Consumer Culture Theory: Volume 17

Cover of Consumer Culture Theory
Subject:

Table of contents

(26 chapters)
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Purpose

This paper reflects on the development of Consumer Culture Theory, both as a field of research and as an institutional classification, since the publication of Arnould and Thompson (2005).

Methodology/approach

This paper takes a conceptual/historical orientation that is based upon the authors’ experiences over the course of the 10-year CCT initiative (including numerous conversations with fellow CCT colleagues).

Findings

The authors first discuss key benchmarks in the development of the CCT community as an organization. Next, the authors highlight key intellectual trends in CCT research that have arisen since the publication of their 2005 review and discuss their implications for the future trajectories of CCT research.

Originality/value

The paper by Arnould and Thompson (2005) has proven to be influential in terms of systematizing and placing a widely accepted disciplinary brand upon an extensive body of culturally oriented consumer research. The CCT designation has also provided an important impetus for institution building. The 10-year anniversary of this article (and not incidentally the CCT conference from which the papers in this volume hail) provides a unique opportunity for the authors to comment upon the broader ramifications of their original proposals.

Conference Keynotes

Purpose

Based on the work of leading French and emerging French social scientists, this paper attempts to reactivate the field of Consumer Culture Theory throughout the proposal of alternative notional tools.

Methodology/approach

This paper takes a conceptual orientation that is based on the selection and organization of concepts, methodologies, and insights borrowed from French philosophers and social scientists.

Findings

The paper first points out the various French thought styles. Next, it highlights key intellectual ideas in French intellectual tradition that have arisen over the last 30 years and promote their implications for possible future researches on consumption and for a better political activism which would give more voice to consumption studies.

Originality/value

The paper attempts to categorize with a semiotic methodology, the panorama of French thought styles and proposes new concepts and angles to refound the analysis of consumption. Based on the questioning on common categories of CCT, it proposes original ideas, methods, and concepts borrowed from the French tradition to break up conventional and ethnocentric approaches by considering consumption beyond the sheer notion of culture.

Purpose

This paper aims to trace the roots and development of Consumer Culture Theory (CCT) through the eyes of major participants in this field of study.

Methodology/approach

The report is a qualitative essay based on data accumulated and integrated from several directions: the CCT literature, reminiscent versions by significant scholars, and participant/observation by the author.

Findings

The CCT conferences began in 2005, sparked by the contribution of Eric Arnould and Craig Thompson. However, earlier versions are traced through the growth of interest in the study of consumer behavior starting in ancient times and spurred by the surge of post-World War II prosperity and technological advances. The expansion of consumer studies through the Association for Consumer Research (ACR), the Journal of Consumer Research (JCR), and the Heretical Consumer Research (HCR) were precursors of CCT. Perspectives are provided by Shankar and Patterson, Mark Tadajewski, Russell Belk, Fuat Firat, and Markus Geisler, with a special emphasis on early roots by the author.

Originality/value

The paper is novel in its application of The Rashomon Effect which shows how different scholars perceive a particular historical phenomenon. It is also a useful example of the qualitative orientation of CCT culture and style in studying situations, both contemporary and historical, to gain holistic insights.

Selected Conference Papers

Purpose

This paper outlines the key discussion points and ideas generated at the job market roundtable at CCT Arkansas. The session was put together to discuss both immediate short-term solutions to improve PhD candidates’ hiring potential as well as longer-term institutional opportunities that could strengthen the reputation of CCT and foster more favorable job market conditions.

Methodology/approach

This is a conceptual paper primarily built on collaborative insights from the roundtable session’s participants.

Findings

We outline the current structure of hiring within marketing academia and offer insights and best practices for increasing an applicant’s chances of gaining a placement. We also identify long-term structural reforms and opportunities that could increase the recognition of CCT research, and help foster conditions more conducive to CCTers seeking academic placements. The recommendations for candidates and the CCT community highlight the importance of building non-CCT networks, effectively positioning and communicating research, and leveraging the benefits a CCT theoretical perspective can bring to marketing departments.

