Consumer Culture Theory: Volume 20

Cover of Consumer Culture Theory

Table of contents

(15 chapters)

Part I Objects and Their Doings


Purpose: This study contributes to understanding how consumers perform new rituals of love and gather in pilgrimage sites.

Methodology/Approach: Five years of engagement with 21 consumers involving prolonged observations and unstructured in-depth interviews provided the empirical evidence for this chapter.

Findings: Consumers’ love rituals are better explained by considering not only consumers’ actions and performances but also their physical environment. The authors found that love rituals are rites of passage following three sequences of a script. By using the religious connotation of pilgrimage, the authors highlight the importance of the location of rituals, as well as material objects. Providing contrasting perspectives, the authors also show that rituals follow substantial variations and display the instability and ambiguity of its symbolic meanings.

Originality/Value: By doing so, the authors contribute to research about rituals, singularized objects, and love relationships. More importantly, this research contributes by demonstrating the need to enrich studies of consumers rituals with historical and cultural perspectives, and transdisciplinary investigations.


Purpose: The present research draws from neomaterialist theories to investigate women’s erotic consumption in Brazil, analyzing several stages of the consumption cycle, from need detection to disposal.

Methodology/Approach: Fieldwork followed the Itinerary Method, with 35 in-depth interviews and participant observation.

Findings: In addition to providing thick description of two consumption cycle stages, the chapter analyzes assemblages of material objects and people that are part of erotic consumption. The dialectical process that transforms consumers through the agency of erotic products also transforms products through repurpose or personification – as lovers, butlers, or party crashers – which, in turn, highlights these objects’ agentic nature. Erotic products are understood as possessing social life and death.

Practical Implications: This research uncovered a series of transformations performed by the object on the consumer (i.e., objectification of the consumer) and vice versa (i.e., personification of the object). These processes help understand tensions inherent to networks and assemblages formed during erotic consumption. They also suggest, along the consumption cycle, unmet consumer needs that may be tended to by industry, like disposal issues.

Social Implications: This study broadly aims at helping women to more freely exercise their sexuality (with the mediation of erotic products if they so desire) in a Latin-American patriarchal society where double moral standards regarding men and women still prevail.

Originality/Value of Chapter: This is one of the first studies conducted within consumer culture theory that focuses specifically on sexuality related consumption.


Purpose: This chapter examines two rather extreme examples of non-human entities in home assemblage, interior objects, and companion animals, and how their agency appears distributed with human consumers in assembling home. The authors aim at drawing conceptual contrasts and overlappings in how agency expresses itself in these categories of living and non-living entities, highlighting the multifaceted manifestations of object agency.

Methodology/Approach: This chapter employs multiple sets of ethnographically inspired data, ranging from ethnographic interviews and an autoethnographic diary to three types of (auto-)netnographic data.

Findings: The findings showcase oscillation of agency between these three analytic categories (human, non-human living, and non-human non-living), focusing on how it is distributed between two of the entities at a time, within the heterogeneous assemblage of home. Furthermore, the findings show instances in which agency emerges as shared between all three entities.

Originality/Value: The contribution of this chapter comes from advancing existing discussion on object agency toward the focus on distributed and shared agency. The research adds to the prevailing discussion by exhibiting how agency oscillates between different types of interacting entities in the assemblage, and in particular, how the two types of non-human entities are agentic. The research demonstrates the variability and interwovenness of non-human and human, living and non-living agency as they appear intertwined in home assemblage.


Purpose: Curatorial consumption studies have hitherto focused on the consumption of family heirlooms. By exploring curatorial consumption within the context of vintage outlets, the authors extend its usage to other consumption sites, allowing them to further develop the construct.

Design/Methodology/Approach: Participant observation was employed at vintage outlets alongside in-depth interviews with 15 vintage traders incorporating object elicitation.

Findings: The authors identify the potential for curatorial consumption to help further develop understanding of individuals’ relationships with their possessions. The authors present a re-contextualization of curatorial consumption, which expands the term beyond caring for family heirlooms, allowing them to incorporate additional contexts. The authors identify vintage traders’ roles as guardians for their merchandise and their sense of responsibility to ensure objects’ circulation to future generations. The authors develop the findings around themes related to curation: acquisition, preservation, and transference. Running through these themes is an overarching concern for historical objects.

Originality/Value: While few studies loosely refer to curatorial consumption, the construct remains underdeveloped. The re-contextualization allows to unpack its potential to enhance understanding of individuals’ relationships with their possessions. In contrast to existing curatorial consumption work that emphasizes the sense of continuity with ancestors, the authors extend this to consider how connections with the past can be maintained beyond local family settings.

Part II Glocalization


Purpose: Cool, a subjective, socially constructed concept has interested several researchers investigating its nature and successful marketing applications. However, the authors note a lack of studies investigating its perceptions in non-Western cultural contexts. The aims of this study are to investigate the meanings of cool in Tunisia, a North-African, Arab-Muslim emerging country.

Methodology: The authors conducted qualitative research through focus groups with Tunisian consumers. The authors used lexical, thematic, and semiotic analyses to investigate cool meanings.

Findings: Findings show that the term “Cool” in Tunisia is mostly related to lexical synonyms and meanings of lightness and flexibility, fun and amusement, humor, and trendiness rather than originality, divergence, creativity, and uniqueness long argued to be the significations of cool in Western literature, despite their minor presence in our results.

Originality/Value: Results show further evidence that the concept is culturally laden and that the socio-cultural characteristics of Tunisia altered its meanings established in the West, mostly associated to its origins and emergence.


Purpose: This chapter seeks to understand ethnic identification among second-generation consumers by drawing upon the lived experiences of British Indian migrants in England.

Methodology/Approach: The authors analyze interviews with middle-class, Hindu, second-generation British Indian women through Bourdieu’s key concepts of capital, field, habitus, and distinction.

Findings: Through resources such as Bollywood cinema, and Indian schools for language, music, and dance, second-generation consumers acquire, use and (re) produce situationally prized subcultural capital for distinction from other ethnic consumers and members of the white majority group. Ethnicity is central to second-generation consumers’ identity projects, and their everyday social interactions. Ethnicity is considered in uplifting and empowering terms, and first-generation consumers play a key role in reinforcing this belief.

Research Limitations/Implications: Due to our small sample size, limited by class, religion, and gender, the findings of this chapter might not be generalizable to the wider population. Instead, they can be used to develop new theoretical ways of understanding ethnicity in multicultural settings with long-established migrant populations.

Social Implications: Ethnicity can play a central and positive role in the everyday lives of second-generation consumers. By investigating this further, we can improve our understanding of contemporary, multicultural societies.

Originality/Value of Paper: Prior work in consumer research has focused on understanding first-generation migrant consumers through the lens of acculturation, and foregrounding experiences of stigma and tension. Instead, the authors foreground the positive and uplifting lived experiences of second-generation consumers in relation to their ethnicity. This chapter extends the literature on second-generation ethnic consumer identity work.


Purpose: This chapter aims to illuminate the cultural perceptions of illicit alcohol and to examine the role of cognitive polyphasia in changing the perceptions and legitimacy of market practices.

Methodology/Approach: An ethnographic study of the Kenyan illicit alcohol market, which combined digital news media data analysis, with observation and interview data.

Findings: Cognitive polyphasia serves to delegitimize illicit alcohol by portraying it as incongruent with existing cultural beliefs, values, and assumptions. Illicit alcohol is portrayed as a contaminated product, a cursed business, a practice that causes cultural breech, and a scheme of witchcraft/sorcery used to enslave consumers. Findings also show that cognitive polyphasia involves drawing on traditional knowledge to explain misfortune and difficult social phenomena such as addiction. The delegitimation of illicit alcohol induces behavior and perception change. Consumers play an important role in this change process.

Research Implications: This research proposes the incorporation of cultural language into alcohol policy and education.

Social Implications: By illuminating social representations in the cultural-cognitive arena, a theory for applying these factors to change markets/behavior is proposed.

Originality/Value of Paper: The chapter highlights the delegitimation of market practices, unlike previous research that focuses on legitimation processes. This chapter also demonstrates how cognitive polyphasia, a scarcely researched concept in consumer research, can induce behavior change. This chapter also contributes to the literature on market/behavior change by revealing potential cultural-cognitive barriers to change.

Part III Constituting Markets


Purpose: This chapter investigates how researchers assemble market research test towns as hybrid sociotechnical arrangements. Researchers use various strategies in order to purify such hybrids into simplified representations of a fetishized imaginary, namely the average consumer.

Methodology/approach: The chapter is based on an analysis of secondary sources such as company documents. Theoretically, it draws on the concept of consumption assemblages and on anthropological theories of fetish.

Findings: Fetishization is a powerful way for both researchers and their clients to purify the hybrid assemblages they are part of into easily digestible categories such as “the real” and “the average.” In that process, the test town and its consumers emerge as a fetish that allows corporate clients to alleviate decision-making anxiety. Because of the nature of fetish, purification as a process remains incomplete.

Research Implications: These findings call for more social studies of market research as a set of practices that shape the identities of those who do the testing and forecasting. This chapter thus opens up test marketing and so-called test towns in particular as a field for consumer culture theory research.

Originality/value: This chapter provides insights into how market research creates test sites to simulate purchase behavior and pre-test consumer products. This chapter maps how different groups of actors and different technologies are enrolled in order to enact an ideal-type consumer averageness on an ongoing basis in a particular test town.


Purpose: Market logics have increasingly dominated consumer life worlds. Consumers may embrace marketization, or they may resist it, try to escape it, rebel against it, or actively manage its effects. This chapter examines the marketization of elderly care (in the form of transactional service provider relationships) and how consumers apply humanizing strategies to market relationships.

Methodology/Approach: This is a qualitative interpretive study using in-depth interviewing, observations, and the analysis of media coverage.

Findings: Drawing on institutional theory, this study shows how consumers humanize a marketized service relationship by weaving social logics into existing market logics. Our research finds consumers engaging in three humanization strategies: (1) moving beyond transactional relationships; (2) sharing consumption experiences; and (3) reinforcing social bonds through giving. The end result is the do-it-yourself (DIY) creation of extended family relationships from market resources.

Social Implications: The context of this study is a government-supported, non-profit, exchanged-based retirement support scheme that addresses the challenges of global population aging and the increasing anonymization and estrangement in our society. The authors tentatively suggest that our findings represent a move to mitigate adverse effects of neoliberalism.

Originality/Value of the Paper: Prior research has shown that consumers embrace marketization, resist it, try to escape it, rebel against it, or actively manage its effects. The authors identify another strategy used by consumers to address the increasing marketization of their life worlds, namely humanization. This study shows that consumers assemble market resources and humanize transactional service provider relationships by weaving social- into market logics resulting in the creation of a DIY extended family.


Purpose: This chapter explores how Russian fashion designers, as cultural intermediaries operating in the marketplace, interpret patriotism, which has become a noticeable phenomenon in Russia.

Methodology/Approach: Patriotism is approached as an appeal to patria and is considered as a socially constructed category. To explore the construction of patriotism, this research uses Michel Foucault’s concept of governmentality. In the market, the state, commercial companies, media, and consumers co-produce the dispositif of patriotism, which conducts the creative conduct of fashion designers and encourages them to follow patriotic fashion. At the same time, fashion designers have freedom to conduct themselves and act in different ways.

Findings: Interpretations of patriotism within a patriotic dispositif are explored vis-à-vis the interpretations of patriotism articulated by fashion designers. In addition to patriotic fashion, the forms of their creative conduct or counter-conduct are manifested in such subtypes of patriotism in fashion as cosmopolitan patriotism, economic patriotism, cultural patriotism, and fashion localism.

Research Limitations/Implications: The research is mainly limited to a perspective of fashion designers, and to some extent of the government, and does not consider the perspective of consumers.

Originality/Value: The research develops a theoretical argument of patriotism as a tool of governmentality, juxtaposing it to the approach of patriotism as an ideology. This chapter also contributes to the studies of resistance, adding the perspective of cultural intermediaries contrary to the commonly studied perspective of consumers.


Purpose: This chapter explores the practices underpinning the production of field-specific cultural capital at festivals, understood here as retail spaces that gather a plethora of distinct market actors.

Methodology/Approach: This research presents evidence from an ethnographic study employing an interpretative paradigm and multiple data collection processes. The empirical research has been undertaken in the context of food festivals associated with the foodie taste regime.

Findings: Three categories of practices that play a role in the production of field-specific cultural capital, namely representational, exchange, and experiential practices, are presented.

Practical Implications: Our chapter provides recommendations for food festival organizers and participants who need to improve their practices when facing challenges such as increasing international competition and costs or declining sponsorship.

Research Limitations/Implications: This chapter contributes to the growing body of field-level market analysis by showing how practices enabled by complex retail spaces contribute to the production of field-specific cultural capital. However, this chapter is limited by its focus on food festivals.

Originality/Value of the Paper: This chapter theorizes how practices enable the acceleration and diversification of field-specific capital exchange, as well as its integration with other forms of capital.

Part IV Quoth the Raven


Purpose: At a conference inspired by Hans Christian Andersen, this chapter makes the case for his shadowy American contemporary, Edgar Allan Poe.

Methodology: Employing a comparative literary analysis, it contends that consumer culture theory (CCT) can learn more from Poe’s quothful raven than Andersen’s ugly duckling.

Findings: Principally that Poe’s Ps of Perversity, Pugnacity, and Poetry are particularly pertinent to an adolescent, self-harm-prone subdiscipline that’s struggling to find itself and make its way in the world.

Originality: Poe and Andersen’s names rarely appear in the same sentence. They do now.

Cover of Consumer Culture Theory
Publication date
Book series
Research in Consumer Behavior
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Emerald Publishing Limited
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