Did ancient coffee houses lay the groundwork for modern consumerism?

August 24, 2010

If you think that your favorite coffee shop is a great gathering place for discussion, you should have been around in the Ottoman Empire starting in the 1550s. A new study in the Journal of Consumer Research examines the role of coffee houses in the evolution of the consumer.

Authors Eminegül Karababa (University of Exeter, Exeter, UK) and Güliz Ger (Bilkent University, Ankara, Turkey) dug wide and deep into the history of coffeehouses in the early modern Ottoman Empire and found they offered their patrons a lot more than coffee.

They found that patrons engaged in gambling, taking drugs, meeting with "young beautiful boys," as well as performing or watching entertainments such as puppet theatres, storytellers, and musical and dance performances. The early coffee houses were controversial enterprises. "Formation, normalization, and legalization of such a site for transgressive pleasures was controversial since formal religious morality of the period (orthodox Islam) considered it as sinful and illegal. Thus, they were repeatedly banned by the state."

Yet, the coffee houses flourished, and by the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, Ottomans from all ranks of the society met to drink coffee, socialize, and have literary discussions.

Coffee house discourse often challenged the authority of the state and religion and led to changes in the society. "Simultaneously, a new Ottoman consumer, resisting the prescriptions of the state and religion, actively constructing selfethics, and taking part in the formation of the coffeehouse culture, was forming as well."

"Obviously, the early modern Ottoman context was very different than any modern capitalist system", the authors write. "But the active consumer may not be as recent or even a chronological phenomenon as many consumer researchers think."

Explore further: Fingerprinting fake coffee

More information: Eminegül Karababa and Güliz Ger. "Early Modern Ottoman Coffeehouse Culture and the Formation of the Consumer Subject." Journal of Consumer Research: February 2011. journals.uchicago.edu/jcr

Related Stories

Fingerprinting fake coffee

September 3, 2007

With prices of gourmet coffee approaching sticker-shock levels, scientists in Illinois are reporting development of a method to “fingerprint” coffee to detect when corn has been mixed in to short-change customers. Their ...

At last a machine with good taste -- for espresso

February 11, 2008

Can a machine taste coffee? The question has plagued scientists studying the caffeinated beverage for decades. Fortunately, researchers in Switzerland can now answer with a resounding “yes.” The study on their coffee-tasting ...

Coffee may cause a heart attack danger

August 16, 2006

U.S. scientists say they've determined a single cup of coffee might cause a heart attack in some people within an hour of drinking it.

Coffee seen to protect against cirrhosis

June 13, 2006

A study by California's Kaiser Permanente Medical Care Program has found another benefit from coffee -- protection against alcoholic cirrhosis of the liver.

Recommended for you

New study shakes the roots of the dinosaur family tree

March 22, 2017

More than a century of theory about the evolutionary history of dinosaurs has been turned on its head following the publication of new research from scientists at the University of Cambridge and Natural History Museum in ...

'Pay to publish' schemes rampant in science journals

March 22, 2017

Dozens of scientific journals appointed a fictive scholar to their editorial boards on the strength of a bogus resume, researchers determined to expose "pay to publish" schemes reported Wednesday.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.