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Consumption Intensified examines how self-identified middle class Brazilians in São Paulo redefined their class during Brazil's economic crisis of 1981-1994. With inflation soaring to an astounding 2700 percent, their consumption practices intensified, not only in relation to the national crisis but also to the expanding global consumer culture. Drawing on her observations of everyday practices and on representations of the middle class in popular culture, anthropologist Maureen O'Dougherty explores both the logic and incoherence of middle- to upper-middle-class Brazilian life.
With the supports of middle-class living threatened¿job security, quality education, home ownership, savings, ease of consumption¿the means and meaning of ¿middle class¿ were thrown into question. The sector thus redefined itself through both class- and race-based claims of moral and cultural superiority and through privileged consumption, a definition the media underscored by continually addressing middle-class Brazilians as consumers¿or rather, as consumers denied. In these times, adults became more flexible in employment, and put stakes in their children's expensive private education. They engaged in elaborate comparison shopping, stockpiling of goods, and financial strategizing. Ongoing desire for distinction and ¿first-world¿ modernity prompted these Brazilians to buy foreign goods through contraband, thereby defying state protectionist policy. Discontented with the constraints of the national economy, they welcomed neoliberalism.
By uncovering connections between culture and politics, O'Dougherty complicates understandings of the middle class as a social group and category. Illuminating the intricate relation between identity and local and global consumption, her work will be welcomed by students and scholars in anthropology and Latin American studies, and those interested in consumption, popular culture, politics, and globalization.
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