Consumer Culture Theory: Volume 16

Table of contents

(21 chapters)
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Introduction

Pages xiii-xiv
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Purpose

Fantasy is a concept often used in everyday life and in academic research. While it has received attention in consumer research due to its connection to desires, community creation, meaning evocation, and identity development, it lacks a commonly shared understanding. This paper explores and theorizes consumers’ experiences of fantasy as performed in real-life situations.

Method

The research was conducted as an ethnographic study of live action role-playing games (LARP) and analyzed through the lens of performance theory.

Findings

LARPs are performances that take place between imagination and embodied reality, with participants drawing on each realm to enrich the other. Consumption elements of LARP include media products and materials used in creating settings, costumes, and props. LARPers gain various benefits from the performance of fantasy, including escapist entertainment, self-reflection, personal growth, and participation in social criticism. Fantasy performance is, therefore, an important and under-theorized vehicle for consumer identity development and social interaction.

Theoretical implications

This research theorizes the experience of fantasy as a performance that takes place between reality and imagination. As such, it involves both embodied and social aspects that have largely been ignored in prior research. A richer theorization of fantasy performance promises greater insights into research areas including the dynamics of consumer identity projects and of consumption communities.

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Purpose

The purpose of this study is to investigate narcissism in relation to consumer identity projects. Narcissism is rarely the focus of consumer culture studies, though it resonates with theories of individualistic, consumption-driven identities, and is argued to be a pervasive social trend within a hegemonic consumer culture that places the individual center stage. We explore these themes in the context of emerging adult identity projects given arguments about increasing narcissism in younger generations.

Methodology/approach

Identifying eight participants using the Narcissistic Personality Inventory – four with high and four with low scores – we conduct in-depth interviews to explore their identity projects, narcissistic traits, and brand relationships.

Findings

Through idiographic analysis, we find that those with lower narcissistic tendencies seem to have a communal orientation to both people and brands, whilst those with greater narcissistic tendencies tend to be individualistic and agentic. We relate the narcissistic consumer to Fromm’s “marketing character,” proposing four themes that emerge from the analysis: liquidity; an other-directed sense of self; conformity; and the commodification of self.

Social implications

This paper discusses the societal implications of individualistic consumer identity projects, highlighting narcissism, a concept relatively neglected within consumer culture theory. Narcissism carries with it a host of societal implications, not least of which is a focus on the self and a lack of concern with the wellbeing of others.

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Purpose

This paper brings a fresh contribution to the role of space and places in Consumer Culture Theory. Investigating the context of tattooing, it conceptualizes the various articulations that link the body as a topia and a utopia, and the street shops (as “other” places or heterotopia) where consumers’ identity projects are undertaken.

Methodology/approach

Our approach is based on an ethnographic work, that is, the observation of the shop and interviews conducted with its two managers, three male tattooists, and a young female apprentice.

Findings

We show how the changes that affect heterotopic places in the world of tattooing impact the way body identity projects are taken care of. We highlight the material and symbolic exchanges that “take place” and “make place” between the shop as a heterotopia and people’s utopias of the body.

Research limitations/implications

The research involves a single fieldwork and deliberately focuses on the female apprentice as the main informant of this study.

Social implications

This paper draws attentions to the emergence of women in the world of tattooing and their transformative role of highly gendered meanings and practices.

Originality/value of paper

In articulating the links between bodies, their utopias and heterotopic places where these are carried out, we contribute not only to the understanding of the meaning that consumers attribute to the transformation of their body, but also to the role played by spaces – sites as well as gendered bodies – in our understanding of these phenomena.

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Purpose

To explore how young men operating within influential discursive regimes construct their identity projects and come to know themselves through their engagement with consumption and leisure practices.

Methodology/approach

Foucauldian theory is drawn upon to conceptualise men as intertwined within their social environs, the recipients of socio-cultural inscription. By situating the micro-social context of the male consumer in a larger socio-cultural context, this study endeavours to go beyond consumer narratives to incorporate the influence of market and social systems on individuals’ identity work.

