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Modern culture and lifestyles

Offer semester
1st semester

Lecture time
Tuesday 4.30pm – 6.20pm

Lecture venue

Course description

This course explores the dynamics of modern culture by looking at the manifold styles of living in contemporary society. While we live in a time with many lifestyle options available to us, at times we must make choices under constraints not of our own making. In our efforts to understand this interplay of structure and agency, we will examine theoretical writings about “modern” culture and modernity, and the changing role of the individual in society, with attention to patterns of cultural change and continuity.

Using sociological and anthropological readings, we will problematize concepts and phenomena that predominate in modernity, including self-identity, authenticity, surveillance, globalization, and ethical consumption. Looking at cultural groups and communities in different parts of the world, we will inquire how certain lifestyles become naturalized and universalized. We also critically assess how individuals and institutions use various media to both shape and reflect modern tastes and lifestyles.

Course learning outcomes

  • Apply concepts and theoretical perspectives to a variety of cultures and lifestyles.
  • Collect and analyze your own consumer data through a diary.
  • Engage in self-reflective dialogue with others on issues of selfhood, agency, culture, and lifestyles.
  • Demonstrate the capacity to analyze a particular cultural group or lifestyle.


Class exercises10%
Short Essay20%
Tutorial Participation and Presentation15%
Consumption Diary Project15%
Final Paper40%

Required reading

Giddens, Anthony. 1991. Modernity and Self-Identity. Selections.

Thompson, E.P. 1967. “Time, Work-Discipline, and Industrial Capitalism”.

Kondo, Dorinne. 1987. “Creating an Ideal Self: Theories of Selfhood and Pedagogy at a Japanese Ethics Retreat.” Ethos 5(3):241-272.

Cheney-Lippold, John. 2017. We Are Data: Algorithms and the Making of Our Digital Selves. Selections.

Rony, Fatimah Tobing. 1996. The Third Eye: Race, Cinema and Spectacle. Selections.

Lyng, Stephen. 2004. Edgework: The Sociology of Risk-Taking.

Bourdieu, Pierre. 1979. Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste. Selections.

Dunn, Robert G. 2008. Identifying Consumption: Subjects and Objects in Consumer Society. Selections.

Boorstin, Daniel. 1961. The Image. Selections.

Yano, Christine. 2013. Pink Globalization: Hello Kitty’s Trek Across the Pacific. Selections.

Barendregt, Bart and Rivke Jaffe. 2014. Green Consumption: The Rise of Eco-Chic. Selections.

Jenson, Joli. 1992. “Fandom as Pathology.” The Adoring Audience: Fan Culture and Popular Media.

Recommended reading

Various selections

Course co-ordinator and teachers

Student view

Studying lifestyles and consumption anthropologically help me think more critically about everyday life. The decision to include unusual readings such as Hello Kitty consumption and Barry Manilow fan clubs made the course both relevant and refreshing.

– Liuyi Valerie Guo, 4th year Sociology Major undergraduate student