Man In India, 97 (10) : 399-414 © Serials Publications
1Yakut Institute of Economics and Law, Yakutsk, Russia
2Lomonosov Moscow State University, Moscow, Russia
*Correspondence author: PhD in Sociological Science, Associate Professor, Lomonosov Moscow
State University, Faculty of Sociology, Russia, 119234, Moscow, 1,33 Leninskiye Gory, E-mail:
CONSPICUOUS CONSUMPTION AS AN ATTRIBUTE OF
SOCIO-CULTURAL DECADENCE IN RUSSIA
Andrey Vasilyevich VASILYEV1, Valery Konstantinovich KOVALCHUK2,
Eka Demurievna KORKIYA2* and Agamali Kulamovich MAMEDOV2
Russia’s transition to market relations put forward the problem of conspicuous consumption in a
number of particularly urgent ones. The conspicuous consumption ideology which is widely
promoted by businesses concerned has established noticeably. Hence there is the scientific interest
in considering consumption not only as a vital phenomenon, but as a phenomenon of a special
kind of public display. The interest in this area is connected with the global scale of manifestations
of this phenomenon, as well as with its dominant impact on other areas of society and the individual.
This article is aimed at the analysis of the phenomenon of conspicuous consumption and its
implementation in Russia. Conspicuous consumption, forming a vast sphere in the modern
economy, is directly related to the expansion of the scales and quality transformation of the
economy, encouraging its separation from the natural and humanistic principles and strengthening
its unity with the rapidly increasing artificial world, giving a largely demonstrative character to
the economy itself. Freedom of demonstration is combined in the current economy with the
freedom of consumer choice and with the pricing for conspicuous goods and services, which
increases the vulnerability of the economy due to the increase of its internal instability.
Keywords: Demonstrative behavior, consumption, consumer society, sociology, culture, social
stratum, social inequality
Consumption is an increasingly important social practice, in which social disparities
are visualized; social boundaries are built up, social relations being formed around.
Currently, consumption is not seen as ‘simple satisfaction of needs’, but rather a
multivariate space of choice, expression, and presentation of oneself, construction
of identities, the implementation of social communication and relevant social
comparisons [Holt, 1998; Ilyin, 2005 and others]. Consumption is also a key
characteristic of the lifestyles of the existing social strata, groups and classes in
society [Bourdieu, 1984, and others].
The issue of possibility and context of applying the Western concepts
and ideas in terms of a consumer society to the modern Russian society is
currently debatable, but the fact that a consumer society is also being formed in
our country, at least in the socio-cultural space of large cities, does no longer
admit of doubt.
400 MAN IN INDIA
Against the background of the increa sing role of consumption in the
‘production’ of social differences, the importance of employment as a key
foundation for social differentiation, by contrast, is reduced. For example, regular
employment is no longer a ‘guarantee against poverty’, and a significant part of
the new urban poor is constituted specifically by the employed, while the similarity
in the conditions and the nature of work does not guarantee similar lifestyles at all.
In the context of the above trends, studying differences in consumption and lifestyles
of social groups is taking on particular importance for understanding the processes
and changes occurring in the modern Russian society.
The changes apply not only to the fact that labor and consumption have
‘swapped places’ in the formation of social differences, but also the very nature of
the differences in consumption: the consumption of traditional sociology is seen
as a consequence of stratification or the function of the consumer’s social status
(at this point, the works by Thorstein Veblen [Veblen, 1899] and Pierre Bourdieu
[Bourdieu, 1984] are classical, the most telling illustrations), whereas currently
the stratification take on consumption is being revised for several reasons. Thorstein
Ve ble n int rod uced the con cept denot ing ‘con spi c uou s (demonstrative)
consumption’ and ‘conspicuous (demonstrative) leisure’, ‘conspicuous waste’. He
defined “ - conspicuous consumption as “the utility of consumption as an evidence
of wealth,” consumption as “a means of reputability”. This style of consumption,
according to T.Veblen, was typical for the so-called ‘leisure class’ - the nouveaux
riche Americans who put their conspicuous consumption to public display.
