PhD thesis defence Melvin Wevers on the U.S. as reference culture


In his PhD thesis Melvin Wevers MA (Cultural History) offers a data-driven, longitudinal analysis of the historical dynamics that have underpinned a long-term, layered cultural-historical process: the emergence of the United States as a dominant reference culture in Dutch public discourse on consumer goods between 1890 and 1990. On 15 September he will defend his dissertation in Utrecht University Hall.

Newspapers upholding stereotypes

The ideas, values, and practices associated with the United States in public discourse remained relatively steady over time, which might explain the country’s longevity as a reference culture and its power to shape sociocultural debates. This robust core of ideas, values, and practices was partly driven by events in the United States and the nation’s actions on the global stage, but for a large part it also resulted from the fact that newspapers, as part of public discourse, narrated a particular perception of the United States, effectively creating and upholding a stereotype.

Drs. Melvin Wevers MA
Melvin Wevers MA

Dutch depiction of the United States

By iteratively switching between distant and close reading of digitized text, in his study Wevers has established that newspaper discourse on consumer goods, in particular Coca-Cola and cigarettes, offers instrumental insights into the ways in which Dutch consumers and producers depicted and perceived the United States and American consumer culture.

Contradicting ideas

The United States signified often-conflicted ideas such as authenticity, quality, artificiality, superabundance, mechanization, modernity, civilization, and democracy. These ideas were transmitted via advertisements for consumer goods and reiterated in debates on the global economic, cultural, and technological position of the United States. The United States functioned as a point of reference in national debates on a range of issues related to the emergence of the modern consumer society, including the health risks associated with consumer products; the emancipation of female consumers; the business politics of multinationals; the effects of globalization; and the interplay between consumers, researchers, producers, and the government.

Coming to terms with consumer society

These debates helped individuals to position themselves vis-à-vis the role of consumer goods in the United States and to come to terms with the effects of Americanization, and the transformation of the Netherlands into a modern consumer society. This study concludes that despite periods of flagrant anti-Americanism in the Netherlands, for Dutch people the United States functioned as a persistent beacon of consumerism, modernization, and globalization throughout the twentieth century.

Start date and time
End date and time
Senaatszaal, University Hall, Domplein 29, Utrecht
PhD candidate
Melvin Wevers
Consuming America. A Data-Driven Analysis of the United States as a Reference Culture in Dutch Public Discourse on Consumer Goods, 1890-1990
PhD supervisor(s)
Prof. Joris van Eijnatten
Dr Jaap Verheul
Entrance fee
Free of charge

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