Full Text


Keith Hayward

Subject Sociology » Consumption

Place Western Europe » France

Period 1000 - 1999 » 1900-1999

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781405124331.2007.x


Originating in Paris in the 1820s, arcades were decorative passages or walkways through blocks of buildings. Typically glass-roofed and supported by ornate ironwork columns, arcades served as a form of interior street; a site of conspicuous consumption for the wealthy, and a place of marvel and spectacle for the poor. Hemmed in by antique shops, concession stands, and an eclectic array of emporia, arcade shop fronts offered the observer a chaotic visual experience of illuminated shop-signs, objets d'art , and a cornucopia of commodities and artifacts from around the world. In sociological terms, the importance of the Parisian arcades lies in their purported role as progenitor of modern consumerism and more tangentially as a prototype of the contemporary shopping mall. The unearthing of the arcade as a site of sociological and philosophical importance is closely associated with the work of the German literary theorist Walter Benjamin. Benjamin was fascinated by the “mythical” qualities of the arcades, viewing them as both “threatening” and “alluring” – places in which the emotions were stimulated and where the social constraints of public and private life were simultaneously blurred and challenged. In his fragmentary work The Arcades Project ( Das Passagen-Werk ) he viewed the arcades as a metaphor that could help us understand the composition and dynamic form of high modern industrial ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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