Firstly, technological progress leads to the fact that the majority of consumer
goods and services are made available to the majority of the population, and
everyone but for the poorest gets access to consumer goods, tourism, and the media
[Bell, 1976; Bauman, 2004; Ilyin, 2005; Radayev, 2005]. Secondly, the variety of
things, shapes, and styles of consumption is increasing. The boundaries between
‘high’ and ‘mass’ markets are becoming blurred, blending the familiar cultural
hierarchies into a common, ambiguously structured cultural landscape. Accordingly,
the gap is reduced, if does not disappear at all, which used to create foundation for
economic and cultural superiority of some groups, and relative deprivation of some
Another argument in favor of weakening the status conditioning of consumption
is adduced by postmodern theorists, such as Jean Baudrillard [Baudrillard, 2006]
and Frederic Jameson [Jameson, 2000]. From this point of view, the main feature
of modern capitalist society is overp rodu ction of things-signs. The rapid
multiplication of things-signs, in turn, gives rise to ‘confusion’ and uncertainty of
consumer symbols that are not always readily and similarly taken by different
social groups. The theoretical argument is also confirmed by empirical studies that
demonstrate a high degree of similarity and a plurality of intersections in consumer
preferences of various social groups [Bennett, 1998; Bourdieu, 1984; Holt, 1998].
CONSPICUOUS CONSUMPTION AS AN ATTRIBUTE... 401
At the same time, the emergence of a consumer society leads to the fact that
the whole life of modern societies is organized around and through consumption.
Things become not so much a means of meeting the needs as symbols, markers of
social identity and belonging. Consumer goods in modern societies do not ‘reflect’
customer’s status directly any more, but rather allow ‘designing an image’, taking
up the desired lifestyles, reporting desired information about oneself, and reading
a variety of information about others, which also contributes to revision of the
‘stratification argument’ essence [Baudrillard, 2006].
The hypothesis of a complete connection break between status hierarchies
and differences in consumption has not yet found a popular support among social
scientists, but the thesis about reducing the role of socio-economic factors in
structuring consumption in the recent years has been asserted in sociological
literature as conventional ‘truth’. Discussions about reducing the role of social
status as a key factor in the consumption differences stimulate the revision of
traditional sociological (‘stratification’) study of consumption in the following,
now yet poorly developed, directions:
1. The shift in emphasis from identification or description of the factors of
consumer differences that are ‘external’ with respect to consumption onto
the study of consumption ‘per se’ as a social (inter)action, which has its
own, relatively autonomous, logic of organizing and structuring.
2. Searc hing and explo ring new , ‘non-stratif ication’ foundation s for
differences in consumption. In particular, one of such foundations is tough-
mindedness, i.e. a consumer’s individual characteristic, reflecting the
centrality of consumption and property in their life and in the processes of
social interaction and – theoretically – not related directly to the consumer’s
3. Studying not structures or consumption styles, but the processes of social
construction of social differences and identities through consumption.
2. LITERATURE REVIEW
Traditionally, modern scientific analysis of the demonstrative consumption nature
is associated with Thorstein Veblen’s work ‘The Leisure Class’ (1899), which
deals with behavior aspects of the representatives of a new class – the so-called
‘new rich’ (from the French nouveau riche– new rich), i.e. the representatives of
the lower classes who quickly got rich in time social changes, the rich upstarts
who managed to reach the top of society. On the one hand, the analysis of the
social stratum’s behavior is considered by Veblen as a result of developing capitalist
relations and a rapid accumulation of capital in the hands of ‘new Americans’;
whereas on the other hand, conspicuous consumption is regarded as conation of
the new stratum to self-labeling, to the desire to assert themselves by deliberate
402 MAN IN INDIA
ostentatious display of their social status and power. Veblen speaks of ‘exerting
consumption in order to prove possession of wealth’ and considers it ‘as a means
to maintain the reputation of’ [Veblen, 1984:108] nouveaux riches. In that context,
the classical study of the conspicuous consumption phenomenon narrowed to the
framework of high society, where the ‘leisure class’ of new Americans began to
penetrate in an effort to emulate the European elite. They put in the forefront their
perspective of wealth and prestige, their standards of conduct, values and ideals,
which caused bewilderment and contempt in the ‘old’ elite, but which the latter
still had to reckon with because they were backed by solid capital.
