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Simone Cinotto, "Transatlantic Consumer Cultures: Italy and the United States in the Twentieth Century," in Modern European-American Relations in the Transatlantic Space: Recent Trends in History Writing, ed. Maurizio Vaudagna

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Simone Cinotto, "Transatlantic Consumer Cultures: Italy and the United States in the Twentieth Century," in Modern European-American Relations in the Transatlantic Space: Recent Trends in History Writing, ed. Maurizio Vaudagna (Turin: Otto,
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  149 Transatlantic Consumer Cultures: Italy and the United States in the Twentieth Century  Simone Cinotto e subjects of consumption, consumer culture and consumer politics loom large on the analytical horizon of this volume – a “long” Atlantic history that acknowledges the permanence of dynamics of interdependence specific to the Atlantic space, beyond the classic chronological boundaries of 1492-1800 and into the “global” 19th, 20th and 21st century. 1  is essay, which is the preliminary result of a much broader future study on the Europeanization of 20th-century US consumer culture, is structured in two sections. e first provides a short overview of the historiography on consumption as it relates to the transatlantic arena, as part of the history of consumption and globalization, and focuses on the historical narratives of the relations between Europe and the United States as articulated through the exchange of capital, goods, consumer cultures and consumer ideologies in the 20th century. (Herein, “consumer culture” refers to the array of meanings  with which commercially-produced goods and leisure activities are associated). It is argued here that early-modern and modern transatlantic histories of consumption largely grew in mutual isolation. One result of this disconnection is the fact that while the multipolar, multi-actor and circulatory dynamics of early-modern transatlantic consumption were appreciated, 20th-century historical narratives disproportionately focused on the one-way transfer of American consumer patterns and institutions to Europe as a strategic factor in the Americanization of European societies in full display after 1945. As concluded in this first section, the number and relevance of works by US and European historians  who have studied the reverse dynamic of European influences on the shaping of the US consumer landscape have been minimal. As suggested in the last part of this section, the case of Italy and US-Italian relations may be a particularly promising one as part of the aforementioned broader project to close the gap of analytical historical acknowledgment of the Europeanization of 20th-century US consumer culture and society. 1. Donna R. Gabaccia, “A Long Atlantic in a Wider World,”  Atlantic Studies, 1, 1 (2004), 1-27.  150  -      e second section of this essay builds on transatlantic historian Mary Nolan’s argu-ment that US hegemony over international modern consumerism and popular culture did not exist prior to World War I. As she argued, the United States was in fact only one among many economic and cultural international powers; Americans were eager consumers of European products and culture; and consumer culture and its institutions developed to a great extent horizontally, in a shared rather than nationally compart-mented transatlantic space. 2  US consumerism was a strategic arm of US imperialism in two different ways: in terms of the commercial expansion and global exportation of its manufactured products – the aspect most familiar to historical scholarship; and the much less studied consumption of global products and cultural influences, from French fashion to chinoiserie, which allowed American women and men to participate in a domestic imperialism of consumption, or imperial emporium, despite not having di-rectly participated in travels of conquest and colonization, as best described by historian Kristin Hoganson. 3  In this respect, a US imperialism centered on the Caribbean, Latin  America and East Asia resembled, shared similar dynamics with and drew inspiration from European imperialisms then at their zenith, including the minor Italian strain cen-tered on the Mediterranean and the Horn of Africa. As is argued in this section, US and Italian imperialisms were indeed interconnected incubators of transatlantic consumer cultures. (Herein, the notion of “imperialism” is understood as a strategy of imposing one country’s power over other lands and populations, not only through military force and colonialism, but also through a variety of cultural means, including the imperial-minded understanding, racialization and gendering of other people and places encountered in the deployment of imperialism).In sum, it is argued here that throughout the 20th century Italian consumer culture helped significantly diversify a society typically seen as promoting a global monoculture. As a result, Italian goods, popular culture artifacts and approaches to consumerism encoun-tered other European consumer cultures (France and its products being especially popular discursive counterparts to Italy) that were equally determined to carve out their space in the US consumer market and imagination. Other consumer products, institutions and ideologies generically labeled “European” – from housing to the welfare state – have clearly had a similar impact on US consumer culture. A critical analysis of the Europeanization of the United States via consumerism in the 20th century is a necessary endeavor that has yet to be carried out by scholars. e collapse of conceptual boundaries and chrono-logical ruptures between early-modern and modern historiographies of consumption and globalization appears to be the methodological prerequisite for achieving a balanced revision of the US-European relationship as defined by consumer culture. 