Originality/value

Most papers on academic hiring processes are descriptive in nature and concentrated on the job market’s structure. This paper adds to this conversation, straddling issues of structure and agency. It critically revisits the structure of hiring, and also discusses practices a candidate can employ to navigate the hiring process, and institutional tactics CCT could undertake to create a stronger brand and network structure. Though the emphasis in this work is on CCT candidates, we suspect such an analysis is also useful for PhD candidates elsewhere and nonmainstream marketing groups.

Purpose

This paper reconsiders the role of critical theory within the field of consumer culture theory.

Methodology/approach

The paper is documentary evidence of a roundtable held at the 10th annual Consumer Culture Theory conference on the subject. The roundtable uses discussion and conceptual methods.

Findings

The author begins with a brief introduction to the use of critical theory in the academy and in CCT more specifically. In the course of the roundtable, it was discovered that the reason we do not talk about critical theory more often may be attributable to its success, rather than failure – indeed, it has inspired so many new academic traditions, that we rarely pause to think of the various critical traditions in one place. Building on this foundation, participants were asked to discuss what critical theory means to them; what theorists they have used; what engagement they have had with critical theory traditions in CCT; and what their vision for critical theory influenced consumer research would be. Participation came from both planned and emergent participants. The final conclusion was the felicitous discovery that critical traditions are alive and well in consumer culture theory, and that there are many pathways to pursue critical consumer research in the future.

Originality/value

The roundtable session and paper are a direct response to the conference theme, which asked conference attendees to reflect on the history of consumer research, and specifically the role of critical theory within it. Moreover, the paper builds upon important debates about the philosophy of science and the role of critical theory within consumer research.

Purpose

We introduce critical regionalities and the archipelago metaphor as an analytic lens for interrogating and redrawing regional borders while preserving the benefits of a regional approach.

Methodology/approach

Using secondary data from Latin America, we interrogate the mode by which regions are adopted in marketing and consumer research, raising a discussion of the analytical scales and boundaries of regional cultures, considering regional interdependencies and their common sociohistorical backgrounds.

Findings

We use the critical regionalities approach to examine the rise of gated-communities in Latin America and demonstrate how a regional approach can reveal connections between meso-level sociohistorical processes and cultural values.

Research implications

The critical regionalities approach transforms assumptions of national or global scales into tools of inquiry: both the nation and the globe become possible scales to contrast with regional archipelagos and enhance researchers’ reflexivity of the how’s and why’s of consumer phenomena.

Social implications

The method prompts cultural researchers to adopt scales of analysis that more closely reflect the social phenomena being studied, which is especially useful for understanding emerging markets and marginalized areas. We also emphasize the importance of attending to consumer cultural phenomena and processes in non-Western contexts.

Originality/value

The paper offers a solution for the conundrum of how to write about regions without essentializing them. Marketers and policy makers can use the concept of cultural archipelagos to define new segments and understand new markets, without the need to conform to preestablished geographic or political borders.

Purpose

The goal in this research is to offer a new interpretation of activism by focusing not on the various ideologies but on the order of worth that coordinates activism.

Methodology/approach

Ethnographic approaches of participant observation and nondirective interviewing were the methods used in this study.

Findings

Drawing on the order models (Boltanski & Thévenot, 1991), the authors introduce the existence of an “activist order.” This order is composed of rules that coordinate activists’ practices. Activists draw on this “activist order” to justify their practices but also to criticize other orders such as the market order.

Originality/value

This “activist order” serves as the structure underpinning both activists’ institutional frameworks (such as CSA and LETS) and their actions (e.g., antiadvertising campaigns). This paper also has implications for our understanding of the relationship between the Marketplace and consumer movements. The authors demonstrate that people navigate between different order of worth, from the market order to the “activist order” and vice versa.

Purpose

This paper argues that there is a need to theorize socially constituted temporal phenomena, such as the fragmentation and multiplication of futures in media representations of technology, since this contextualizes consumption in important ways.

Methodology/approach

However, this argument requires a critique of agentic bias in phenomenological approaches to time. By drawing on Husserl, Heidegger and Ricœur, it is shown that phenomenological time is fundamentally intersubjective and contextualized in a tension between chronological and experienced time, rather than first and foremost created and felt by the individual consumer subject or experienced only as “flow.” This implies a switch from an egological to a sociological approach to time and consumption.

