This teaching column focuses on a midterm assignment for an upper division undergraduate interdisciplinary course at the University of California, Berkeley on consumer society and culture. It is a hands-on learning experience for students with little empirical social research training to observe consumer behaviors in real life settings. The theoretical concepts explained in the week prior to the assignment provide analytical tools for students to make sense of their observations, and I pair abstract theory with examples drawn from my own research on shopping at open-air holiday markets in New York City. Through this assignment, students learn to look at everyday retail settings in a completely different way, to critique conventional thinking with evidence-based argument, and become more aware of the diverse customer base of national chain stores versus small local businesses, and of the social dynamics played out in the public space of consumption.

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