2. Mary Nolan, e Transatlantic Century: Europe and America, 1890-2010   (New York, 2012).3. Kristin L. Hoganson, Consumers’ Imperium: e Global Production of American Domesticity, 1865-1920   (Chapel Hill, N.C., 2007).  151   Transatlantic Consumption, the Americanization of Europe and the Place of Italy in the Consumer Atlantic Until recently, the history of consumption focused primarily on specific “key” spaces and moments in time. Consumer history emerged in the 1980s as a distinct disciplin-ary branch with antecedents in the investigation of the material cultures of the Middle  Ages and the early-modern era across the Mediterranean of the French  Annales   school; the pioneering studies of British subaltern and working class daily life of E.P. ompson and the History Workshop  group; and the analysis of 19th-century European bourgeois culture and sociability on the part of German and French new social historians. 4  In the 1980s, an early wave of consumer historians set out to debate when and where to locate the “birth” of a consumer society in which many goods, including unnecessary ones, are available to large portions of the population, and the selection, acquisition and owning of things significantly defines social relations and individual and collective identities. Earlier chronologies had focused on the “Roaring Twenties” in the United States and the 1950s economic boom in European societies as initial examples of such a society. 5  Inspired by  Walter Benjamin and Georg Simmel’s reflections on the symbolic figure of the  flâneur   or “urban stroller,” later historians identified the srcin of specialized places of consump-tion in the late-19th-century emergence in Europe and the United States of department stores – places that fetishized commodities and made shopping and its languages a task to which large sections of the populace dedicated time and energy. 6  However, other his-torians of consumption soon placed the birth of modern consumerism as far back as the early 18th century, linking it to the developments of European capitalism and protestant  world visions in England and the Netherlands – the countries that first experienced a capitalist-oriented agricultural and industrial revolution in production. Neil McKendrick,  John Brewer and J. H. Plumb illustrated the emergence of modern consumer institutions such as advertising, shopping catalogs and store windows enticing consumers through the aestheticization of goods and a new consumerist language in 18th-century England. Simon Schama described the emergence of an acquisitive ethos and discriminating desire 4. Landmark works summarizing the research results of these different material-culture historical schools include Fernand Braudel, Capitalism and Material Life, 1400-1800   (New York, [1967] 1973); E.P. ompson, e Making of the British Working Class   (New York, 1966); Jürgen Kocka and Allen Mitchell, eds., Bourgeois Society in 19th-Century Europe   (New York, 1993); Phillippe Ariès and Georges Duby, eds., History of Private Life, Volume 4:  From the Fires of Revolution to the Great War   (Cambridge, Mass., 1994).5. For a comprehensive overview, see Jean-Christophe Agnew, “Coming Up for Air: Consumer Culture in Historical Perspective,” in Consumption and the World of Goods  , eds. John Brewer and Roy Porter (New York, 1993), 19-39.6. Susan Benson, Counter Cultures: Saleswomen, Managers, and Customers in American Department Stores, 1890-1940   (Urbana, Ill., 1987); Elaine S. Abelson, When Ladies Go A-ieving: Middle-Class Shoplifters in the Victorian Department Store   (New York, 1992); Michael B. Miller, e Bon Marché: Bourgeois Culture and the Department Store, 1869-1920   (Princeton, N.J., 1994); William R. Leach, Land of Desire: Merchants, Power, and the Rise of a New American Culture   (New York, 1994).  152  -      among the 18th-century Dutch mercantile entrepreneurial class that reconciled protestant ideals of thriftiness, deferment of pleasure and self-control with the enjoyment of beauty and distinction through possession and display. 7  e fact that some antecedents to 18th-century English and Dutch developments can be found in different parts of Asia and Europe, however, reveals the limits of a research agenda aimed at identifying a single time and place for the birth of consumerism. It is also indicative of a major shortcoming in the early historiography of consumption, namely its focus on place-specific ruptures and turning points, rather than on continuities, diffu-sions and hybridizations. In the 20th-century history of consumption this has translated especially into the dominant notion of Americanization and the “irresistible” soft power exercised by the United States, in particular on Cold War Europe via mass-produced goods, popular culture, marketing and patterns of public relations and advertising. According to this vision, the transatlantic market that allowed postwar western societies to enjoy unprecedented degrees of material prosperity was formed on a distinctive American matrix. While this Americanization-via-consumerism argument was most powerfully summarized by Victoria De Grazia in Irresistible Empire: America’s Advance rough 20th-Century Europe   of 2005, it has also been articulated in several books and essays focusing on different features and areas of Europe. 