Findings

This study shows how identity projects are subject to the workings of power coursing through social networks. Individuals prescribing to a particular identity become subjected to the regulatory mechanisms of their community. However it is shown how subjectification operates differently in the highly structured community of sport compared to the less structured community of a hometown dwelling.

Social implications

This sociological perspective on men’s identity practices highlights the dynamic power forces penetrating social communities, in turn showing the necessity for consumer researchers to anchor the individual consumer experience within their influential environment to gain a more robust understanding of consumer behaviours and consumption practices.

Originality/value of paper

This paper explores the individual’s constructions of identity as situated within historically and locally particular cultural practices. This approach allows a better understanding of how consumers negotiate the world around them, keeping in mind the socio-cultural forces that serve to constrain and enable their activity, both in their daily lives and in the marketplace.

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Purpose

Based on Latour’s view that humans and non-humans swap properties, this paper explores whether objects embody similar properties as human beings and whether these properties per se orient dispossession practices.

Methodology/approach

This study adopts Latour’s pragmatogonies as a theoretical perspective to explore the complex interplay between humans and non-humans in the context of dispossession. Thirty-two in-depth interviews focus on the object itself (its characteristics, qualities, and capacities in association with its endo and exo relations) to understand how objects act on dispossession.

Findings

The results depict objects as consisting of various material elements and possessing symmetrical properties as humans to facilitate, hinder, and channel dispossession. Objects emerge as having genealogies, undergoing physical changes, adapting to misfortunes, and having citizenship duties.

Research Limitations/implications

Our analyses reveal a complex network of people and things; all acting in the course of dispossession. We call for further research on object–subject networks/assemblages as dynamic and co-productive. We suggest that research focus should be on what objects might become or how they connect and evolve as they deteriorate, shift, and renew in interaction with their environment.

Originality/value of paper

Our study challenges the dichotomy between material objects and human beings. We underline that objects are not ephemeral and transient but they are moving and circulating as they deteriorate, transform, enact new roles, and construct evolving identities.

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Purpose

The purpose of this study is to investigate how brand communities collectively react towards brand transgressions, an area where previous research has been scant.

Methodology/approach

This study adopts a netnographic approach in studying the reactions of one particular brand community and its reactions to a marketer-initiated brand transgression.

Findings

Building on coping theory, we find evidence of brand community coping, a temporally bounded process in which the community seeks to come to terms with and even overturn the transgression. Overall, we define the brand community coping process as unfolding through three overlapping and temporally bounded stages of (1) making the problem communal, (2) exploring the problem’s meaning, and (3) co-creating responses.

Originality/value

Studies of consumer coping particularly in cases of brand transgressions have predominantly adopted an individualistic approach to coping, or have treated communities as coping resources for individual consumers. This study is the first study to truly look at brand communities’ collective coping endeavors. We also offer managerial implications by questioning the overtly positive tone of brand co-creation literature and underline potential threats to marketers when consumers decide to use their co-creative practices to punish the marketer.

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Purpose

This paper adopts a photo-essay approach in examining the Austerity Project within the Republic of Ireland, and considers the intersection between consumer culture and the austerity visuals we experience daily.

Methodology/approach

A visual, photo-essay method is adopted. Visual images taken in urban and rural parts of Ireland – under the key themes of ghost housing estates, failed commercial property developments, failed business, and art representations are explored.

Findings

The visual representations and subsequent consumption activities of the authors illustrate how austerity has become a complex act of production and consumption, and the authors consider how these various representations play a role in creating austerity as a state of mind amongst consumers, and the subsequent impact this has on consumption practices, consumer experiences, ideals and identities.

Originality/value

This paper adopts an under-represented research methodology (a photo-essay) to explore the Austerity Project and its intersections with consumer culture.

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Purpose

This paper examines in what ways cultural representations of money reveal deprivation and empowerment in poverty.

Methodology/approach

The study draws on Finnish poor consumers’ narratives of their daily lives to identify the discursive practices involved in money talk. Poverty is seen as a frame in which the tacit cultural knowledge of money and the ways of enacting discursive practices are sustained and produced.

