Abstract

Mormondom 1847–1910 provides a test case for examining consumerism. Zion's rapid changes produced a chronologically and geographically condensed instance of larger transformations in consumption attendant with the market economy's rise. Before the railroad's 1869 arrival, weak eastern commercial linkages created a marketplace of limited choices. The railroad, however, expanded the number and range of goods and so encouraged Mormons to revise their understandings of consumption. Before 1869, Mormons—recognizing limited choices—attached little gravity to shopping. Goods reflected status, but did not reveal personhood. Moreover, the Saints viewed goods through a prism of local experience. After 1869, swelling choices invited Mormons to link consumption and self-definition. To make sense of imports without local meaning, Mormons turned to a transatlantic Victorianism. This new sensibility, however, offered fewer openings to shape commodity symbolism; the meaning of possessions became less local and participatory. Commodity meaning emerged not from the promotional efforts of manufacturers, but the sentimental themes of popular literature. The Mormon experience suggests consumer theories crediting advertising with the reorganization of identity around consumption err in chronology and causality. Instead, the converging expansions of commodity variation and the popular press propelled the identification of consumer choice as the means for subjective expression and personal identification.

Additional Information

ISSN
1527-1897
Print ISSN
0022-4529
Pages
pp. 29-61
Launched on MUSE
2004-08-31
Open Access
No
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