Subsequently, the phenomenon of demonstrative behavior was considered by
Jean Baudrillard [Baudrillard, 2006], Pierre Bourdieu [Bourdieu, 2007] (the concept
of behavior as a result of social conditions, socialization, and the individual’s
position in society), Maximilian Weber [Weber, 2012] (the concept of status groups,
rationality and irrationality of consumption), Georg Simmel [Simmel, 1996] (the
fashion theory), Emile Durkheim [Durkheim, 1996] (the theory of consumption as
a value mission), Philip Kotler [Kotler, 2007] (marketing, psycholo gy of
consumption), Vilfredo Pareto [Pareto, 2008] (the theory of the individual’s
irrational actions), Karl Marx [Marx, 1960] (commodity fetishism), Alfred
Marshall[Marshall, 2003] (‘conspicuous consumption’), Talcott Parsons [Parsons,
1998], Erving Goffman [Goffman, 2009] (the theory of dramaturgical approach,
including to behavior), George Ritzer [Ritzer, 2011] (the ‘McDonaldization’
concept), and others; it also became the target of research for domestic scientists,
viz. Sergey Bulgakov [Bulgakov, 200 9] (moral materialism and spiritual
bourgeoisness), AleksandrButovsky [Butovsky, 1847] (the phenomenon of ‘overt’,
or ‘ostentatious’ luxury), AleksandrGofman [Gofman, 2013] (the concept of
conspicuous consumption behavior and fashion), Andrey Isayev [Isayev, 1907]
(the problems of consumption and luxury), Vladimir Ilyin [Ilyin, 1998] (the
demonstrative consumer behavior pattern in Russia), Nikita Pokrovsky [Pokrovsky,
2005], Dmitriy Ivanov [Ivanov, 2000] (consumption virtualization), Valery
Radayev[Radayev, 2008] (socio-economic approach), Natalya Rimashevskaya
[Rimashevskaya, 2000] (gender consumption factors), Valery Terin [Terin, 2000]
(mass demonstrative behavior), and many others.
A qualitatively new attitude is given to the phenomenon of demonstrative
behavior in the works of Daniel Bell [Bell, 1998], where contours of the coming
post-industrial society are settled. Bell defines the transformation forms of social
relations as a result of scientific and technical progress, the increased significance
of knowledge technology, information communications development, that is, those
prerequisites that characterize post-industrial society and the emergence of new
information culture. According to Bell, the new type of consumer behavior is a
result of scientific and technical progress, a consequence of changes in the human
type. While consuming, an individual asserts their independence and uniqueness.
CONSPICUOUS CONSUMPTION AS AN ATTRIBUTE... 403
This idea was well expressed by Vladislav Inozemtsev: ‘In determining their basic
needs and desires as entirely subjective ones, a person first acknowledges them
exactly as their personal needs, their own personal desires, not identical to the
needs and desires of others, not only in quantitative, but also in qualitative terms’
In course of the nineteenth century in Europe, a lot of changes occurred both
in the stratification system and the system of values, relationships, communication,
and philosophy. First of all, it is referred to economization and rationalization of
consciousness that led to the emergence of new classes and types of people, as
well as the emergence of a new liberal-democratic social order. All changes were
accompanied by the process of industrialization, standardization of production
and urbanization, which was described by José Ortega-y-Gasset in ‘The Revolt of
the Masses’ (Ortega-y-Gasset, 2016).
With the development of industrial society, the economic factor becomes a
basis of the social system, a foundation for qualitatively new social interactions.
Penetrating into all spheres of public life, economy and capital become universal
axiological categories, based on which new philosophy and model of social
consciousness are formed.
