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Reversal of Production and Consumption at the Minnesota State Fair.

Ritson, Mark.

One of the most important changes in Western society during the last millennium is the shift from a culture centered on production to one focused on consumption. During the modernist era, production (one's skill at a particular craft or trade) was considered the source of an individual's social worth and identity, and consumption was dismissed as a necessary but wasteful activity. After World War II, some theorists contend that Western culture experienced a reversal in the relationship between production and consumption. So called postmodernist culture deemphasized production and celebrated the consumption of goods as the source of individual value and social identity. In this article, the author uses the Minnesota State Fair as a historical case study to investigate the relationship between production and consumption during the modernist and postmodernist periods. After analyzing both quantitative data (data on prize awards and concessions sales) and qualitative data (discussions of the fair in the popular press and official annual reports), the author concludes that the Minnesota State Fair has been characterized by three distinct historical periods: an era dominated by production (1859-1932), an era of transition from a production-orientation to a consumption-orientation (1933-1946), and an era dominated by consumption (1947-present). Ritson attributes these changes to four cultural factors in the United States: commercial expansion, market orientation, urban rationalization, and the legitimation of recreation. The author concludes that in time, the Minnesota State Fair and Western culture in general might undergo another transition away from a consumption-dominated culture.

CURA Reporter
Publication date: 
Minneapolis: Center for Urban and Regional Affairs, University of Minnesota.
30 (3): 1-9.
Online availability
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CURA call number: 
Reporter 30 (3)

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