One of South Africa’s most prominent sociologists Professor Deborah Posel will give the Gordon Institute for Performing and Creative Arts (GIPCA) Great Texts / Big Questions lecture on Thursday 12 August when she will discuss ‘Conspicuous Consumption, Conspicuous Waste: Thorsten Veblen’s Theory of the Leisure Class’.  This free public lecture starts at 5pm at Hiddingh Hall, the University of Cape Town’s (UCT) Hiddingh Campus, Orange Street, Cape Town

Conspicuous consumption, or ‘keeping up with the Joneses’ describes the purchase of goods to show status or display wealth. Once more apparent within the nouveau riche or upper-income groups, recent research has indicated how conspicuous consumption is common in emerging economies, where people buy to combat the impression that they are poor. Posel’s lecture looks at the life and writings of the man who coined the phrase ‘conspicuous consumption’ and the controversies he provoked, as an intellectual and social maverick. Writing in the late nineteenth century, Veblen was an economist whose version of economics was unrecognizable to many of his peers – not least because he produced an account of the origins of conspicuous consumption lodged in the intersections of human instinct, culture, gender and war.

Deborah Posel is the founding Director of UCT’s Institute for Humanities in Africa (HUMA) and a Professor of Sociology. Prior to moving to UCT in 2009 Posel was the founder of the Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research (WISER) and held a Chair in Sociology.  She has written extensively on the history of apartheid. Her academic publications include the books The Making of Apartheid 1948-1961;  Apartheid’s Genesis (with Phil Bonner and Peter Delius); and Commissioning the Past: Understanding South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (with Graeme Simpson). She has written various articles on aspects of the ‘new’ South Africa, including issues of race, sexuality, violence and AIDS.

UCT’s Gordon Institute for Performing and Creative Arts (GIPCA) was established to enhance the arts within the University of Cape Town (UCT) and the broader community, whilst facilitating a broad range of collaborative and interdisciplinary projects. The Great Texts / Big Questions lecture series aims to engender a culture of exchange of ideas, opinion and conjecture.

For more information, and up-to-date Great Texts / Big Questions dates and speakers visit, call (021) 480 7156 or e-mail

Deborah Posel audio recording available for download.

Deborah Posel video recording:

Start: 12 Aug ’10 5:30 pm

End: 12 Aug ’10 6:30 pm

Cost: Free


Organizer: GIPCA


Venue: Hiddingh Hall 

Phone: +27 21 480 7156 

Address: Google Map UCT Hiddingh Campus, 31-37 Orange Street, Cape Town, 8001, Cape Town, Western Cape, 8001, South Africa