In the world history, consumption has always been present, what mattered
was only to which sphere it related to a greater extent, the spiritual or the material
one. In the capitalism rise era, spirituality receded into the background; the priority
was taken by the material sphere, not least because of the religious beliefs of people
of that time. Max Weber described those processes in his ‘The Protestant Ethic
and the Spirit of Capitalism’. Protestants, unlike Catholics, believe that it is not
that ‘work is created for man, but man is created for work’. They deem hard work,
honesty, and desire to increase their wealth, being unwasteful to be main virtues of
a human. In accordance with the Protestant ethics, the one whom God loves is to
be successful in temporal affairs. Therefore, accumulation of funds and any labor
activity are the highest moral good that a man can commit [Weber, 2002]. There
appeared ideas that all can be done with one’s own work; class division took shape,
i.e. the division of society into groups not by blood, but by the level of prosperity.
Naturally, people from the lower strata, while breaking into the elite, were eager to
prove their worth by demonstrating their capital. That was the way consumerism
acquired the status of the highest social value.
Thus, capitalist society formed a new pattern of behavior, the main features of
which were ‘pursuit of profit’ and ability to ‘make money.’ Economic calculation
becomes a part of human consciousness, their way of life, relationships with others.
Such type of person is described in the works of David Riesman and Erich Fromm
and was named ‘homo consommatus’, ‘marketeer’ [Fromm, 2010], ‘externally
focused’ [Riesman, 2001]. Personal fulfillment began to be understood as a
compliance with a particular social position, possession of certain status things,
404 MAN IN INDIA
especially those that ‘are on trend’. And if in the Veblen’s era this trend was decisive
for the owners of the ‘new capital’, in the society of mass consumption it has
be c o m e wid e s p read, w h ere th e goa l i s to demo n strate t heir status.
Yu.A.Zimmerman notes that ‘all the layers act as subjects of conspicuous
consumption; however, some top of the upper class sets the tone, dictating role
models and manipulating the consciousness of the majority in society’ [Zimmerman,
Thus, two opposite trends have become visible: on the one hand, people more
and more show their individuality, and on the other hand, they increasingly get
admass, standa rdized in their desire to stand out. Therefore, conspicuous
consumption does not only become a way to stand out from the crowd and show
their individuality, but also, oddly enough, a way to ‘be like everyone else’.
Individual element and human activity motivations are increasingly determined
by what they consume and how.
In this context, the paradigm by Gary Becker is interesting, who in the ‘Human
Capital’ [Becker, 1993] treats all human relations through the prism of economic
laws. According to him, modern society appears as a kind of production, in which
the rationality of consumption replaces and devaluates the sphere of human relations.
For example, the rationality of consumption, first of all, reduces the need satisfaction
time (similar to the law of goods production time reduction), and secondly, alters
the traditional communication and life style: fast food instead of home-cooked
meals, meetings in restaurants instead of visiting someone’s place, etc. The
traditional institution of the family has also undergone changes. ‘Every aspect of
family life can now be interpreted from the standpoint of the rational choice theory,’
says Becker in his ‘Family’, ‘this refers to such peculiar problems as the reasons
for preferring one method of contraception to another, reasons why the spread of
polygamy has reduced, as well as more ‘traditional’ subjects, such as the question
of what determines the age at marriage, number of children, the amount of
investment in the human capital of children, as well as the amount of funds spent
by the children in the care for older parents’ [Eatwell et al., 2004]. ‘Marginal
utility,’ according to Becker, ‘is the criterion with which the modern homo
economicus conforms their life, determines their attitudes and outlook.’
