permeate much of supposed ‘high culture’. Commodities clutter the pages of novels from Dickens and Zola to Bret Easton Ellis; works by Joyce and DeLillo are enlivened by advertising jingles and slogans; brands and trademarks pervade the practice of artists from Picasso to Warhol and the visualisation of consumer desire is appropriated and challenged in the work of Richard Hamilton and Martha Rosler.

Whether celebrating or critiquing advertising and consumer culture, art reflects our enduring fascination with them, despite research into the psychological effects of advertising, concerns over the evils of consumerism, and the often sinister nature of market research. The recent television show Mad Men, for instance, has revivified interest and scholarly debate surrounding the power of advertising and the consumer, as well as restaging debates around sexism, truth and the heteronormative ideal. Meanwhile, sociology in the wake of Erving Goffman continues to explore advertising’s uses and abuses of gender, identity and desire. Countervailing against consumerism and advertising’s many critics, theorists such as Michel de Certeau and the critical movement Thing Theory have endeavoured to examine advertising and consumer culture from a standpoint that goes beyond the model of the ‘passive consumer’ or Marx’s account of commodity fetishism.

We invite abstracts for 20 minute papers from postgraduate students and early-career researchers working in the modern period (1850-present day) across the humanities and social sciences. This conference aims to provoke interdisciplinary discussion about advertising and consumer culture. We therefore welcome papers that address these topics from historical, sociological, political or anthropological perspectives, as well as papers that analyse advertisements themselves and the representation of advertising and modern consumer culture in literature, film, television, theatre, and visual art.

Topics for Discussion

Topics for discussion may include but are by no means limited to:
  • The ways in which advertising and consumer culture intersect with issues of class, gender, sexuality and ethnicity
  • Psychological/psychoanalytic perspectives on advertising and consumer behaviour; how identity is created and reflected through participation in consumer culture; the legacy of Freud and Bernays
  • How artists have appropriated the techniques of advertising, or have been co-opted by advertising and commodity culture (Koons, Rosler, Murakami, Kusama and Hirst) -Theorists who have engaged with advertising and consumer culture (Adorno, Barthes, Baudrillard, Certeau, Fukuyama, Goffman, Klein, Marx, McLuhan)
  • The use of music in advertisements
  • The formal innovations literature has adopted to create a poetics of advertising/consumer culture
  • Shopping, the rise of the department store, brand names, and their representation in culture
  • Histories of advertising agencies or ‘ad-men’
  • How the importance of advertising in art may challenge the boundaries between high and low culture and/or modernism and postmodernism
  • Anti-consumerist movements (the Situationist International, Adbusters) and strategies (détournement, culture jamming)
  • The recent transformations advertising has undergone as a result of social media -The advert as spectacle or ‘event’ (celebrity endorsements, Christmas advertising, product placement, Pawel Althamer’s Real Time Movie)
  • Figures who have worked in advertising, either before or during their artistic careers (Fitzgerald, Rushdie, DeLillo, Warhol, Lynch)
  • Political advertising and the roles of politics in advertising


Abstracts for papers should be no more than 300 words in length, and submitted by Monday 25th March 2013 to cmods-pgforum@york.ac.uk. We ask that applicants also include a short biography. For further information about the symposium or the CModS Postgraduate Forum, please contact us at this address, or visit http://www.york.ac.uk/modernstudies/postgraduate-forum/

Also at A Piece of Monologue: