Journal of Consumer Culture

Published by SAGE Publications
Online ISSN: 1469-5405
Publications
Article
This article analyses correspondence and legal documents pertaining to William Donahey’s efforts to merchandize his Teenie Weenies comic strip in the 1920s, with particular emphasis on Donahey’s negotiations with toy distributor Geo. Borgfeldt & Company. I argue that neither the Teenie Weenies’ value as intellectual property, nor Donahey’s creative authority as licensor nor Borgfeldt’s as licensee preceded the negotiations between these two parties, but rather, that they were created through the tactical discursive exchange of what John Caldwell labels ‘trade stories’ designed to establish each party’s ‘career capital’. These trade stories were, in turn, inspired by the particular socio-historical and industrial contexts in which they were told; in this case the post-First World War pre-Depression era children’s market and its construction of an imaginary child consumer. Moreover, I argue that the interactions between Donahey and Borgfeldt reveal how the concept of ‘goodwill’ was understood and given meaning through discourse in an era prior to the codification of secondary meaning into trademark law. Early debates over what constituted ‘goodwill’ would have profound effects on Donahey’s authority over the Teenie Weenies as a brand as well as on how managerial stewardship would come to be understood as essential to establishing and maintaining brand equity. Rather than view correspondence between Donahey and Borgfeldt as evidencing particular industrial norms, I argue that it reveals as much about the uncertainties of extending character brands as it does about the tenuous positions held by both licensor and licensee at an historical moment where the value of intellectual property – and, more precisely, who was responsible for ensuring that value – was in flux.
 
Article
This article contributes to an analysis of the origins of contemporary post-modern consumer culture, centred on the notion of lifestyle choice. It presents a case study of Piaggio's marketing strategies for their motor scooters – the Vespa being the most famous one – during the 1960s and 1970s. Although the Vespa had become an icon of the international youth culture already at the beginning of this period, it is argued that Piaggio's advertising agency did not appropriate the counterculture on account of its quantitative importance. Rather, countercultural attachments were mobilized and made part of Piaggio's advertising discourse first when they harmonized with visions for a future ‘postmaterialistic' consumer society harboured by advertising professionals. They subsequently used new techniques of market research, like motivation research, to translate such countercultural attachments into a consumer culture centred on individual self-realization rather than collective rebellion. In the 1970s, it is argued, this new consumer culture was transformed into what is now known as ‘life-style consumerism'.
 
Article
This article explores morality and contradictions in Swedish political discussions between 1899 and 1939 concerning lotteries in general and the state lottery in particular. The seemingly narrow debates on lotteries reflected general dilemmas of the emerging modern consumer and welfare society. In order to balance economic value against the perceived lack of moral and social values, politicians were forced to define and redefine the concept of lottery. They also tried to handle the contradictions it presented. This article first argues that a paradoxical change occurred in the understanding of lottery in relation to modernity. Politicians redefined lottery as a modern consumer practice during this period. Lottery is then investigated as a means of envisaging the future. In the practice of playing the lottery, the community’s planning for the future and the individual’s dreams about his or her own future had come into conflict. A proposed solution to this was to let the lottery finance the general pension insurance. The contradictions between backwardness and progress, individualism and collectivism or hedonistic dreaming and rational calculations were not solved, but this article suggests that these notions may not have been as incompatible in practice as in theory.
 
Article
Advertising’s contribution to the deterioration of meaning in consumer culture has been well established, yet advertising also offers a therapeutic resource to audiences. Early advertisers humanized the modern marketplace with nostalgic appeals to home, hearth and village, yet, against the rising tide of 1960s identity politics, designers made increasing appeals to authenticity. By the 21st century, the modern heroes of authentic individuality - the cowboy, the genius artist, the outlaw - had been fully parodied and debunked, yet an interpretive study of two totemic youth commodities, jeans and sneakers, suggests that the underlying values of freedom, autonomy and individuality are not. Contemporary jeans advertisers rewrite the quest for authenticity within contemporary promotional culture, yet this appeal is not universal.Athletic shoe brands achieved popularity by reflecting the ideology of athleticism rooted in the modernist ethos celebrating achievement, deferral of gratification, discipline and teamwork. The research suggests autonomy and self-authentication are taken most seriously by those most immersed in the quest for anti-modern identity. Even if the marketplace is not a site of absolute personal freedom, to the degree it quells anxieties that the quest for freedom is disappearing in a hyper- commercialized market culture, it may prove therapeutic.
 
Article
This article has three objectives. The first calls on vigorously injecting the notion of emotion in the sociology of consumption. In particular, I show that the former has much to contribute to the latter, especially when consumption is conceived as inherent in the process of identity building and maintaining. In this respect, and this is the second goal of this article, I argue not only that the category of ‘emotion’ can be heuristic for a sociology of consumption, but also that the sociology of consumption has long been, albeit unknowingly, dealing with emotions. Making explicit this analytical category helps strengthen, conceptually, much of the sociology of consumption. The third purpose of this article is to offer preliminary thoughts on the ways in which consumers’ volatile desires and emotions are mediated by culture. For the category of ‘emotion’ not to be psychological or individualistic, we need to understand just how it is infused by cultural meaning through and through. The conceptual link explaining the articulation between emotion and consumption is to be found in the notion of ‘imagination’, understood as the socially situated deployment of cultural fantasies.
 
Article
Mapping the global distribution of children’s consumer culture and its conditions of consumption and production, this article argues that while the continuing salience of sacralized understandings of ‘childhood’ lends enchantment to the means of consumption in the children’s culture industry, it also intensifies moral scrutiny of the industry’s products and conditions of production. The article examines the strategic use of sacralized understandings of childhood by both the industry and its critics and considers the disjunctive global flows of enchantment, exploitation and critical intervention mediated by information communication technology. It draws on a range of sources, including public domain information on corporations and industry associations, unobtrusive observation of sites of children’s consumption, the packaging and promotion of children’s toys, games and entertainment, ILO and NGO research on toy production in Export Processing Zones, academic and activist discourse on global consumer capitalism and recent theoretical work in the sociology of childhood.
 
Article
This article applies Guy Debord's theory of the spectacle to the institutional field of contemporary American higher education. Our case study examines the US News & World Report system of college rankings, which has come to acquire a powerful role in determining exchange values among colleges and universities. Based on a document analysis of 12 issues of the USN, we present three processes by which it accomplishes the construction of the rankings spectacle: abstraction, valuation and legitimation. First, the USN abstracts images of colleges and universities in the form of discrete numbers. Second, these numbers are valued, compared and ranked as exchangeable commodities. Finally, we examine the discursive strategies employed by the USN to legitimize its rankings as accurate and useful. As higher education is a unique social institution associated with the notions of truth, knowledge, rationality and science, the widespread consumption and influence of the USN rankings illuminate the degree to which the society of the spectacle has arrived upon today's American society.
 
Article
This article examines the role consumer tactics played in the American Federation of Labor's (AFL) strategy of business unionism. In particular, it explains how the AFL used its consumer tactics to try to mobilize the purchasing power of union members and their families to fight for higher wages and shorter working hours. The historical data collected for this article demonstrates that the AFL was not ignorant of the relationship between production and consumption, or the worker and the consumer. I discuss how the AFL used its consumer tactics to try to build solidarity across its affiliated trade unions and provide a way for the wives, daughters, and mothers of union men to become involved in the labor movement through consumption. I argue that these consumer tactics need to be fully acknowledged, as they were pivotal in some of the most contentious struggles between the AFL and business at the turn of the 20th century.
 
Article
This article explores the ways in which interpassivity, as conceptualized in the work of Robert Pfaller and Slavoj Žižek, can contribute to understanding the role of brands in today’s commodity form. Interpassivity, like interactivity, implies an active relationship between an actor and an external entity. Interpassivity, however, suggests that the actor is active in order to take on a passive role. As it is used here, it refers to a condition in which a consumer actively delegates her or his emotional expressions to a brand. The integration of brands in funerals is appealing given the abject nature of deathcare, the affective intensity of dealing with loss, and the increasingly rationalized role of the funeral industry in deathcare. Based on a multi-sited ethnography, the author discusses the ways in which brandscapes are becoming more widespread in funeral products and services and are even contributing to ‘themed’ funerals and funeral settings. The author argues that these developments are conducive to conditions of interpassivity and they further the ongoing colonization of capital into human emotion.
 
Article
In the USA, the development of the mass production techniques that enabled the mass manufacture of cigarettes in the 1880s coincided with an intense focus on the civic qualities and capacities of the nation’s male youth. As the popularity of the cigarette grew, especially among urban youth, so too did concerns that the habit was crippling the physical, mental and moral faculties required of the good citizen. To date, the few histories that have tackled the nation’s earliest anti-cigarette campaigns have focused on the various legislative enactments designed to regulate the sale and use of the ‘little white slaver’. While incredibly important, these studies have passed over the important and ancillary role of education campaigns that sought to structure the way American youth conceived of the cigarette and the risks of cigarette smoking. In this article, I explore one of the nation’s first mass-mediated anti-cigarette campaigns, conducted through the pages of the nation’s most popular youth periodical – the Youth’s Companion – to show how central ideas of citizenship were to early efforts to shape the ways American youth negotiated the mass market and one of its most nefarious products.
 
Article
This article focuses on examining and understanding the way motherhood and babyhood are constituted in the midst of cultural practice and particularly though consumption as a fundamental and constitutive element of modern-day definitions and understandings of motherhood and babyhood. More specifically, the article focuses on how middle-class first-time (to be) Greek Cypriot mothers acquire a sense of motherhood and simultaneously construct notions of babyhood as their pregnancies unfold; how the experience of pregnancy is lived and perceived by expectant mothers as a state of anxiety and a condition of risk; and, finally, how all these processes are mediated by consumption broadly conceived. Findings of this qualitative study show that the experience of pregnancy for these women was associated with feelings of acute anxiety for the amelioration of which they engaged in a variety of consumptive practices, especially medically related, which served to further institute consumption as a constitutive element of ‘motherhood proper’.
 
Article
This article explores cultural taste through a modification of Bourdieu’s theory of cultural capital, taste and ‘distinction’. Mainly through an in-depth, qualitative study of members of Australia’s postwar elite, it is suggested that the particular group under consideration in this article displayed not highbrow but distinctly middle to lowbrow cultural taste. Members of the Australian elite who took part in this study showed little interest in highbrow cultural activities such as opera, classical ballet and classical literature. We argue that this apparent ‘distaste for taste’ within the Australian elite has to do with the specificity of Australian culture, together with particular generational influences that predisposed members of this generation to challenge the validity of highbrow cultural activities. Thus, the federal structure of Australia’s cultural field and an anti-authoritarian current peculiar to Australia, combined with generational factors, explain the consumption patterns of this strand of elite. By introducing generational analysis into Bourdieu’s theory of taste, a more dynamic explanation that can capture shifts in the cultural taste of the elite is offered.
 
Article
Using the form of an ethnographic diary, this article explores the complexity of contemporary consumer life as it is enmeshed with everyday experience. Built around three ethnographic diary entries that track the author's miscarriage, the article's aim is to insist on the humanity of consumption even as it poses profound problems. Scholars and scholarship are not exempt from suffering the very problems we seek to analyze. To further this point, this article also explores aspects of the consumer lives of Karl Marx and his wife Jenny, showing how even for them, negotiating the demands of commodity capitalism was complex, contradictory, and painful.
 
Article
Given the growing transitional character of food, on its way from farm to fork, a rising number of people and institutions affect what we eat, governing how food is produced, consumed and distributed day-to-day. The sociological response to these transformations lead to a conceptualization of food as a dynamic field, crucial to the understanding of how we negotiate production and consumption as specific and meaningful sets of activities. In this article, I suggest applying the recent conceptualization of practice theory in order to understand the increasing complexity of food issues. I start by illustrating some basic sociological works on consumption of food quality, then I present the main outcome of a qualitative research study about the commercial cooking in a Northern Italian city. The issue of food quality and the effects of its social construction on consumers habits are eventually discussed.
 
