Inconspicuous consumption: Work-rich, time-poor in the liberal market economy

Oriel Sullivan, Jonathan Gershuny

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

70 Scopus citations


Addressing the relationship between consumption behaviour, leisure time and the market, we seek a solution to the problem of the maintenance of consumption expenditure in economies where leisure time is shortest for those who have the most to spend, a contradiction particularly characteristic of societies belonging to the politico-economic regime type identified as 'liberal market'. In contrast to ideas of conspicuous consumption based on display, we present a concept of 'inconspicuous consumption' relating to an imagined future use of purchases already made. Expensive leisure goods that symbolize a wished-for self-identity or lifestyle are purchased by high-income earners with little leisure time. From the point of view of the production sector, the purpose is achieved and a sale is made. However, the purchased goods remain 'in storage'at home as symbols of a potential but unrealized and, in the meantime, unrealizable future. We illustrate different modalities of the practices of inconspicuous consumption and distinguish it from other consumption practices.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)79-100
Number of pages22
JournalJournal of Consumer Culture
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1 Dec 2004


  • Conspicuous consumption
  • Leisure
  • Liberal market regime
  • Social status

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Business and International Management
  • Social Psychology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Economics and Econometrics
  • Marketing


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