Veblen in Perspective: His Life and Thought (Studies in Institutional Economics)
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This work discusses the impact and contemporary relevance of the work of Thorstein Veblen, as well as the source of his ideas. It suggests that he was one of the first modern sociologists of consumption whose analysis of contemporary display and fashion anticipated later theories and research.
sourceby fairly well-readpersons"(1970 , xx). Given that Veblen had readvoraciouslyfrom an early age and had a knowledgeof classical and modem Europeanlanguages,this explanationcould be construedas somethingof an understatement.In responseto this unpromising situation, numerousscholarshave soughtto establishthe influence of specific individuals, schoolsof thought,or disciplineson Veblen ideas.In addition to thosediscussedabove,namely,race or ethnicity and Nordic cultural history,
evolutionist (1977 ,265).A more sustainedcritique of Veblen'sDarwinism by Jones(1986)arguablymisunderstands both DarwinianandVeblenianevo- 70 VEBLEN IN PERSPECTIVE lutionism (Tilman 1996). Finally, anotherassessment notesthat Darwin was one of manyintellectualinfluenceson "Veblen thestaunchevolutionist,"yet concludesthat he was "closer to Hegel than Darwin" (Diggins 1978, 55). This most cursoryof discussionsis also the most curious,given that Veblen rejectedwhat he called "The
an Englishmanwho was a "convincedDarwinian" (Burrow 1966,256),namely,Tylor andhis researchon animism;a Scotsman who followed in "Tylor's footsteps,"namely, Frazerand his studiesof the work of women in peacefulagrariancultures,as well as his studiesof kingship (Burrow 1966, 256); and an American who "challengedthe fixed, EVOLUTIONARY CHANGE 89 unilinearmodel of evolutionarychange,"namely,Boasandhis fieldwork on Eskimo and Indian cultures(Ross1991,319). In contrastto Morgan,Veblen cites all of
industrial process"(208). of selfIn the meantime,Veblensuggeststhat the economicconsequences regarding attitudes fostered by the persistenceof leisure class culture are mitigated partially by residual noninvidious elementsof religion, such as charity andother"expressionsof the senseof humansolidarity" (1970 , 217). Paradoxically,the shieldedsituation and exclusion from productive work experiencedby upper-classwomenleavesthemwith little option other than to focus on
referenceto classsystemin America during the Gilded Age (Edgell and Townshend1993).4 Veblen's thesis in TLC-that cultural practices,notably conspicuousconsumption,are more centralto an understandingof the stability of classrelationsand the persistence of capitalismthan mere economicsufficiency-is a messagethat is arguablyof considerablerelevanceat a time of unparalleledeconomicabundance,for some,that was unimaginablein Veblen'sera. Survival of the Unfittest The conceptsurvival is a prominentone