Explicit sexual tension and age ambiguity characterize the cultural space of young white heterosexual girlhood in the 1980s. This trade ad for Wilkies junior rumble seats plays on the Brooke Shields/Calvin Klein innuendo of a few years earlier. ( Earnshaw’s Review , April 1981: 66) 
Article
In this article, we argue that what is now known as the ‘tween’ cannot be understood apart from its inception in, and articulation with, the market exigencies of childhood - specifically girlhood - as they have emerged since the Second World War. Drawing upon trade discourses from the children’s clothing industry since the 1940s, interviews with children and views expressed by children’s market observers, we demonstrate how ‘the tween’ (or subteen/preteen) has been constructed and maintained as an ambiguous, age-delineated marketing and merchandising category. This category tends to produce and reproduce a ‘female consuming subject’ who has generally been presumed to be white, middle or upper middle class and heterosexual. Building upon historical materials, we focus much of our efforts on analyzing contemporary cultural commercial iterations of the tween as they have arisen since the early 1990s, a time when clothing makers and entrepreneurs of childhood redoubled their efforts to define a market semantic space for the Tween on the continuum of age-based goods and meanings.
 
Article
This article argues for a focus on the relationships between retail managers, workers and the objects that they sell in understanding the production of retail spaces and service interactions as meaningful. Sociological and critical management literatures on the service encounter have emphasized the extent to which retail workers are encouraged to display enthusiasm for the things that they sell as part of the process of selling. Indeed, competitive advantage in large modern retail environments is often premised upon the ‘quality’ of customer service and the genuineness of worker engagement with the customer. This article examines these debates in the context of the UK retail book trade and argues that this emphasis in the literature might neglect the extent to which relationships with symbolic goods in consumer society are not simply benign resources for the creation of reflexive selves. It argues that the notion of reading as a worthwhile or respectable leisure pursuit informs the working practices of the book trade. It demonstrates this through interviews with bookshop managers about processes of selection and recruitment and interviews with managers and workers about relationships with customers. Both of these aspects of retail work are informed by relationships to objects that reflect and produce inequalities in cultural capital. In the discourse of the retail book trade, bookshop workers and customers are presumed to be particular types of people with particular orientations to the products being sold. The embodied cultural capital of workers leads to interactions that implicate the bookshop as a site in which hierarchies of cultural value are produced and reinforced.
 
Welcome to Nigella.com. 
Article
This article explores the production of the ‘Nigella’ celebrity brand through forms of gendered talk performed by means of online community forums. The complexity and appeal of celebrity culinary brands forces us to turn to particular contexts to explore the passions, concerns and enthusiasms that they elicit and excite. As a context for the exploration of such hyper-mediated brands it is useful to explore the social interactions and associations harboured and sheltered within the collective canopy of the forum, in our case the Food Forum of Nigella.com. The emotional fabric of celebrity culinary brands has much to do with the fact that they are created and sustained through a range of multimedia platforms. One such critical stage is that of the online forum, which we explore as a site wherein feminine identities are performed and reimagined; where notions of ‘doing gender’ within culinary landscapes are worked and reworked through networks of affiliation and shared sentiment.
 
Article
This article explores the contradictory cultural tendencies at play in the political economy of corporate brand values.Corporate brand values often serve mutually contradictory goals of capital accumulation and legitimation.Though competitive branding aims at distinguishing firms from one another, in the overall landscape of branding, the semiotics of branding contributes to tightly condensed, yet overarching, capitalist metanarratives.What additional contradictions evolve out of a branding process that indiscriminately mines culture for the purpose of boosting brand values?
 
Article
Ethnographic accounts of the kinship practices that emerged in the last few decades with the help of assisted reproductive technologies frequently used the concepts of ‘normalization’ and ‘naturalization’ to explain how ‘pioneers’ of these family forms dealt with their novel experiences. The normalization/naturalization framework, I argue, obscures dimensions of the experiences of single women and lesbian couples who buy ‘donor’ sperm; I use the concepts of ‘the canny,’ ‘the uncanny,’ ‘confabulation,’ and ‘poetic license’ to illuminate these dimensions. Despite, and because of, the fact that these women buy sperm in order to obviate unwanted kin ties with the biological father, the existential status of the sperm and the absent presence of the biological father generate unease. With remarkable frequency, published memoirs of these maverick moms are peppered with synonyms for ‘the uncanny’ – ‘creepy’, ‘freaky’ and ‘strange’. The practices of sexing, naming, clothing, photographing, treating as imaginary correspondents or conversation partners, and purchasing symbolically-related consumer goods and services are used, often with ‘poetic license’, not just to make the strange familiar, but also to accentuate the strangeness of their relationship with the absent presence of the biological father.
 
