Course Profile: ‘Consumer in Our Society’ examines the critical role of consumers in the American economy

Photo: Sheila Mammen/Credit: Ebru Kardan

As the name suggests, ‘The Consumer in Our Society’ explores how consumers function and operate in the American economy. This general education course in the Department of Resource Economics is taught by Sheila Mammen, and delves into the role that consumers play, the impact of advertising, consumer rights and responsibilities, and more.

“People don’t always make rational decisions,” says Mammen.  “When you’re considering different products in the marketplace, you don’t always buy them because you need them.” The course illustrates this premise by examining three industries that affect the average consumer during some part of their life, namely the credit, advertising, and funeral businesses.

“Everyone will need to buy a funeral at some point, and you’re always making those decisions under situations of grief making the consumer vulnerable to exploitation”, Mammen explains. She notes that it is important for consumers to be savvy when it comes to consuming products like these and understand their rights.

A cornerstone of the course is its interdisciplinary perspective. Consumers will often consider multiple facets of a product or service, such as environmental and economic concerns, before making purchasing decisions. Therefore, it’s necessary to infuse the study of consumer behavior with concepts from ecology, sociology, political science, anthropology, and psychology. Given the variegated nature of this course, students have the opportunity to apply concepts and theories from their own majors to their analyses.

Students will need to think critically about the myriad forces that affect consumer behavior and consumption within the larger context of the economy. “No matter the issue, you need to be a wise consumer”, Mammen notes.

In addition to lectures and discussions, the course uses current consumer news to highlight contemporary economic issues. At each session, two groups of students are required to present stories from the news to the class followed by a summary and analysis of the issues.  “They learn to be scholars and present both sides of any issue”, Mammen explains.

Through this course, Mammen hopes to emphasize that the consumer is the engine that drives the economy and motivate students to consider their own consumption patterns. It also serves as a primer to the resource economics department which offers many thought-provoking courses for those considering a major or minor in the subject.

As of this posting, there is still room to register for Consumer in Our Society.

-- By Mythreyi Krishnan, SBS Commmunications Manager