Consumer identity

British writer Tristram Hunt, author of «Building Jerusalem: The Rise and Fall of the Victorian City,» discussed the mall trend in an e-mail to Kathimerini. «The development of shopping arcades and department stores really takes off from the 1860s in both Paris and London and then our provincial cities likes Leeds, Birmingham and Glasgow. Whiteleys was perhaps London’s first major department store. The German philosopher/historian Walter Benjamin wrote a whole book on the modernity of the 19th century arcade – ‘The Arcades Project.’ He argued that this marked a new phase in capitalist development: a focus on display and commodity above use and exchange value. What you can see is a move from the construction of civic institutes – clubs, chapels, libraries, art galleries, museums – to a focus on consumption and retail. With it, there went a steady erosion of city dwellers’ civic sensibility. For the urban middle classes, consumption rather than civic participation or religious observance or political involvement started to determine their identity. Accompanying the department stores was… a move to the suburbs – so the city center just became a locus of consumption and display rather than functioning place.»

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