In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Geographies of Consumption

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews and Readers
  • Reference Resources
  • Journals
  • History

Geography Geographies of Consumption
Juliana Mansvelt
  • LAST REVIEWED: 11 October 2019
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 February 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199874002-0054


The 1980s through early 21st century saw a relative explosion in consumption research within geography. Initially dominated by Marxist and political economic approaches originating in economic geographies and focused on more spectacular consumer spaces, contemporary consumption research is currently characterized by a range of cultural and economic approaches that examine the socialities, subjectivities, and spatialities of consumption. Geographers have explored how different spaces of consumption are produced and exist in relation to each other at scales from the global to the body, and have examined sites such as homes, gardens, spaces of first- and secondhand retailing, places of work, the Internet, and consumption in rural, urban, First- and Third-World contexts. Understanding the situatedness of consumption practice has also involved considering the temporality and historical constitution of consumption, with a number of geographers attending to questions of whether the attributes of contemporary consumption are qualitatively different from those occurring in earlier time periods. The development of a range of theoretical perspectives has been informed by work from other disciplines such as cultural and feminist studies, and sociology (including the work of Weber, Bourdieu, and Veblen). More recently, post-structural approaches and theorists such as Deleuze, Latour, and Foucault have been evident in consumption. Contemporary research is a product of both economic and cultural geographies with many consumption geographers endeavoring to overcome dichotomous constructions of production and consumption and culture and economy. Research on commodity chains, the transnational constitution of consumption, and work on retail, material geographies, and green and sustainable geographies of consumption have begun to elide such binaries. Some of these approaches have centered on following the social and spatial lives of commodities. Commodity studies of food have been predominant, but music, health services, consumer durables, drugs and alcohol, and apparel/fashion are just some of numerous commodities that have been examined by geographers. Over time, the focus of research on consumer practices has shifted from purchase and acquisition to considering the appropriation, use, and re-use of commodities, and more recently to matters of disposal. While geographers have been at the forefront of claims to reject the identity-ridden and wasteful nature of contemporary consumption, they have been interested to explore the ways in which dimensions of identity are embodied and emplaced through relationships between people and things. This includes an examination of race, gender, sexuality, age, familial relations, bodily size, and mobility as these are constituted through consumption practices and places. A concern with investigating the political nature of consumption and the ways in which power, ethicality, and morality are framed through commercial cultures and everyday practice has meant geographers are well placed to contribute to debates on the governance and implementation of more sustainable futures.

General Overviews and Readers

Consumption research has expanded rapidly since the 1980s but the emergence of geographies of consumption has earlier origins. Included here is the call of Hecock and Rooney 1968 for greater geographic engagement in consumption. Clarke, et al. 2003 contains sections dealing with geographical aspects of consumption but also guides readers through some critical theoretical works by social scientists and key consumption studies. Jackson 2002 and Goss 2005, chapters in undergraduate textbooks, provide a basic introduction for scholars new to the field. Leslie 2009 and the contributions in Crewe 2011 extend the discussion of geographies of consumption beyond purchase to include connections to production, and the use, appropriation, and disposal of commodities. Mansvelt 2005 is specifically focused on geographies of consumption and provides a survey of the range and focus of consumption research in geography. Goodman, et al. 2010 takes up the relational perspective advocated by Mansvelt and examines the way people, things, and places are connected through consumption across a range of contexts and topics.

  • Clarke, David B., Marcus A. Doel, and Kate M. L. Housiaux, eds. The Consumption Reader. London: Routledge, 2003.

    Provides a good grounding in both theoretical perspectives and the focus of consumption research in the humanities, arts, and social sciences. Includes a section on geographies and an introduction mapping the contours of the subject.

  • Crewe, Louise. “Geographies of Retailing and Consumption: The Shopping List Compendium.” In The SAGE Handbook of Economic Geography. Edited by Andrew Leyshon, Roger Lee, Linda McDowell, and Peter Sunley, 304–319. Los Angeles and London: SAGE, 2011.

    Uses shopping lists as starting point to consider the relational geographies that comprise retailing and consumption. The author highlights the value of mundane items and practices of consumption in providing insights into the nature of cultural economies and processes of value creation.

  • Goodman, Michael K., David Goodman, and Michael Redclift, eds. Consuming Space Placing Consumption in Perspective. Farnham, UK, and Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2010.

    This volume uses a relational perspective to examine the ways in which spaces and places are (re)made through practices, imaginaries, and materialities of consumption. Based on empirical research from a range of First- and Third-World contexts, chapters examine the connections between production and consumption.

  • Goss, Jon. “Consumption.” In Introducing Human Geographies. Edited by Paul Cloke, Philip Crang, and Mark Goodwin, 253–266. London: Hodder Arnold, 2005.

    A basic introduction to consumption geographies aimed at undergraduate students. Goss emphasizes the political-economic understandings of the origins of the study of consumption, but suggests that consumption is now the key driver in the construction of society and space. The chapter focuses on retail landscapes.

  • Hecock, Richard D., and John F. Rooney. “Towards a Geography of Consumption.” Professional Geographer 20.6 (1968): 392–395.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.0033-0124.1968.00392.x

    An early engagement with geographies of consumption. Hecock and Rooney, writing at a time when positivist spatial science was dominant, argue that the neglect of consumption in studies of economic geography was not due to a lack of statistical data, but rather a lack of utilization of it.

  • Jackson, Peter. “Consumption in a Globalizing World.” In Geographies of Global Change: Remapping the World. Edited by Peter J. Taylor, Michael J. Watts, and R. J. Johnston, 283–295. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2002.

    Jackson’s chapter in this undergraduate textbook provides an overview of the importance of consumption in the politics everyday life whether one is situated in contexts in which there is abundance or scarcity. Uses empirical examples to connect globalization and consumption.

  • Leslie, D. “Consumption.” In International Encyclopedia of Human Geography. Edited by Rob Kitchin and Nigel Thrift, 268–274. Oxford: Elsevier, 2009.

    DOI: 10.1016/B978-008044910-4.01126-3

    This article provides a brief survey of writing on consumption outlining shifts from “productivist” approaches in which consumption was seen as a consequence of capitalism to more post-structuralist and cultural approaches that focus on consumer agency and creativity.

  • Mansvelt, Juliana. Geographies of Consumption. London: SAGE, 2005.

    With chapters on histories, spaces, bodies and identities, production and consumption connections, and ethics, the author advocates a relational and situated view of consumption that extends beyond retailing to the ways in which people interact with commodities in/across a range of contexts.

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.