‘Consumer literacy’ and consumer objects in Post-2000 Austrian literature
: discovering the ‘National Brand Austria’

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


Issues of identity are prominent in the globalised consumer culture of the 21st century. Consumer objects surround us, have become crucial for our everyday lives, and serve as markers of our identity. I argue that consumer culture and its objects impact how identities are constructed, narrated, and perceived in literary texts. I seek to expand discourses around the role of consumer objects by examining how consumer literacy, a skill required to understand their narrative value, is used in contemporary Austrian literature to construct and convey identities – from individual identities, through familial identities, to ultimately an Austrian national identity. Consumer objects find their way into literature where they become narrative tools. I make a case for the ways in which processes of consumer culture charge consumer objects –branded and non-branded – with meaning that is intertwined with their national context. In the Austrian case, as will be shown based on works of e.g. Rathkolb, Bushell, and Menasse, this context itself is shaped by marketing and self-stylisation, in particular by a specific touristic imagery. Since one of the main facets attributed to an Austrian national brand is the focus on high culture and literature, the status of writers too needs to be examined. They are no longer ‘merely’ authors, rather they become consumer objects of their own, commodified, advertised, and branded alongside their texts, and are integrated into Austria’s brand image. I will assess what I term ‘consumer literacy’ through close reading of a corpus of post-2000 Austrian novels – Haas’ Das Wetter vor 15 Jahren, Glavinic’s Die Arbeit der Nacht, Geiger’s Es geht uns gut, Edelbauer’s Das flüssige Land – with the aim of illuminating how consumer objects are employed as narrative tools, how the authors use them to construct, criticise, or disseminate an image of Austria and, ultimately, how Austrian literature and its authors themselves become brands in the process.
Chapter 1 provides an in-depth examination of Austria’s current image and self-stylisation based, i.a., on the works of Rathkolb, Bushell, and Menasse and introduces crucial theories of consumer culture, including the works of McCracken, Dunn, and Olins, which inform my close reading and provide the basis for my concept of a literary iteration of ‘consumer literacy.’ Throughout the subsequent chapters 2 to 4, Haas’ text is analysed alongside Glavinic’s (in Chapter 2), examining the ways in which consumer literacy allows for the decoding of individual identities constructed through the use of consumer objects; next to Geiger’s novel (in Chapter 3), revealing the narrative power these items can unfold in the context of familial and national identities; and in connection with Edelbauer’s debut novel (in Chapter 4), tracing the impact of Austria’s own touristic branding on the texts and their characters. Chapter 5 then applies a similar technique to the world beyond the text itself and addresses the (self-)stylisation and ‘brand images’ of the authors of this corpus. My approach towards the texts and their authors not only emphasises the validity of an application of consumer literacy and the relevance of consumer objects as literary tools. Indeed, in revealing the ways consumer culture informs the texts from my corpus I demonstrate how a national brand of Austria, an image of the nation that is shaped by processes of consumer culture, from deliberate branding efforts to public and literary discourse, permeates the texts and becomes visible once it is read through the lens of consumer literacy. 
Date of Award1 May 2021
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • King's College London
SupervisorBen Schofield (Supervisor) & Katrin Schreiter (Supervisor)


  • Consumer Literacy
  • National Brand
  • Branding
  • Austria
  • Contemporary Literature

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