Article written by 2009 DPDF Cultures and Histories of the Human Sciences Fellow David Alworth, featured in New Literary History, Volume 41, No. 2:


Émile Durkheim would not live long enough to see the arrival
of the supermarket in France. Nor would he witness its expansion
into the more flamboyant form of food retailing aptly named the
hypermarché. It wasn’t until after World War II and during the Marshall
Plan, in which food aid was a central component, that American-style
supermarkets began to crop up all over Europe.1
And it wasn’t until 1963
that the Carrefour Company constructed the first of its hypermarkets
just outside Paris. After assimilating the dictates of Bernardo Trujillo,
an Ohio-based business educator affectionately known as “the pope of
modern commerce,” the Carrefour developers designed a food-retailing
institution unprecedented in both size and style: 2,500 square meters, 450
parking spaces, and a plethora of items (clothes, household appliances,
low-cost petrol) and amenities (a cafeteria, a bakery, a dry cleaners) not
aggregated in quite the same way anywhere else.2
Hypermarket grand
openings were characteristically hyperreal. They featured circus amusements
and games hosted by a television personality, and they included
large-scale binge drinking: ten thousand liters of vin de Touraine served
from a marquee on the parking lot.3
It’s possible that the founder of
modern sociology would’ve had something to say about such a scene,
an early instance of the mass spectacle that eventually would become
a hallmark of postmodernism, but his death from exhaustion just after
World War I leaves us free to speculate on what that might have been.
It leaves us on our own, that is, to imagine a supermarket sociology.

Publication Details

Supermarket Sociology
Alworth, David J.
Johns Hopkins University / Johns Hopkins University Press
Publish Date
April 2010
Alworth, David J., Supermarket Sociology (Johns Hopkins University / Johns Hopkins University Press, April 2010).