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UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Consumers of good taste : Marketing modernity in Northern Mexico, 1890-1910 Bunker, Steven B.


Mexican historians, emphasizing capitalist production as the defining feature of nineteenth- and early twentieth century Mexican society, have largely overlooked the other question of capitalism, that of consumption. This emphasis has impeded a recognition of the cultural and social impact of a budding consumer society in Mexican cities prior to the Revolution of 1910. By the time of the 1910 Revolution, a culture of consumption had become synonymous with the public culture of the northern Mexican cities of Monterrey and Chihuahua. This consumer culture and an accompanying service economy arose where capitalist production and urban growth created mass societies of wage-earners reliant upon the market to satisfy their basic needs and increasing desires. It became a means by which enlightened Mexicans conveyed their vision of a modernizing Mexico, integrating and disseminating the messages of consumption with the principles of economic progress, nationalism, moral reform, and civic pride. By and large, this culture of consumption spoke to the sensibilities and moral values of Mexico's urban middle classes, yet it also included the artisan working classes who claimed social respectability for themselves by trying to emulate the consumption patterns of their social superiors. The effects of modern consumption also transformed gender roles and spheres of influence; new territories of public space became open to middle class women as consumption became identified as a feminine trait. Mass-circulation newspapers, department stores, commercialized entertainments, brand-name goods, and the "science of advertising" became the most visible symbols of this new culture. Not only did this culture of consumption inform the daily discourse and social relations of Mexicans, but it also transformed the urban landscape in which they worked, strolled, and found entertainment. As part of a modernizing effort by urban reformers to clean up city centers and remove vice to the fringes, shopping and entertainment districts shared public space and new urban transportation and communication networks with business establishments, civic buildings, and public monuments. Both the consumption and production sides of capitalism characterized the rapidly growing and transforming urban milieu in which increasing numbers of Mexicans lived.

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