Article
Since the debut of the TV series Weeds in 2005, the cable network Showtime has developed a reputation for programming content based on the anti-heroine mother protagonist. This programming trend – which also includes The United States of Tara, Nurse Jackie and, most recently, The Big C – demonstrates the network’s success. In this way, Showtime pushes against the dominant trends of ‘quality television’s’ preference for male-centered programs ( The Sopranos, The Wire, etc.) with narratives featuring middle-aged females and the contemporary issues that they face as women and mothers. I use theorist Diane Negra’s notion of ‘time-anxiety’ trope in postfeminist representations of women, motherhood, consumerism and time. For Negra, the ‘time-anxiety’ trope is a marketing tool based on the biological categorization of essential female experiences, which include themes of motherhood, marriage and anti-aging. Turing to trade and magazine publications, I use the term ‘female problem’ to investigate Showtime’s programming and marketing based on female mental and physical illness and its relevance to a broader, postmodern female experience. Using The Big C as a case study, I am interested in the show’s depiction of cancer as a larger cultural metaphor for the failures of motherhood and anxieties around consumerism. At the same time, the show’s investment in female experience fails to account for female bodies that differ from the white, middle-class and youthful protagonist.
 
Article
This article considers the problem of chain store development in a particular area of retail trade – the restaurant industry. Restaurants have been singled out as the quintessential example of chain store organization. In this article, it is suggested that, in spite of the increasingly huge size of the market, substantial segments of the industry are composed of single, independent establishments. After drawing on the distinction between full-service and fast-food restaurants, the author shows that mass distribution develops in a bipolar fashion across proximate fields – high in the fast-food sector and minimal in the full-service sector. Differential chain store growth is traced to variation in profit environments. Data from the economic census on chain store development from 1963 to 1992 are used to support the conclusion that different profit environments generate different market structures and different strategies for survival.
 
Article
In this article, we examine the gendering of ethical food discourse by focusing on the ideal of the ‘organic child’. Drawing from qualitative focus groups and interviews with Canadian mothers of various class backgrounds, we find that the organic child reflects the intersecting ideals of motherhood and ethical food discourse, whereby ‘good’ mothers are those who preserve their children’s purity and protect the environment through conscientious food purchases. Women in our study express the desire to nurture the organic child, and feel responsible for protecting their children’s purity. At the same time the organic child represents a gendered burden for women, our participants negotiate the ideal in complex ways that involve managing emotions and balancing the normative expectations of motherhood with pragmatic demands. The idealized figure of the organic child not only works ideologically to reinforce gendered notions of care-work, but also works to set a classed standard for good mothering that demands significant investments of economic and cultural capital. We argue that the organic child ideal reflects neoliberal expectations about childhood and maternal social and environmental responsibility by emphasizing mothers’ individual responsibility for securing children’s futures.
 
Article
Recent French sociological scholarship suggests the notion of hypermodernity to characterize the contemporary moment. While the meanings of this concept vary, the idea of excess seems central. Informed by this new scholarship, this article analyzes the superlative rhetoric in contemporary televised and internet commercials, and suggests elective affinities between this rhetoric and the various trends characterizing the hypermodern present.
 
Article
Using time diary data to examine practices of reading, this article examines trajectories of change within five countries in the last quarter of the 20th century. It employs a conceptual framework derived from theories of practice to illustrate their application in a quantitative and comparative analysis of change in patterns of consumption. Analysing recruitment and defection, the multiplication and diversification of reading-related practices, and the presence of distinct enthusiast groups leads to the rejection of popular claims that the practice of reading is in decline and that this might be a universal process across societies characterized as having ‘advanced reading cultures’. Critiques of cultural homogenization in the context of global consumer cultures are also corroborated. Also, a conceptual and methodological framework for the application of practice theories to the analysis of consumption and social change is advocated.
 