Findings

Thus, the multiplication of socially constituted narratives about the future, in late-modernity, disrupts instrumental modes of thinking about the consumer object, making it “unhandy” and “disturbing.” The meaning of the object therefore becomes “damaged.” However, this also allows the possibility for it to be known in wholly new ways.

Research implications

Since many definitions of consumption are future oriented, the fragmentation of the future speaks to how we form meanings about consumption. Thus, a socially constituted theory of consumer temporality impacts the experience of consumer objects.

Practical implications

This theorization of time and consumption suggests the possibility of comparative studies of temporality to understand the universe in which consumer choices can unfold.

Originality/value

This is the first attempt to apply the epistemological criteria from the context of context debate in regard to consumer temporality.

Purpose

The purpose of this paper is to illustrate how a careful articulation of one’s perspective of a key construct (in this case agency) can facilitate critical reflection and move the field forward (by bridging two hitherto separate agency debates).

Methodology/approach

Four years of engagement with 24 consumers involving prolonged observations and unstructured depth interviews provided the empirical evidence for this paper.

Findings

Even humans who perceive their personal capacity to influence events as limited (whether due to actual or perceived limitations in physiological capabilities, material resources, and/or interpersonal networks) can assemble a network of persons, possessions, and practices to signal the agency to themselves, and to others. These assemblages, which invariably feature indexicons, allow people to construct semiotic agency in ways which are shaped by their habitus.

Social implications

This research has important implications for social and housing policy because disadvantaged consumers are more likely to rent than own, which limits their capacity to assemble semiotic agency.

Originality/value

This research introduces the new concepts of semiotic agency and indexicons to consumer culture theory and shows how even disadvantaged consumers can deploy these to signal agency to themselves and others.

Purpose

Using the example of LEGO Friends, we investigate the discourses that develop when second-order consumers attribute moral weight to the production and marketing of toys perceived to sharpen and enforce gender norms.

Methodology/approach

We analyze reactions to LEGO Friends through a discourse analysis of online data collected from English-language blogs and news sites. The data is coded iteratively within the two primary categories of gender and the market.

Findings

We argue that children’s toys have reemerged as a moral battlefield where consumers stake out positions on the feminization and sexualization of young girls, forcing companies to take strong ideological stances while competing for market share. We show that in the debate over LEGO Friends, consumers’ discursive constructions of moral play were embedded in a heteronormative middle-class ideal that discourages expressions of stereotypical femininity.

Research limitations/implications

Our data is limited to a number of online forums blogs and web sites. We do not claim to have exhaustively catalogued the reactions to LEGO Friends, but merely to have explored discursive positions staked by consumers in the unfolding debate.

Practical/social implications

This research shows that companies can benefit from addressing second-order consumers’ negotiations of brand meanings in their marketing research and campaigns, and thus avoid becoming the next target of a moral panic.

Originality/value

Our paper addresses brand meaning negotiations by second-order consumers, in this case buyers of children’s toys.

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Purpose

We aim to understand what happens when larger social and cultural myths become the incarnate understanding of consumers within the firm. This paper uncovers the varied myths at play in one Finnish company’s status as an inadvertent cultural icon.

Methodology/approach

Through a qualitative inquiry of Finland’s largest dairy producer and by employing the theoretical lens of myth, we conceptualize the entanglement of broad cultural, social, and organizational myths within the organization.

Findings

Macro-mythic structures merge with everyday employee practice giving consumer understanding flesh within the firm (Hallet, 2010). Mythological thinking leaves organizational members inevitably bound up in a form of consumer knowing that is un-reflective and inadvertently effects brand marketing management.

Originality/value

Working through a nuanced typology of myth (Tillotson & Martin, 2014) provided a deeper understanding of how managers may become increasingly un-reflexive in their marketing activities. This case also provides a cautionary tale for heterogeneous communities where ideological conflict underscores development and adoption of contemporary myths.

Purpose

This paper shows that the collector (like the flâneur) is a decisive character in Walter Benjamin’s philosophy of history, specifically in the manifestation of the historical materialist, yet the paper is not so much about the collector or collecting as it is about the commodity and the experience thereof in consumer society.