Conspicuous consumption was also evident in the course of urbanization
processes that changed the self-perception, self-identification of the members of
society. Veblen says, ‘Means of communication and population mobility present
an individual to the general public who do not have any other opportunities to
judge the individual’s venerability than those material valuables (and probably
education) that they, being under the direct supervision, are able to show
off’[Veblen, 1984: 122]. It should be noted that representatives of the rural
population that migrated to the cities also resorted to demonstrating their status
and solvency, modeling themselves on nouveaux riches. This was no coincidence,
CONSPICUOUS CONSUMPTION AS AN ATTRIBUTE... 405
as both were in similar marginal conditions; both had to prove to others and
themselves their eligibility to be in the ‘high society’.
In general, it is safe to say: behaviors of the ‘new people’ were very different
from those of members of the traditional society. Now, the subject identifies
themselves with the help of external symbols that assert their position before the
public and before themselves, which often go beyond the scope of the necessary.
We do not buy a ‘Mercedes’ as a car, but what we but is its prestige. Not a ‘Colgate’
toothpaste, but the white teeth. Thus, a ‘Rolex’ on a hand is, first and foremost, not
clockwork, but a proof that the owner is able to afford such a luxury [A. Ries and
L. Ries, 2003: 56]. Now, ‘all hopes are turned to the public authority; this is it that
should justify the existence of a human, prove them their own usefulness and
spiritual integrity’ [Kortunov, 2006].
Therefore, in addition to social and status discomfort, an individual also feels
spiritual one. Feeling the need to enter into a society new for them as an ‘equal’,
the individual compensates for the lack of value and spiritual resources by
demonstrating their capital.
This dualism of internals and externals in the representatives of the new class
has determinated a new world order, which is based on economic rationality proven
by Gary Becker, and the Protestant ethics rationally justified by Max Weber. Having
surfaced at the junction of the social development paradigms shift, this dualism
becomes the norm in the twentieth century. The ideal forms of social order are
represented by the seemingly law-abiding and prosperous society, a representative
of which is a cog in the system machine. Accordingly, the public management
practices are changing, they acquire an implicit nature, affect the psyche of an
individual through the slogans of individual freedom, liberalism, and democracy.
The purpose of this policy is to increase consumption up to a massive scale. It is
based on human psychology, their desire to attract attention as a representative of
‘high-end’ resulting from their ‘free choice’, the foundations of democracy. Jean
Baudrillard calls this phenomenon ‘symbolic consumption’, which he describes in
the ‘Consumer Society: Myths and Structure’ (1968). The philosopher says that
consumption of things is no longer associated with the satisfaction of real needs, it
rather serves to demonstrate the individual’s desires, their super-needs and high
status, ‘In today’s society, the objects of consumption are not so much material
things as their cultural signs and symbols, which turns consumption out of materialist
practice into symbolic one’ [Baudrillard, 2006].
Thereby, a certain personality ideal is created and promoted, with a particular
set of values, paradigms, and a place in the social structure. This type serves as a
standard by which an individual must exercise their choice, and by which individual
values are assessed, the style of behavior is formed. Thus, consumer ceases to be a
full-fledged actor. They become an object of economic relations. This ‘consumer
paradox’ is accounted for very simply: the mass production is not able to satisfy
406 MAN IN INDIA
truly unique exigencies, which is why advertising employees have to create averaged
images of the ideal life and also sell them to consumers. It creates an illusion of
freedom of choice, whereby a phenomenon of mind control emerges.
In addition, a new social stratification is formed, where the basis of the division
is person’s super -needs. Russian researche r Marin a Rakitnykh notes that
‘consumption patterns are the main definitions of social identities and differences.
Thus, individuals with different income, but with the same consumer practices,
which are termed lifestyle in sociology, may fall into the same social group’
[Rakitnykh, 2004]. This fact allows marketers every year to conduct successful
advertising campaigns, playing on social stereotypes of consumers.
The very cultural construction itself is based on such human psychological
traits as the pursuance of pleasure, vanity, envy, and desire to attain perfection. It
is also worth mentioning that demonstrative behavior is to a greater extent
characteristic of representatives of the social sectors that have limited resources or
representatives of marginalized groups seeking to c ompensate their social
‘inferiority’ or uncertain social status by demonstration. Such people are more
easily manipulated, as they are already assured of ‘inferiority’ of their social status
and are willing to change their position actively.
