Consuming the romantic utopia: Introduction to a political economy of love

Eva Illouz, University of Pennsylvania


Combining historical and sociological research methods, this dissertation explores how modern romantic representations and practices have been shaped by the culture of capitalism. The historical research explores how romantic love became integrated within mass markets of consumption. During the closing decades of the 19th century and the beginning of 20th century, traditional patterns of courtship were replaced by "dating" defined as a set of ritualized set of consumptive leisurely activities (dining, touring, going to the movies, riding a car etc.). The genesis of an industry of leisure targeted to the couple was accompanied by the representation of the "consuming couple" in the nascent mass culture of advertising and movies. The analysis of advertising images and articles drawn from various middle-class and working-class magazines shows that the depiction of romantic love in mass media iconography and the growth of the leisure market were simultaneously and reciprocally instrumental to each other: while the leisure market was the outlet of romantic behavior, romance justified symbolically the consumption of these goods. The commodification of romance was accompanied by a deep romanticization of commodities. The historical analysis sets the background against which modern practices and representations of romance are analyzed. Using in depth interviews with working-class people, professionals and intellectuals, the sociological research analyzes how the symbols, images and practices derived from the mass market of consumption have been incorporated within modern representations and practices of love. Results reveal that the market-based romance functions as a collectively binding utopia and that class differences are contained within this collective utopia.

Subject Area

History|Sociology|Cultural anthropology|Economic history|Marketing

Recommended Citation

Illouz, Eva, "Consuming the romantic utopia: Introduction to a political economy of love" (1991). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI9211943.