Social Space, Technology, and Consumer Culture at the Grands Magasins Dufayel

in Historical Reflections/Réflexions Historiques
Author: Brian Wemp
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The Grands Magasins Dufayel, a huge department store built on the northern fringe of late nineteenth-century Paris, had an important cultural influence on the city's working class. In a neighborhood with few public spaces, it provided a consumer version of the public square. It encouraged workers to approach shopping as a social activity, just as the bourgeoisie did at the famous department stores in central Paris. Like the bourgeois stores, it helped transform consumption from a personal transaction between customer and merchant into an unmediated relationship between consumer and goods. Through advertising the store portrayed itself as a space where the working-class visitor could participate in new and exciting forms of entertainment and technology. Its unique instore cinema and exhibits of inventions like X-ray machines and the gramophone created a new kind of urban space that celebrated the close relationship between technology and consumer culture.

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