Findings

The research constructs a theoretical illustration of consumer empowerment and deprivation in poverty, which is based on four discursive practices: Moneyless is powerless, Capricious money, Wrestling with money, and Happiness cannot be bought with money. The illustration shows the dynamic evolution of empowerment and deprivation as they grow from and vary within the discursive practices.

Social implications and value

The study highlights the practical carrying out of life in poverty, which does not emerge only as deprived or as empowered, but instead involves a tension between them.

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Purpose

To show that Chinese consumers are constantly redefining and revaluing goods along the axes of the real and the false, with little regard for legal definitions of brand authenticity or “fakeness.”

Methodology/approach

The data was collected through interviews, focus groups, observations, and casual conversations over 16 months of ethnographic research in Beijing, China.

Findings

In their everyday consumption practices and navigation of a complex and often dangerous marketplace, Chinese consumers categorize products based on their perceived “truth.” The paper introduces a typology that describes these local categories and explains their utility for consumers.

Research limitations/implications

The data was primarily conducted in an urban capital with a highly educated and high-average-income populace, thus it does not represent all Chinese consumers or a statistical sample.

Practical/social implications

This paper explains how the same globalizing processes that helped brands establish themselves in the Chinese market now threaten the capability of all brands to gain and retain the trust of consumers

Originality/value

By explaining how new calculations of value are being produced under glocalized regimes of manufacture and distribution, this research makes an important contribution to our understandings of brands and their limits.

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Purpose

In this paper, we provide a practical example of how ethnographic insight is obtained in the field. In so doing, we demonstrate multiple ways in which ethnographic approaches can be adapted during on-going research processes to develop rich and multiple emic/etic perspectives.

Design/methodology/approach

This paper is based upon the first author’s reflective experience of undertaking ethnographic field work. The discussion draws from a multi-method, longitudinal and adaptive ethnographic research design, which aimed to capture the process of new family identity formation in Sri Lanka.

Originality/value

Existing research gives us excellent insight into various methods used in contemporary ethnographic research and the kinds of insight generated by these methods. With few exceptions, these studies do not give significant insight into the specifics of the ethnographic research process and the adaption practice. Thus, we provide a practical example of how ethnographic insight is obtained in the research field.

Discussion/findings

Our discussion elaborates the ways in which we integrated multiple research methods such as participant observations, semi-structured in-depth interviews, informal sessions, Facebook interactions, adaptations of performative exercises and elicitation methods to overcome complexities in cultural, mundane and personal consumption meanings. We also discuss how closer friendships with informants emerged as a consequence of the ethnographic research adaption practice and how this influenced trust and confidence in researcher-informant relationship, presenting us with a privileged access to their everyday and personal lives.

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Purpose

The purpose of this paper is to forward an extension of reception analysis as a way to incorporate and give insight to social media mediations and big data in a qualitative marketing perspective. We propose a research method that focuses on discursive developments in consumer debates for example on YouTube – a large-scale open-access social media platform – as opposed to the closed and tightknit communities investigated by netnography.

Methodology/approach

Online reception analysis

Findings

Using a combination of qualitative and quantitative methods, we find that big data can enrich online reception analyses by showing new aspects of weak tie online networks and consumers meaning making.

Research limitations/implications

The potential of online reception analysis is to encompass a discursive perspective on consumer interactions on large-scale open-access social media and to be able to analyze socialities that do not represent shared cultures but are more representative of transitory everyday interactions.

Originality/value of paper

Our method contributes to the current focus to define levels of analysis beyond research centered on individuals and individual interactions within groups to investigate other larger socialities. Further, our method also contributes by incorporating and investigating the mediatization of interaction that social media contributes with and therefore our methods actively work with the possibilities of social media. Hence, by extending the advances made by netnography into online spaces, online reception analysis can potentially inform the current status of big data research with a sociocultural methodological perspective.

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DOI
10.1108/S0885-2111201416
Publication date
2014-11-22
Book series
Research in Consumer Behavior
Editors
Series copyright holder
Emerald Publishing Limited
ISBN
978-1-78441-158-9
Book series ISSN
0885-2111