A behavio ral model of this kind w as describ ed by Sigmund Freud in
‘Introduction to Psychoanalysis’ [Freud, 2005], which determines patterns of the
so-called compensatory behavior when a person, having failed in one area, succeeds
in another one (for example, the famous Freudian sublimation [Freud, 2005]).
Such model can explain conspicuous consumption through the use of additional
resources, acting as ‘replacements’ of the desired benefit. Accordingly, the absence
of, for example, real social status can be compensated by consumption of status or
The inability to gain recognition can also be compensated by participation in
informal groups, subcultural movements. As an example of this trend among young
people, a commitment to the culture of glamor can be considered (from the English
‘glamour’, literally – charm, fascination, allure), i.e. an aesthetic phenomenon based
on hedonism principles and associated with the culture of mass consumption,
fashion, and show business. The mindset of glamor is characterized by an emphasis
on luxury and gloss [Tochilov, 2011], so it is a demonstration of one’s own status,
one’s own ‘self’, presented in the form of a kind of performance.
It is worth noting that an individual, apart from the desire to be considered a
member of the new group, also has a wish to quickly leave their past one, as
quickly as possible to get out of the threadbare social environment and to join the
‘high society’. As a result, there is a phenomenon of marginalization, loss of social
identity and a desire to express their ‘unbelonging’ to those conditions, those social
groups an individual used to exist within. First of all, it is referred to the class of
employees that served as a basis for the emergence of the middle class. To become
CONSPICUOUS CONSUMPTION AS AN ATTRIBUTE... 407
a member of the new community, one had to maintain a certain lifestyle, wear the
‘right clothes’, drive cars of certain brands, etc.
In general, it can be stated that the reasons for demonstrative behavior lie in
the following factors.
The first important factor is the culture and behavior of the whole society,
which automatically reproduces consumption scenarios. As a result, a new human
sociotype has emerged, without thinking and seeing no other way of life except as
The second factor is the psychological conditioning, the desire to stand out, to
find one’s own ‘self’ by joining reference groups.
The third factor is the impact of advertising, marketing, glamor, etc.,
deliberately stimulating ostentation as a lifestyle, a personality trait.
Thus, the ratio between the characteristics of the consumer’s socio-economic
status and the nature of individual consumption is changing: the consumer’s cultural
capital is gradually becoming a key feature differentiating the consumption of
widely available products by citizens, whereas the level of income is retreating.
Tough-mindedness, understood as the focus of consumption rather than
consumer’s characteristics, is based on a certain class of values that consumers
use: the consumer’s focus on things and, based on this, provision of classifying
judgments about the characteristics of people and their solvency/success. Tough-
mindedness is a specific foundation for differences in consumption and can ‘work’
differently in relation to different objects and contexts, as well as in different social
strata. Social status and tough-mindedness are interrelated: tough-mindedness is a
stratified characteristic and is defined both by the experience of being in a
longstanding situation of resource constraint and cultural capital of a consumer.
People’s description of their own consumption, as well as other people’s
consumption, often has a pronounced evaluative, moral connotation.
Depending on the method of harmonizing the socio-economic, consumer and
moral hierarchies (subs ta ntiation register) used by a consumer, the same
consumption may have the opposite assessment and ‘social consequences’.
Summing up the above it can be stated that:
1. Demonstrative behavior within the framework of modern community has
long gone beyond Veblen’s understanding, it became inherent in
representatives of any social strata and is a behavioral phenomenon which
integrates social, economic and psychological components;
2. Demonstrative behavior is motivated by the following factors: social
motivation, that is, the desire to acquire status, power, social rank, which
is determined by such motivational factors as the desire to lead, to possess
demonstrator resources, to comply with more successful social group;
408 MAN IN INDIA
psychological motivation, i.e. the desire to assert oneself, to demonstrate
one’s individual ‘self’, to raise self-esteem, to look unique, to relieve stress,
to meet one’s own aesthetic needs, etc.; material motivation, and, primarily,
the pursuit of wealth, identifying oneself with a circle of rich people;