Methodology/approach

The section “The Dream World of Mass Culture” discusses mass culture and the central problem of commodity fetishism as Benjamin sees it. The section “A Physiognomist of ‘the World of Things’” discusses the critical task of the historical materialist actualized and made possible through an activity akin to collecting. The section “Collecting, Child’s Play, and Seeing Similarities” illuminates the central importance of the activity of collecting for Benjamin’s research regarding mass culture, historical materialism, and the experience of modernity itself. The final section explains and fleshes out the central concepts of the mimetic faculty and physiognomic perception for Benjamin.

Findings

I find that, ultimately, to understand the ability of the historical materialist to witness history critically, according to Benjamin, is to understand the historical materialist as a collector. To understand the revolutionary activity of collecting is to understand collecting as a manifestation of a fundamental activity of human nature, the inclination to become “like” or to become “similar.” But such an impulse grounds, for Benjamin, not only the activity of collecting but also collective experience, the collective conscious, mass culture, and the essence of the commodity itself as a sociocultural artifact. The paper demonstrates that the mimetic faculty is the primary human faculty Benjamin focused on in his theory of experience.

Originality/value

The originality of this paper lies in the fact that it illustrates the primary importance of the theory of the mimetic faculty, the notion of physiognomic perception, and the work of Heinz Werner to Walter Benjamin’s theory of commodity fetishism that to date has been largely underdeveloped. But, more importantly, the paper shows that Benjamin’s theory of experience could illuminate a path toward developing a theory of experience within a fundamental philosophical anthropology.

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Purpose

Consumption ritual has been used to understand the meanings of consumption and consumer behavior, however less attention has been focused on the role of ritual in connoisseurship consumption and how consumption rituals can transform the consumer’s tastes. What is the role played by consumption ritual in connoisseurship taste?

Methodology/approach

Drawing on key concepts from ritual and taste theories and a qualitative analysis of the North American specialty coffee context, the authors address this question introducing the idea of connoisseurship taste ritual which is based on novelty coffee consumption practices that are opposite of the traditional or regular practices. The data collection set in the United States and Canada includes 15 consumer in-depth interviews, participant observation in 36 independent coffee shops in Canada and the United States, a Specialty Coffee Association of America event, and three barista coffee competitions. The body of qualitative data was interpreted using a hermeneutic approach.

Findings

The authors introduce the connoisseurship taste ritual which has several dimensions: (1) variation in the choices of high-quality products, (2) the place to perform the tasting, (3) the moment of tasting, (4) the tasting act, (5) perseverance, and (6) time and money investment.

Originality/value

This research paper extends the notion of consumption ritual introducing the connoisseurship taste ritual and also extends the theories of taste by explaining how, regarding a specific aesthetic category of product, people develop different tastes through ritualistic consumption.

Purpose

The purpose of this paper is to interrogate the concept of meaning and the meaning making process in consumer behavior. While the study of the consumption focuses increasingly on how consumers create meaning in a marketing dominated world, it views this process as relatively unproblematic. This paper challenges that perspective and argues that this process is inherently ambiguous.

Methodology/approach

This paper is primarily conceptual in nature. It utilizes a post-structural perspective to theoretically examine the concept of meaning and the meaning making process. It then applies this analysis to the consumption and production of popular culture. Three exemplars from the domain of digital fandom are provided to explore the conceptual arguments in the paper.

Findings

The paper argues that if the meanings of all texts are fundamentally unstable and that meaning itself is endlessly deferred in the meaning making process, then as the consumer becomes the author of the text, the instability and ambiguity of meaning and the meaning making process transfers equally to the consumption process. Rather than view this as a negative aspect of consumer culture, this paper argues that some consumers relish this ambiguity and the freedom that it gives them to manipulate these products, their textual meanings, and the readers’ identities.

Research limitations/implications

The primary limitation of this paper is that it is conceptual in nature. Future research should empirically examine different cases of meaningless consumption to provide more evidence of this interesting and potentially pervasive aspect of consumer behavior.

Originality/value

There is virtually no research that examines meaningless consumption. The value of the paper is that it challenges a core concept in cultural theories of consumer behavior and extends our understanding of consumption.

Purpose

This paper investigates how members of ethnic minorities perceive ethnic-themed retail spectacles staged by mainstream marketers.

Methodology/approach

The data was collected in the North of France, through ethnographic methods combining in-depth interviews with French-Moroccan consumers, field observation of their shopping behavior in supermarkets, and online discussions on the subject.