8  More recently, however, historians have begun to dispute such time- and place-specific, unidirectional approaches to the history of consumer culture. In his history of consump-tion in modern Europe, for example, Paolo Capuzzo has programmatically insisted on continuities over time and genealogies of technological innovations, market expansions, state interventions, cultural exchanges, borrowings and appropriations to describe the developments of modern consumer societies. According to Capuzzo, two broader, albeit irregular, long-durée   processes reigned over the formation of European consumer societies: the creation and growth of a global economic system that supplied Europe with new products as it integrated the continent into dense networks of relations with the rest of the world; and the ongoing “democratization” of consumption, that is, the loosening and receding of a binding link between styles of consumption and social status, which in Europe had been codified in the sumptuary laws of the Late Middle Ages. Within this 7. Neil McKendrick, John Brewer and J.H. Plumb, e Birth of a Consumer Society: Commercialization of 18th Century England   (Bloomington, IN., 1982); Simon Schama, e Embarrassment of Riches: An Interpretation of Dutch Culture in the Golden Age   (Berkeley, Calif., 1987).8. Victoria De Grazia, Irresistible Empire: America’s Advance rough 20th-Century Europe   (Cambridge, Mass., 2005); Richard Kuisel, Seducing the French: e Dilemma of Americanization  (Berkeley, Calif., 1993); Reinhold  Wagnleitner, Coca-Colonization and the Cold War: e Cultural Mission of the United States in Austria After the Second World War   (Chapel Hill, N.C., 1994); Christopher Endy, Cold War Holidays: American Tourism in France   (Chapel Hill, N.C., 2004); Penny Von Eschen, Satchmo Blows Up the World: Jazz Ambassadors Play the Cold War   (Cambridge, Mass., 2004); Robert W. Rydell and Rob Kroes, Buffalo Bill in Bologna: e Americanization of the World, 1869-1922   (Chicago, 2005); David W. Ellwood, e Shock of America: Europe and the Challenge of the Century   (New York, 2012).  153   framework, under a new continuous light extending from the 16th century to World War I and beyond, Capuzzo revisits changes that the previous literature had attributed to his-torical turning points, twists and watershed developments. His history presents the spread of new products like sugar, coffee, cacao, tea and tobacco in Europe not as a mechanical side effect of Europe’s colonization of the world but rather as the slow incorporation of these commodities into the everyday life of different consumer subjects, and examines the meanings of this process. Capuzzo’s account of the developing relationship between social standing and styles of consumption describes a measured, nonlinear movement of consumerism, from a means to sanction social differences to one that complicates them and even subverts them, as consumers empowered themselves, individually and collec-tively, to use goods in subjective and creative rather than prescriptive ways. Eighteenth-century concerns about the emergence of consumption and the market as vital ways to define social identities were thus reflected in the 19th-century reconstruction of social divides based on taste and distinction. is is best exemplified in the private and public forms of bourgeois consumption, which combined thrift, sobriety and self-discipline  with the enjoyment of aesthetic pleasure and material accumulation. e working class also responded to bourgeois claims of hegemony over taste by creating and endorsing a distinctive consumer culture that was in a constant state of tension and negotiation with middle-class consumer values and practices. Finally, Capuzzo looks at emerging modern structures, spaces and institutions of consumption not as neutral occurrences, but as the results of both entrepreneurial efforts and the response of consumers who, again, used consumer spaces not only or not necessarily for their prescribed shopping uses, but also for various other social practices and purposes. 9 Recent criticism of time- and place-specific, evenementiel   histories of consumption have pointed both to the obscuration of continuities in previous literature and especially to the need to look at developments of consumer culture and consumer societies as global processes. In particular, historian Frank Trentmann has drawn attention to the disjuncture between the emphasis of early-modern historians of consumption on global connections, exchanges and circulations and the insistence of modern historians on Americanization and their selective concentration on specific contexts of emerging consumerism. Furthermore, historians studying early-modern consumerism have predominantly chosen a culturalist perspective, insisting on the cultural production of desire and the entanglements between a new acquisitive ethos and religious dictates. ose working on 20th-century consumerism have instead mostly focused on the social and political dimensions of the fulfillment of needs through increasing levels of consumption among a widening population of con-sumers. 10  As Trentmann concludes, their indifference and isolation from each other led 9. Paolo Capuzzo, Culture del Consumo  (Bologna, 2006).10. Frank Trentmann, “Beyond Consumerism: New Historical Perspectives on Consumption,”  Journal of Contemporary History  , 39, 3 (2004), 373-401.
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