Cathedrals and Landscapes of Consumption Essay

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Although George Ritzer (2005) is the theorist most responsible for popularizing the phrase ”cathedrals of consumption, it has been used at least since Kowinski, who stated that ”malls are sometimes called cathedrals of consumption, meaning that they are the monuments of a new faith, the consumer religion, which has largely replaced the old (1985: 218). These geographies are self-contained consumption settings that utilize postmodern techniques such as implosion, the compression of time and space, and simulation to create spectacular locales designed to attract consumers. They can be considered cathedrals because, much like their religious counterparts, they ”are seen as fulfilling people s need to connect with each other and with nature, as well as their need to participate in festivals. [They] provide the kind of centeredness traditionally provided by religious temples, and they are constructed to have similar balance, symmetry, and order (Ritzer 2005: 8).

Ritzer (2005) has built upon his notion of cathedrals of consumption to describe what he terms ”landscapes of consumption, or ”geographic areas that encompass two, or more, cathedrals of consumption (p. 149). This definition can be extended to define landscapes of consumption as locales that encompass two or more cathedrals of consumption that allow, encourage, and even compel people to consume. The prototypical example of this would be the Las Vegas strip — an area where multiple cathedrals of consumption exist side-by-side in the same geographic setting and entice consumers not only through their individual appeal but also through the techniques made possible by their synergistic proximity.

Sharon Zukin (1991) has also contributed much to the idea of landscape. She uses the term landscape to describe a configuration of material geographic surroundings and their related social and symbolic practices. She argues that landscape is the major cultural product of our time and that landscape and power are deeply and intricately connected. Through this, large-scale, bureaucratic, economic structures attempt to impose a new order upon an existing geographic location. Although there is sometimes resistance to these attempts, ultimately capital wins out and landscapes are imposed. Zukin also argues that landscapes, contrary to the assertions of many postmodern social theorists, tend towards ”repetition and singularity and not towards ephemeral aestheticism.

Elsewhere, Ritzer, Ryan, and Stepnisky (2005) have extended the idea of landscapes of consumption with their case study ofEaston Town Center in Columbus, Ohio. They argue that Easton serves as a prototype of a consumer setting that is becoming increasingly prevalent — one that seeks to simulate the look and feel of a nostalgic small town America. By encompassing two or more landscapes of consumption within one setting, Easton is able to expand the spectacle of landscape to a community level (Ryan 2005).


  1. Kowinski, W. S. (1985) The Malling of America: An Inside Look at the Great Consumer Paradise. William Morrow, New York.
  2. Ritzer, G. (2005) Enchanting a Disenchanted World: Revolutionizing the Means of Consumption, 2nd edn. Pine Forge Press, Thousand Oaks, CA.
  3. Ritzer, G., Ryan, J. M., & Stepnisky, J. (2005) Innovation in consumer   settings:   landscapes   and beyond. In:   Ratneshwar,      and  Mick,   C.   (eds.), Inside Consumption: Frontiers of Research on Consumer Motives, Goals, and Desires, Routledge, London, pp. 292—308.
  4. Ryan, J. M. (2005) Easton: a 21st century (r)evolution in consumption, community, urbanism, and space. MA thesis. College Park, MD, University of Maryland.
  5. Zukin, S. (1991) Landscapes of Power: From Detroit to Disney    University   of   California Press, Berkeley, CA.
  6. Ritzer, G. & Ryan, J. M. (2004) The globalization of nothing. In: Dasgupta, S. (ed.), The Changing Face of Globalization. Sage, Thousand Oaks, CA, pp. 298—317.

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