3. Emulation is a basic mechanism of demonstrative behavior.
4. Currently, the demonstrative behavior performs the most important social
functions, including the function of socialization, the function of social
communication and the function of social elevator;
Figure 1: Structure of demonstrative behavior
Figure 2: Motivation of demonstrative behavior
CONSPICUOUS CONSUMPTION AS AN ATTRIBUTE... 409
5. In the moder n society demons trative behavior is inhe rent in the
representatives of specific social groups, as a rule, having low and middle
economic well-being coupled with untapped capacity and a high level of
claims (Zimmerman, 2007);
6. Demonstrative behavior acts as a certain ‘engine of the economy’, the
development of society in its materialistic sense, because it is one of the
main resources of manufacturers for profit-making.
Today consumption is a basis for economic development of countries.
Therefore, the constant stimulation of demand is an inevitable and necessary
phenomenon for the maintenance of the current social order. Human needs go
beyond physiological requirements, the needs of a social and spiritual level are
endless; therefore marketing experts know how to play this, attributing symbols to
the goods of everyday life – properties of higher, intangible order, such as meeting
the need for acceptance, love, belonging and even self-actualization need. That is
why, in this context, it is fair to speak of an endless process of consumption since
human desires are constantly increasing, and companies need in the growing
expansion of sales markets.
Thus, one can see that the forms of modern demonstrative behavior are a logical
consequence of the historical developme nt of Western soc ie ty. This is a
phenomenon which has become a widespread social practice due to the deliberate
intervention and its automatic reproduction in generations. Accordingly, the
demonstrative behavior is a phenomenon that serves as an indicator of spiritual
health of community, and the study of its manifestations is a necessary step to
build more harmonious social relations in the future.
Figure 3: Social functions of demonstrative behavior
410 MAN IN INDIA
Considering the demonstrative behavior as a social institution, the authors
offer its following structure consisting of three sub-systems: firstly, the tangible
(houses, apartments, cars, motorcycles, yachts, airplanes, helicopters, clothing,
accessories, jewelry, means of communication, artwork, etc.) and the virtual or
symbolic (lifestyle, consumption patterns being signs by which one can estimate
the availability of material resources); secondly, the subjective (head of the family
or its members, friends, servants, etc.), performing the traditional or supposititious
demonstrative behavior; third, regulatory (rules and norms of behavior that are
reflected in manners, tastes, respecting etiquette, customs and laws, participation
in public life).
Demonstrative behavior as a social institution performs certain functions, in
our opinion, they are:
– a regulating function which involves making certain rules and standards
of conduct and ensuring regulation of social interactions;
– a communicative function which facilitates interaction between people
and mutual understanding and means information transfer using a set of
– a socialization function which creates and develops the personality of the
consumers, their taste, and is expressed in their assimilation of cultural
values, social norms and roles, and the implementation of their social
– an adaptation function which provides adaptation to the changing
conditions of conspicuous consumption environment.
Depending on various criteria, a classification of types of conspicuous
consumption can be proposed:
– depending on the hierarchical criterion of class belonging: the elite and
– according to the socio-cultural criteria: the direct and supposititious ones;
– according to the criterion of conformity to the community life standards:
the socially positive and socially negative types;
– depending on the motives of conspicuous consumption: the conventional,
hedonistic, status, prestigious and aesthetic ones.
Age-specific ostentation is the main feature of the consumer behavior of young
people. There is no single user among young people; there are different styles and
types of consumer behavior. Over the past decade the priority of the material values
over the spiritual ones has increased in Russia. However, in general, in the minds
of young people new values characteristic of Western societies with market
economies (individualism, pragmatism and striving to live in abundance) coexist
with the traditional historical and cultural peculiarities (collectivism, equality,
CONSPICUOUS CONSUMPTION AS AN ATTRIBUTE... 411
priority of family values). Demonstrative behavior manifests itself in the purchase
of clothing and accessories specific brands (mobile phones, handbags with certain
symbols, players, etc.), as well as in the consumption of certain forms of leisure
(visiting discos and nightclubs), moreover there is fashion for consumer objects.