Findings

The consumers’ responses reflect perceptions of dystopia, articulated in two interrelated types of discourses: inclusion versus exclusion on the one hand, and consumerism and the commodification of religion on the other. Spectacles aimed at being a cosmopolitan utopia into a spectacle become thus perceived as dystopic, alienating consumers who belong to ethnic minorities, some of whom will as a result oppose or boycott the supermarkets.

Research limitations/implications

Given its phenomenological focus on consumers’ perception, this study provides an emic perspective on the phenomenon of ethnic retail spectacles. Further research should therefore study these contexts from multiple angles, in order to consider the role of other market actors such as retailers or the larger socio-political context.

Originality/value

This paper contributes to existing research by providing an understanding of ethnic minorities’ perceptions of product cross-over, understudied until now when it comes to mainstream marketplaces. Moreover, it highlights the importance of studying retail environments such as supermarkets, where ethnic spectacles enter consumers’ everyday life.

Purpose

The academic discourse around celebrity and iconicity has resulted in the same human brand as labeled as an inauthentic and illegitimate celebrity and as a culturally important symbol of legitimate achievement. We address the research question of how are contradictions between celebrity and iconicity resolved in creating and managing a human brand.

Methodology/approach

Using structuration theory, we analyzed David Bowie’s 50 year career, from 1964 to 2013, totaling 562 documents. Applying Langley’s (1999) stages of data collection of grounding, organizing, and replicating, we develop a process of model of celebrity and iconicity.

Findings

We identify three stages of human brand symbolic associations: forming, fixing, and transitioning associations. These represent alternate trajectories that Bowie and Ziggy Stardust followed to become icons. In resolving his trajectories across these stages, Bowie adapts and adopts commercial materials, business practices, and new technologies to converge his symbolic associations into a coherent iconic human brand.

Research limitations/implications

Limitations of this paper lie in focusing on one human brand in a particular industry. Future research is suggested in three areas: (1) the relationship between the proposed model and other human brand activities; (2) to explore how the process is manipulated by other market agents; and (3) whether a human brand’s association shifts can precede culture.

Originality/value

This perspective challenges existing conceptualizations of celebrity and iconicity by framing them as inter-related processes, where celebrity associations are fixed in time, while iconic associations transition across time periods to reflect changing cultural values and concerns.

Purpose

The authors broaden the scope of consumer identity by introducing individuals’ olfactory abilities and discussing its impact on perception of the self, consumption behaviors, and consumer well-being.

Methodology/approach

The authors took a mixed-method approach by embedding smell tests during in-depth interviews. A total of 36 interviews were conducted, involving individuals with varying olfactory sensitivity levels, from decreased sensitivity, normal sensitivity, to heightened sensitivity to smell.

Findings

Emergent themes from the interviews include compensation, perception of self and control under three key areas: levels of olfactory sensitivity, the impact of olfactory sensitivity, and the coping strategies used by participants and their families. These findings show that olfactory sensitivity can either enhance or detract from the consumption experience or trigger memories of people, locations or experiences, indirectly affecting consumer well-being and quality of life.

Practical/social implications

Findings reveal that olfactory abilities not only shape and form an individual’s identity but also have a profound impact on (1) consumption behavior: time spent browsing or lingering, purchase order, product choice, or shopping venue which has immense practical implications for marketers; and (2) consumer well-being: developing coping strategies at both the individual and family level to mitigate the issues faced in consumption.

Originality/value

Unlike the other senses, olfactory abilities are often overseen and neglected. The authors show that olfactory abilities are both relevant and salient. The paper is forefront in demonstrating how sensory abilities shape individuals’ identities and in turn influence consumption practices and experiences.

Purpose

This paper aims at revealing the process of identity reconstruction for individuals who have acquired sensory disabilities, as well as the contribution of consumption to this process.

Methodology/approach

The data was collected through both interviews conducted in France and autobiographical accounts.

Findings

When disability occurs, individuals go through a rite of passage that shapes their identity reconstruction process. Two forms of liminality appear: acute and sustained liminality. These phases can foster or hamper individuals’ identity reconstruction.

Research limitations/implications

The mechanisms leading from one stage of the identity reconstruction process to another should be deepened through further research.

