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Consumerism and Quality of Life

Produce a visual representation of consumerism, including the challenges and opportunities it presents for the quality of life of Canadians and Americans.

Outcomes References Related Resources

Suggested Activities

Students consider the merits and potentially harmful effects of consumerism by developing a balanced definition of the term "consumerism." Students then develop a visual representation of the opportunities and challenges that consumerism presents to quality of life and identities in selected regions and communities in North America.

Set context for consumerism
Present a scenario in which Canada and the United States are considering bilateral free trade agreements that would foster increased flow of goods and services between the countries. As part of the review process, Citizens Advisory Teams (CATs) have been created. Delegates representing various regions across Canada and the United States, including First Nations, Métis, Inuit and Francophone communities, have been invited to work together to examine the opportunities and challenges that consumerism presents.

Construct a balanced definition for consumerism
Inform students that the term consumerism is a relatively new concept and that it can have multiple meanings and connotations. Some use the term as a pejorative term to suggest excessive spending and the quest for material possessions. Others use the term in a positive way to refer to the ability of people to reap the rewards of their hard work by making choices about the goods and services they desire.

Ask students to construct a balanced or neutral definition for the concept of consumerism. Provide groups of three or four students with a list of definitions or statements about consumerism.

You may want to use the samples provided in Consumerism (Background Information) or assemble your own collection of definitions and statements (see References).

Deconstruct the quotations on consumerism
Provide each group with a chart for deconstructing quotes with a sample for them to follow. Instruct students to read each of the quotes carefully and to look for evidence that the statement presents either a critical or a positive view of consumerism.

Then, suggest to students that they look beyond the words that give a negative or positive connotation to identify the key ideas in the statement. The chart could look like this:

Deconstructing Quotes

N=Negative SN=Somewhat Negative B=Balanced  SP=Somewhat Positive P=Positive

Author or

Evidence that statement is critical of consumerism

Evidence that statement favours   consumerism

Overall assessment

 N SN  B  SP P

Key ideas about consumerism

Malcolm Muggeridge

"…one of the real evil things of our time"


SN  B  SP  P

people's desire to acquire things

After students have completed the chart, ask them to develop their own balanced definition for consumerism using the key ideas in the right-hand column.

You may wish to refer to Defining Terms (Support Material) to structure this activity.

Consider opportunities and challenges of consumerism
Ask students to share their thoughts about the costs and benefits of consumerism by considering the definitions they wrote and the community in which they live.

Tell students that consumerism takes many forms and there are different perspectives on the merits of consumerism.

Research the impact of consumerism on a specific community
Students will examine some of the perspectives on the merits of consumerism by working in small groups—Citizens Advisory Teams (CATs)—to gather information about the impact of consumerism on quality of life and identity on a particular region or community in North America.

Before class, prepare a lottery by writing the names of the regions and communities on slips of paper. Place them in a jar. The perspectives on consumerism should include Francophone and Aboriginal perspectives and the regions could include rural and urban communities from regions such as Alberta, the North,  British Columbia, Ontario, Québec, Atlantic, Prairies, Great Lakes, Pacific, Florida, California and New York.

Form groups of three or four students and ask one student from each group to draw the name of a region or community.

Create a plan for inquiry
Each group will need to develop a plan for inquiry that establishes roles, responsibilities, sources/resources, tools and timelines. Have students use technology, such as networks, to brainstorm, plan and share ideas with group members throughout the inquiry (see References). You may wish to have each group use a Considering the Merit (Support Material) chart to structure their inquiry regarding the opportunities and challenges presented by consumerism for their region or community.

Students may research the impact of consumerism on quality of life and individual and collective identities by using authorized student resources, reliable Internet sites or other sources. As students pose research questions and gather information on their region or community and the impact of consumerism, have the groups record their thoughts regarding the opportunities, challenges and interesting implications consumerism offers considering the unique economic, social or cultural aspects of the region/community. The chart could look like this:

Region: Alberta



Interesting Implications

Increase in the production of oil from the oil sands in Alberta may mean more revenue for the government of Alberta

Increase in consumption of oil produced in the oil sands may result in increased air pollution in Alberta and elsewhere

More jobs may result but at what cost?

The southern states in the United States may require more water in the future and Alberta could export it

Diverting water south may create drought conditions in some parts of Alberta

Under the conditions of NAFTA, can Alberta export water to the United States?
Does NAFTA serve Alberta interests?

Increased tourism in Alberta may lead to more opportunities for tourist operators

Increased tourism may impact the quality of life in mountain towns

Some Europeans come to Alberta to experience Aboriginal culture. How does tourism impact First Nations, Métis and Inuit identity?

Use a Web of Interests Wheel to identify opportunities and challenges
Provide each group with a Web of Interests Wheel (Lesson Material).

Ask students to choose the two most important opportunities and challenges related to quality of life and individual and collective identities in their assigned region or community using the impacts identified earlier. Students write the two opportunities and challenges on their Web of Interests Wheel.
Ask students to take a position on whether consumerism benefits or does not benefit the community or region they are studying.

Consider the impact of black market activities
Ask students to consider other aspects of consumerism that may impact quality of life and/or identity. You may wish to share this quotation from Oliver Wendell Holmes (American poet): "Taxes are what we pay for a civilized society."

Ask students to respond to the quote based on their understanding of the perspective of the region or community they are representing. Students should comment on the degree to which government taxes make an important contribution to quality of life and personal and collective identities.

Ask students to brainstorm a list of consumer behaviours that deny governments tax revenue. This list could include the following:

  • downloading music or movies without paying
  • holding garage sales
  • doing work for cash
  • buying stolen property.

Invite each group to rank the list of activities from the greatest to the least concern. Ask students to consider the Web of Interests Wheel to determine if black market activity should be considered one of the four most significant opportunities or challenges for their region or community.

Share Visual Representations
Invite students to post their Web of Interests Wheels in the classroom. Ask half of the students/groups to do a walk-around to view each of the visual representations. The other students, as delegates representing the Citizens Advisory Teams (CATs), speak to their visual representations and the opportunities and challenges that consumerism presents to quality of life and identity in their regions and communities. Ask students to switch roles and repeat the walk-around.

Last updated: July 1, 2014 | (Revision History)
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