The mechanism of influence on conspicuous consumer behavior has changed due
to transformation of the institutional environment in comparison with the Soviet
period: today fashion and advertising have a greater impact, while other social
institutions (the state, family, education) have faded into insignificance.
Nowadays Russian fashion begins to reveal features characteristic of the post-
industrial society: intertextuality, i.e., permanent return to the ‘archive’, bringing
elements and styles from different historical eras and ethnic cultures into fashion;
allusion, appeal to traditional symbols and images, antiquated stylization, i.e. the
shift in space and time; absolutization; eclecticism.
In modern Russia a strong influence of advertising on young people is noted,
its role in the process of socialization is increasing. Mass media actively influence
the mass consciousness by means of advertising, introducing certain socio-cultural
patterns, lifestyles and codes of conduct; they become the main sources forming
social and cultural values. The main consumer of advertising is the middle class
that seeks to imitate the upper class, which determines the prevalence of imitative
type of conspicuous consumption. Advertising imposes the hedonistic type of
consumer culture, alien to the traditional national culture of Russia which is pushing
aside spiritual values.
Over the years of reforms in the post-socialist Russia the sphere of consumption
is becoming increasingly important, there is a steady focus on the material well-
being among the youth. But at the same time, young people have a high level of
education claims and obtaining professional qualifications, since receiving a
profession for the young is a prerequisite for achieving a competitive position in
the labor market, and thereby for ensuring the necessary level of consumption.
The main purpose of conspicuous consumption that is characteristic of today’s
youth is to manifest exclusivity and individuality, though commitment of young
people to the traditions is also strong. This indicates the ambivalence of their
behavior. The observed regional features in the conspicuous consumption of youth,
for example, differences in leisure activities, are explained, in our opinion, by
different reasons: the influence of traditions, closeness to the nature, the
infrastructure development and the impact of globalization. Under the influence
of such institutions as advertising, fashion, mass media, and others the hedonistic
type of consumer culture is spreading, the intensity level depends on the proximity
to the capitals (Moscow, St. Petersburg) where luxury and wealth are concentrated
412 MAN IN INDIA
The following factors contributing to regional features of conspicuous
consumption should be mentioned: economic development, the structure of the
regional economy; standard of living of the population which is signaled by average
incomes first of all, prices, consumption of basic goods and services per capita;
geographical conditions of the region (climate, topography, urbanization); historical
experience; demographic situation in the region (population structure according to
sex, age, marital status, education level, nationality); socio-cultural factors (social
structure of the population, occupational structure, religious beliefs, customs,
development of cultural facilities – availability of theaters, museums, universities,
libraries, clubs, etc. in the region), and so on; legal factors (regional legislation,
Currently, the combination of features can be found in Russia which are peculiar
to the conspicuous consumption society of Pre-modernity, Modernity and
Postmodernity. Trying to imagine the prospects of conspicuous consumption of
the ‘pure’ Postmodernity society, the following traits suggest themselves:
– since people live in the artificial world created by them, everything natural
will become the objects of conspicuous consumption (even today there is
the fashion for ‘natural’: natural fabrics, food products are more expensive
than artificial ones, it is fashionable to line walls with materials imitating
brick or masonry);
– due to the weakening of relations in socie ty, the phenomenon of
conspicuous consumption is losing sense, because the virtual space (life
before the TV screen, computer monitor) becomes the epicenter of life;
– those who will not go crazy, will seek prestige by means of information
Overcoming the growth of social alienation and negative consequences of
Postmodernity is possible in the course of consumer education. Today, there is no
consistent strategy of the state in the field of youth socialization. Youth policy is
virtually not funded by the state and is pursued for a long time, but with low
efficiency. The development of continuous consumer education aimed primarily
at the formation of humanistic consumer culture should be its integral part.
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