Practical/social implications

Given the fluctuating behaviors of consumers with disabilities, especially in view of their identity reconstruction process, this research encourages retailers and public policy actors not to consider them as a homogeneous consumer segment.

Originality/value

While scholars dealing with consumers with disabilities have mainly focused on the accessibility of the marketplace, this research disentangles their identity issues.

Purpose

This paper discusses the evolving nature of the symbolic meaning of the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil. Exploring the kratophanous power of soccer in Brazil, we seek to explain how the relationship that Brazilians had with the 2014 FIFA World Cup reflects profound changes in a mutating society that has deep emotional connections with soccer but at the same time has started to reject the misuse of public resources and struggles to see corruption as a fact of life.

Methodology/approach

The authors conducted a netnography on Facebook communities and on Instagram, reviewed documentaries and short films, as well as press articles on the subject. Data was collected both retrospectively and concurrently. Analysis used open coding, moving up from the emic meanings extracted from the texts to an etic account of the phenomena (Cherrier & Murray, 2007; Thompson, 1997; Thompson & Haytko, 1997).

Findings

We argue that the duality of the Brazilian culture and the kratophanous power of soccer help understand the evolving nature of the relationship Brazilians had with the 2014 FIFA World Cup. We sustain that soccer in Brazil is viewed both as a sport – representing democracy and the hope of social mobility – and as an industry – echoing dissatisfaction with the status quo. Even if ideologically opposed to what the event represented, consumers were bound by very strong cultural connections built around soccer as a sport, a national passion. This changing nature of feelings and attitudes echoes marketplace tensions of a country passing through a democratization maturity process and of a culture in which its citizens find it easier to attempt to be many things at the same time than to take a stand.

Research limitations/implications

This research analyzes the role of social tensions and national passions in relation to a global industry (soccer) and a mega event (the FIFA World Cup). We have looked at the influence of macro cultural forces and tension forces in a sporting event as our findings cannot be understood outside the context of network-based power (Labrecque, vor dem Esche, Mathwick, Novak, & Hofacker, 2013) with Brazilians mobilizing the structure of social networks in favor of their contextual interests. The tense and dynamic political environment in which this research was conducted shed some light on why the #naovaitercopa changed its meaning overtime.

Originality/value

The context of this research contributes to the literature on boycotting (Kozinets & Handelman, 2004; Lee, Motion, & Conroy, 2009), considering that most previous studies had not extensively explored situations where protests arise, obtain significant engagement, yet end up being unsuccessful. We answers the call made by Izberk-Bilgin (2010) for understanding how and why consumer attitudes toward certain types of consumption may change overtime and we demonstrate how the FIFA World Cup possesses kratophanous power in Brazil, and how this characteristic, which is strongly rooted in local culture, contributed to the failure of the boycott.

Purpose

This paper, an exploration into Black women cultural consumers of Tyler Perry Productions, examines the ways cultural consumption practices contribute to transformative ideologies and behaviors.

Methodology/approach

This regionally diverse ethnography using yo-yo fieldwork in Los Angeles, Atlanta, New York, and New Orleans, is based upon the author’s experiences over the course of five years engaging theater attendees and the casts and crew members of multiple Perry productions.

Findings

The author first discusses the dichotomous and provocative responses to Perry’s work by scholars, critics, and consumers of Tyler Perry Productions. After an ethnographically rich discussion of the setting surrounding a performance of the stage play Madea’s Big Happy Family, the author discusses how Black women report Perry’s work as a site of resistance to, and resources for responding to, microaggressions and other structures of oppression.

Originality/value

Building on the work of black feminist theory (Bobo, 2001, B. Smith, 1998) and black feminist theater aesthetic (Anderson, 2008), this paper, by crafting a Black Women’s Theatre Aesthetic that, for the first time, engages with and gives primacy to the consumers of theatrical productions, opens a portal for understanding the creative ways Black women call into play cultural consumption practices as tools and devices for transformative praxis.

Cover of Consumer Culture Theory
DOI
10.1108/S0885-2111201517
Publication date
2015-11-18
Book series
Research in Consumer Behavior
Editors
Series copyright holder
Emerald Publishing Limited
ISBN
978-1-78560-323-5
eISBN
978-1-78560-322-8
Book series ISSN
0885-2111