Applying a Functional Perspective to
Shopping and Consumption
low might functionalists analyze shopping and consumption? Whcn we examine the part to whole relationships of contemporary society in high-income nations. it inuu,: diately becomes apparent that each social institution depends on the others fill' its wcll-hcing, For example. a booming cconomy benefits other soci.il in stitutions. including thc family (members arc gainfully employed), religion (churches. mosques. synagogues. and temples receive larger contributions}, and education (school taxes arc higher when property val lit'S arc higher). A strong economy also makes it possible lor more people to purchase more goods and services. Issue to thc significance of the strength of the economy. the U.S. Census Bureau conducts surveys (for the Hurcau of Lahor St.lti,tir,) to determine how people are spending their (the census Prof lcs" lct rc). People have "extra" mOney to spend and can at lord leisure time away from work. they are more likely to dine out. take trips. and purchase things they might otherwise forgo. Clearly. the manifest functions of shopping and consumption include purchasing necessary items such as local, clothing. household items. and some times transportation. In contemporary societies. purchasing
entertainment and information is another function of shopping. both in actual stores and in virtual stores online. But what are the latent functions of shopping malls. for example? Many teens go to the mall to "hang out," visit with friends. maybe buy a Tsshirt, and eat lunch at the food court. People of all ages go shopping for pleasure. relaxation. and perhaps to enhance their feelings of self-worth. if this product. I'll look younger!beautiful/handsome! sexy. etc.!") As one scholar noted. "Shopping entails the joy of going into a safe spot filled with things to
look at where [shoppers] are treated deferentially. Although no one has hooked up a turbo lie detector to a shopper out for fun. if they did. the machine would regist~1' increased arousal. heightened involvement. perceived freedom. and fantasy fulfillment" (Twitchell. 1999: 243).
However. shopping and consuming may also produce problems or dysfunctions. Some people are "shopaholics" or "credit card junkies" who cannot stop spending money; others are kleptomaniacs. who steal products rather than pay for them. In the end. however. the typical functionalist approach to consumerism is shown in this com!'l,ent by aile scholar: "Let's face it. the idea that consumerism creates artificial desires rests on a wistful ignorance of history and human nature. on the hazy. romantic feeling that there existed some halcyon era of noble savages with purely natural needs. Once fed and sheltered. our needs have always been cultural. not natural Until there is some other system to codify and satisfy those needs and yearnings. capitalism-and the culture it carries with it-will continue not just to thrive but to triumph- (Twitchell. 1999: 283