Consumer Citizens: Women, Identity, and Consumption in the Early Twentieth Century

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University of Toronto Press, Nov 15, 2019 - History - 304 pages

Exploring the roots of Canadian consumer culture, this book uncovers the meanings that Canadians have historically attached to consumer goods. Focusing on white women during the early twentieth century, it reveals that for thousands of Canadians between the 1890s and World War II, consumption was about not only survival, but also civic expression.

Offering a new perspective on the temperance, conservation, home economics, feminist, and co-operative movements, this book brings white women's consumer interests to the fore. Due to their exclusion from formal politics and paid employment, many white Canadian women turned their consumer roles into personal and social opportunities. They sought solutions in the consumer sphere to isolation, upward mobility, personal expression, and family survival. They effectively transformed consumer culture into an arena of political engagement.

Yet if white Canadian women viewed consumption as a tool of empowerment, so did they wield consumption as a tool of exclusion. As Purchasing Power reveals, Canadian women of privileged race and class status tended to disparage racialized and lower income women's consumer habits. In so doing, they constructed hierarchical notions of taste that defined who - and who did not - belong in the modern Canadian nation.

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About the author (2019)

Donica Belisle is an associate professor in the Department of History at the University of Regina.

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