Friday, 17 August 2012

Part I - Savage Culture

I'm going to do my best to share some of the interesting parts of Thorstein Veblen's book, The Theory of the Leisure Class:  An Economic Study of Institutions

Though I'm interested in economics, I can't pretend to know much about the subject.  I tended to read Veblen's book more as pertaining to social history and it was fascinating.  I hope to convey some of his observations with a slightly simpler style of writing than his.   That said, some of his ideas are best stated in his own unique words.

Veblen begins by saying that the best-developed tradition of having a leisure class is at what he calls the higher stages of the barbarian culture.   He refers to a previously existing 'savage' stage of culture which was more peaceful and less materialistic, characterised less by private ownership and more communal use of property; also in which there was not such a fine distinction in who did what work.  Other characteristics of the savage culture are that they are more dutiful toward the survival of the group, a feature Veblen labels 'workmanship' and they they have an 'amiable inefficiency when faced with force or fraud.'  The savage culture is used as a contrast to the barbarian; the key feature of 'barbarian culture' is that it is hierarchical and war-like.

Veblen says that in the savage community, 'workmanship' is aimed at the well-being of the society, a sort of social conscience or need to be useful. When the society becomes predatory, this all changes.

In my next post on this topic, I will talk about some of Veblen's favourite terms, words that he used with different meanings than I usually understand them to have.

Part II - Veblen's Definitions

Part III - Barbarian Culture

Part IV - Leisure Class and Ownership

Part V - Invidious Distinction and Self Esteem

Part VI - How much is Enough?

Part VII - Leisure vs Labor

Part VIII - Leisurely Occupations

Part IX - The Importance of Good Manners

Part X - On Bearing

Part XI - On Wives and Servants

Part XII - Vicarious Leisure

Part XIII - Domestic Servants and 'Modern' Life

Part XIV - Unproductive Consumption

Part XV - The Purpose of Parties

Part XVI - The Purpose of Uniforms

Part XVII - The Middle Class Wife

Part XVIII - Conspicuous Consumption

Part XIX - The Good That Comes of Gossip

Part XX - Conspicuous Waste vs Workmanship

Part XXI - Aping the Upper Class

Part XXII - Instinct, Industry and Privacy

Part XXIII - Birth, Waste and Academia

Part XXIV - Honour of Thieves

Part XXV - Devotional Fitness

Part XXVI - Perception of Beauty

Part XXVII - Beautiful Animals and Women

Part XXVIII - On Candlelight, Classicism and Curiosity

Part XXIX -  Conspicuosity of Dress

Part XXX - More Conspicuosity of Clothing

Part XXXI - Conspicuous Novelty

Part XXXII - Leisure Class and Conservatism

Part XXXIII - The Vulgarity of Innovation

Part XXXIV - The Lower Class and Conservatism

Part XXXV - Business and the Leisure Class 

Part XXXVI - About Blondes 

Part XXXVII - The Diligence Dichotomy 

Part XXXVIII - Modern Economic Institutions

Part XXXIX - War and the Leisure Class

Part XL - Duels and the Leisure Class

Part XLI - Sport and Slang

Part XLII - Walking Sticks

Part XLIII - The Belief in Luck

Part XLIV - Relating to Religion

Part XLV - Gambling, Sports and Religion

Part XLVI - A Different Twist on Holidays

Part XLVII - Religion and the Military

Part XLVIII - The End of Religion

Part XLIX - A Kinder Society

Part L - 'Assisting' the Lower Classes

Part LI - Emancipation from Privilege and Futility

Part LII - Decline of the Leisure Class

Part LIII - Higher Education and the Occult

Part LIV - Rituals, War and Women

Part LV - Classicism and Conservatism in Higher Education


Beryl said...

I always find it interesting when an author takes words with a heavy negative weight and used them as somewhat positive. His "savage" sounds quite civilized. Rather like when the word "bad" was suddenly co-opted to describe things that you liked a lot.

Anonymous said...

I've long wanted to read this book and look forward to these encapsulizations of it. Wasn't he the guy who came up with the notion of "conspicuous consumption"?

Carolyn said...

Very interesting! I wonder what sort of culture we can be characterised as having nowadays. I don't think we are barbarian, or savage, or leisured anymore either!

Shelley said...

Beryl - Yes, those reverse uses are quite popular, aren't they? Like 'wicked'.

Terri - He did indeed, but there are also other little gems in that book that I hope to share!

Carolyn - I do hope you can stick this out, as you and Terri are the ones who convinced me to launch this (to do what I wanted to anyhow). I wonder the same. I think we are a bit of both (savage and barbarian), but I'm certain there is still very much a leisure class. I think they wisely don't make themselves quite so conspicuous, however.

LR @ Magnificent or Egregious said...

Very interesting blog idea Shelley, I'm looking forward to your future posts about this.

On a unrelated note, Hubs and I were chatting last night about social media such as Facebook and how it is like a Potemkin Village....people usually only post the best things and maintain a facade about how great their lives are.

Shelley said...

LR - I've not met that term 'Potemkin Village' and was fascinated by the Wikipedia entry for it. (So much I don't know!) I think there are at least two facets of the way people only show their best on Facebook. One is about pride and wanting to look good. Another is about holding back really private things. I don't post about every aspect of my life for both of these reasons. I find reading blogs about personal drama a bit draining and I don't think it's fair on Bill for me to expose personal things. It isn't entirely open, true, but this is the world wide web and I think it would be foolish to be too open. There are probably other reasons why people publish what they do, but I'm thinking these are my main reasons for being selective. Thanks again for 'Potemkin Village'!!

Susan Partlan said...

What fun! I never get tired of these kinds subjects and have been meaning to get around to reading Veblen. I look forward to future posts in this series.