Empire of Things by F. Trentmann

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Dragline
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Empire of Things by F. Trentmann

Post by Dragline »

This looks fabulously informative, with discussions about Eastern vs. Western consumerism and modern trends like the "sharing economy": http://www.amazon.com/Empire-Things-Con ... 8&qid=&sr=

There is a short review here -- listen to the one with "Frank Trentmann": https://radio.economist.com/

Has anyone read it already?

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C40
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Re: Empire of Things by F. Trentmann

Post by C40 »

Sounds interesting. I haven't read it yet but I just got a copy of the book.

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jennypenny
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Re: Empire of Things by F. Trentmann

Post by jennypenny »

I found myself skipping through the endless examples and details. I got the impression he felt compelled to include everything he discovered in his research. A good read otherwise.

Dragline
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Re: Empire of Things by F. Trentmann

Post by Dragline »

Well, that explains the 800+ pages. Thanks!

BRUTE
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Re: Empire of Things by F. Trentmann

Post by BRUTE »

anyone want to give brute the cliff notes? he skimmed over it and it all seemed quite metaphysical.

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Re: Empire of Things by F. Trentmann

Post by jennypenny »

The cliff notes would be long on 800 pages. It's a comprehensive book, but definitely worth reading. It's broken into three sections which are basically a history of consumption, the birth of the modern consumer, and a look a modern consumption with a focus on sustainability (the last section is the most relevant to ERE but all are good). I think the first section, while interesting, is the most tedious to read. Start with the last section to get right to the ERE part of the book and then circle back if you enjoy it.

I haven't found a discussion of the last section specifically, but this short video and this appearance on Dan Snow's podcast will give you some idea of what to expect in the book.

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Re: Empire of Things by F. Trentmann

Post by jacob »

I'm working my way through it now (page 100 so far). Very many details indeed ;-) It was interesting to learn that tea/coffee culture started some 200 years before I thought it did. More interesting was the supreme focus on clothes and the fact that well-off merchants 400 years ago owned more clothes than many modern efficiency/minimalist types.

Indeed, a big point was made regards to how clothes "make the man" and maybe especially "make the woman" with all the sumptuary regs.

In that regard, I have a question: To which degree is this still the case? Especially now that sumptuary laws have been eliminated and people can dress however they want and more or less buy it too using credit... much like cars. How much signal value does clothes still have? Does clothes still make the person? Or does it just show that your wardrobe is your main hobby as far as flashing subtle tells with your understated belt and your ironic socks.

I'm too many Wheaton levels removed to even begin to grasp what the normal person's attitude is towards their own clothes and what their impression of other people's clothes, but that's the perspective I'm interested in: To what degree does clothes still make the person?

(Maybe it's answered later in the book)

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Re: Empire of Things by F. Trentmann

Post by BRUTE »

brute believes clothes still very much make the human.

while there are maybe no laws regarding what to wear, brute recently experimented and found that wearing a dark suit got him completely different attention from varying humans. some younger/hip humans seemed extra unfriendly. most "institutional" humans like clerks and employees seemed super uber-friendly. one time brute walked into a bank in his suit. he'd never seen as much attention as quickly from a bank employee. this employee was then very disappointed to find out brute wasn't in there to "do business" or whatever it is people in suits do. other small but quantifiable things: while in the suit, brute didn't get checked for tickets nearly as often on public transportation, and flight attendants as well as fellow passengers treated him very respectfully. many seat neighbors in planes just assumed brute was "here on business", even though brute had, in fact, no business being in those places.

it of course depends. if jacob dresses in pink ralph lauren shirts and gold chains, that might signal money, but it's certainly a different signal than a tailored suit.

brute also thinks that "clothes make the human" even if the observer isn't consciously aware of it. learning more about dress codes, brute has realized that many times he'd just feel a sort of "gut instinct" about people that was caused by their style of dressing. at the time, brute couldn't put the finger on it, but now he'd recognize that their suit didn't fit or they wore clashing colors. at the time, something just seemed off.

so brute thinks there's 2 things to it:
1)clothes signal
2)there seem to be some more or less objective rules for style, and even humans who don't know about style are affected by adhering to/breaking them (which makes them "objective rules" instead of just "agreed upon rules")

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Re: Empire of Things by F. Trentmann

Post by jacob »

Are we talking "casual suit" or "business suit" (mandatory tie)?

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Re: Empire of Things by F. Trentmann

Post by BRUTE »

business suit with tie

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Re: Empire of Things by F. Trentmann

Post by jennypenny »

@jacob--Keep reading. I found my views on consumerism softening a little after reading the entire book. It has and still does serve a purpose that I didn't fully appreciate. That doesn't mean we should accept environmentally unsustainable or debt-driven consumerism, only that a modified version can serve a purpose and isn't inherently negative (which was my position before).

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Re: Empire of Things by F. Trentmann

Post by Dragline »

jacob wrote: Indeed, a big point was made regards to how clothes "make the man" and maybe especially "make the woman" with all the sumptuary regs.

In that regard, I have a question: To which degree is this still the case? Especially now that sumptuary laws have been eliminated and people can dress however they want and more or less buy it too using credit... much like cars. How much signal value does clothes still have? Does clothes still make the person? Or does it just show that your wardrobe is your main hobby as far as flashing subtle tells with your understated belt and your ironic socks.

I'm too many Wheaton levels removed to even begin to grasp what the normal person's attitude is towards their own clothes and what their impression of other people's clothes, but that's the perspective I'm interested in: To what degree does clothes still make the person?
Not nearly as much -- clothing trends among the rich and famous now tilt towards athletic wear. For example, high-end yoga pants are replacing fashion jeans. HIgh tech fabrics are all the rage -- with Arcteryx stores opening where you would have seen high-end fashion boutiques in the past. And whereas I was required to wear a suit and tie every day when I started lawyering, almost no one does that anymore unless they are going to a very formal meeting or to court.

Accessories are still a big status symbol these days among the wealthy. For men, its always been expensive watches, but that trend is changing to go to "tech" watches like the Apple device. For women, it seems to be a lot about handbags and shoes.

But it also varies with the subculture. I was just visiting a relative who is a doctor and is into the wealthy Southern subculture focused on vehicles and weaponry, so he owns a giant RV, a jeep and several off-road things, guns for every vehicle and just bought a Dodge with 707 horsepower. (He did sell the boat, though.) He dresses in very ordinary/casual clothing except when he cycles he's got the full racing outfit in the latest hi-tech fabric. I find that men who like to spend usually do it on technology or collections, not clothing unless there is a "performance" aspect to it.

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Re: Empire of Things by F. Trentmann

Post by Dragline »

Well, I'm finally getting into reading this book and finding it very illuminating.

One of the first things that struck me was the very definition of "consumption". It was noted that until about 1900, the idea really meant "used up" and there was a certain morality about conserving and using things until they were all "used up".

This is the way I think about owning and using things, and I knew the idea was old but didn't really know where it came from. It may me wonder why I think that way -- it still bothers me psychologically to throw something out if I think it has some useful life left in it, and I have an unnatural attachment to old things that still work. I think it might have come from my father's side, because he grew up in a colonial environment where consumer goods were relatively scarce and expensive. But that's just a speculation.

I wonder what I will figure out next . . .

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