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The concept of the leisure class has been introduced by Thorstein Veblen (1899) in his The Theory of the Leisure Class. It here consists of those people who, due to their social position, can afford to abstain from productive work and live on other people’s labor. Confining themselves to non-industrial occupations like ”government, warfare, religious observances, and sports, their income is sourced from exploitation of industrial classes that are subdued by the leisure class s superior ”pecuniary prowess. Positional claims are asserted by wasteful ”conspicuous leisure and by ”conspicuous consumption of costly goods that have no immediate utility.
Veblen sees one main effect of the modern leisure class in the exertion of a cultural dominance, setting socially accepted standards of taste. Aspiring classes emulate leisure class patterns of behavior and especially consumption, while the emulated leisure class in turn is constantly developing its ”pecuniary canons of taste” in order to spoil emulative efforts. The leisure class thus functions as a consumerist avant-garde. While it is commonly accepted that it is not adequate to think of contemporary upper classes in terms of a ”leisure class, the idea of emulation is still widely held.
The term ”leisure class is hardly used in recent sociology, but it still is informative in approaching a variety of contemporary social phenomena. Although it is never applicable in full to those groups, the concept is useful to highlight aspects of celebrity culture, unemployment, old age, and tourism.
- Veblen, T. (1899) The Theory of the Leisure Class. Macmillan, New York.