The Steal: A Cultural History of Shoplifting

The Steal: A Cultural History of Shoplifting

by Rachel Shteir

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A history of shoplifting, revealing the roots of our modern dilemma.

Rachel Shteir's The Steal is the first serious study of shoplifting, tracking the fascinating history of this ancient crime. Dismissed by academia and the mainstream media and largely misunderstood, shoplifting has become the territory of moralists, mischievous teenagers, tabloid television, and self-help gurus. But shoplifting incurs remarkable real-life costs for retailers and consumers. The "crime tax"-the amount every American family loses to shoplifting-related price inflation-is more than $400 a year. Shoplifting cost American retailers $11.7 billion in 2009. The theft of one $5.00 item from Whole Foods can require sales of hundreds of dollars to break even.

The Steal begins when shoplifting entered the modern record as urbanization and consumerism made London into Europe's busiest mercantile capital. Crossing the channel to nineteenth-century Paris, Shteir tracks the rise of the department store and the pathologizing of shoplifting as kleptomania. In 1960s America, shoplifting becomes a symbol of resistance when the publication of Abbie Hoffman's Steal This Book popularizes shoplifting as an antiestablishment act. Some contemporary analysts see our current epidemic as a response to a culture of hyper-consumerism; others question whether its upticks can be tied to economic downturns at all. Few provide convincing theories about why it goes up or down.

Just as experts can't agree on why people shoplift, they can't agree on how to stop it. Shoplifting has been punished by death, discouraged by shame tactics, and protected against by high-tech surveillance. Shoplifters have been treated by psychoanalysis, medicated with pharmaceuticals, and enforced by law to attend rehabilitation groups. While a few individuals have abandoned their sticky-fingered habits, shoplifting shows no signs of slowing.

In The Steal, Shteir guides us through a remarkable tour of all things shoplifting-we visit the Woodbury Commons Outlet Mall, where boosters run rampant, watch the surveillance footage from Winona Ryder's famed shopping trip, and learn the history of antitheft technology. A groundbreaking study, The Steal shows us that shoplifting in its many guises-crime, disease, protest-is best understood as a reflection of our society, ourselves.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781101516287
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 06/30/2011
Sold by: Penguin Group
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 272
File size: 318 KB
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Rachel Shteir is the author of the awardwinning Striptease: The Untold History of the Girlie Show and Gypsy: The Art of the Tease. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times, Slate, The Guardian, Playboy, the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Magazine, The Chicago Tribune, and elsewhere. She is an associate professor and the head of the BFA program in criticism and dramaturgy at the Theatre School at DePaul University.

Table of Contents

Introduction 1

Part 1 Shoplifting in History

1 Theft and Punishment 13

2 Kleptos and Reformers 30

3 Abbie Hoffman Meets the Chinese Handcuffs 46

4 Robin Hoods 2.0 63

Part 2 Dimensions

5 Among Shoplifters 81

6 Hot Products 93

7 Boosters 109

Part 3 Pathology

8 The Thrill of the Steal 125

9 The Rise and Fall of the Shoplifting Celebrity 132

10 The Shoplifting Addict 155

Part 4 Remedies

11 To Catch a Thief 171

12 The Future of LP 185

13 The Disease Is Incurable 196

14 Shame 210

Conclusion 215

Acknowledgments 221

Notes 225

Selected Bibliography 241

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The Steal: A Cultural History of Shoplifting 2.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 9 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
While it has a lot of sources, overall this come off as a thesis rather than a consumer book. Some of the assertions seem shaky. And there are a few inaccuraces about medication treatments. I remember frim my research that medications are indeed recommended for reducing compulsive shoplifting. Also, the book focused very heavily on individuals with compulsive shoplifting issues. I was hoping for more information on the gangs and street crime side of things.
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AnOutragedReader More than 1 year ago
I have read Ms. Shteir's book "The Steal" and am very disappointed with it from a number of angles--factual and and breadth. First, I am a subject in her book and she she has made no less than 15 errors by my count, including stating that I was in jail--when I was not; that I operate a non-profit business--which I don't; that I am trademarking a therpeutic method--which I'm not; that I had a counseling client who was dissatisfied with me and went to another particular therapist--which didn't happen, she wasn't a client; that the details of a lawsuit were condensed and one-sided and distorted; and that this author doesn't reveal her obvious biases against me and a few others in the book. With this said, I believe the rest of the book's facts and accuracies are in doubt and this author has enjoyed the same negative reviews and shared accuracy concerns in her previous books on strippers. As for the scope and breadth of the book itself, it is all head an no heart; even the chapter on shoplifting as pathology and addictive disorder are written about in a snarky, skeptical, condascending tone. This author does nothing to help others heal from this challenging, shameful problem. There is nothing in this book that gives a clue what the author's true interest is in shoplifting as a topic other than my theory that it is pure opportunism: so little is written about this subject and she hopes to capitalize on this. What a shame!