Article
Studies of ordinary (as distinct from spectacular) forms of consumption have generated new questions and new ways of thinking about mechanisms and processes of change and about the conceptual status of consumer goods. No longer exclusively framed as semiotic resources deployed in the expression and reproduction of identities and social relations, products are increasingly viewed as essential ingredients in the effective accomplishment of everyday life. In this article we examine the recursive relation between products, projects and practices with reference to DIY and home improvement – an important area of craft consumption and a field in which consumers are actively and creatively engaged in integrating and transforming complex arrays of material goods. Interviews with DIY practitioners and retailers point to a circuit of interdependent relations between the hardware of consumption (tools, materials, etc.); distributions of competence (between humans and non-humans); the emergence of consumer projects and, with them, new patterns of demand. In elaborating on these practical and theoretical linkages we develop an analysis of the material dynamics of craft consumption that bridges between approaches rooted in science studies, material culture and consumption.
 
Article
Current rhetoric of democratic citizenship invokes an ideology of consumerism. In this article, I adopt a feminist/critical cultural studies perspective to explore the extent to which the relationship between consumption and citizenship is both part of the strategy of globalization and a historical association. I begin by reviewing a mainstream discourse on citizenship, as well as feminist and other critical responses to it. I then discuss the historical role of consumption as a marker of and, increasingly, a stand-in for citizenship under contemporary neoliberal, consumerist ideologies. Scholars from diverse disciplines and fields have brought the concepts of citizenship and consumption together, now routinely using terms such as citizen-consumer. I close with a discussion of problems with the notion of consumer-citizenship, notably the outstanding concern about equality, a fundamental aim of democratic citizenship, and the limitations of consumption as a strategy of resistance in previous eras and to the contemporary project of globalization.
 
McDonald's and Inca Kola join forces in Peru  
The Inca Kola label  
Article
Inca Kola is the only national cola to outsell Coca-Cola in its own territory. This article situates the marketing and success of Inca Kola within broader theoretical debates on the relationship between the local and the global and underscores the usefulness of more nuanced understandings of the local by bringing to the forefront internal heterogeneity and local hegemonic discourses. I suggest that Inca Kola is successful in large part because it bridges the gap between the local and the global and the traditional and the modern by presenting an alternative to Coca-Cola's American-global modernity through the construction of a Peruvian-global modernity. I then complicate notions of the local by analyzing how the Peruvian-global modernity represented in Inca Kola's ads is internally hegemonic and suggest that Inca Kola's marketing is better understood in terms of its embeddedness in urban white-mestizo racial hierarchies.
 
Article
This article is an ethnographic study of how Russian consumers have ‘domesticated’ McDonald’s. Specifically, I am concerned with how Russians blur the boundaries between the personal and the public, the local and the foreign, by simultaneously drawing aspects of McDonald’s into the intimate spaces of their everyday lives and personalizing the public McDonald’s experience. By engaging with recent debates about the nature of localization, I suggest that the Russian case is different because Russian consumers who are participating in nationalist-oriented consumer campaigns are including McDonald’s as an authentically Russian, and hence indigenous, product.
 
Article
The idea that artifacts are acquired and used in the course of accomplishing social practices has important implications for theories of consumption and innovation. From this point of view, it is not enough to show that goods are symbolically and materially positioned, mediated and filtered through existing cultures and conventions. Twisting the problem around, the further challenge is to explain how practices change and with what consequence for the forms of consumption they entail. In this article, we suggest that new practices like Nordic walking, a form of ‘speed walking’ with two sticks, arise through the active and ongoing integration of images, artifacts and forms of competence, a process in which both consumers and producers are involved. While it makes sense to see Nordic walking as a situated social practice, such a view makes it difficult to explain its growing popularity in countries as varied as Japan, Norway and the USA. In addressing this issue, we conclude that practices and associated cultures of consumption are always ‘homegrown’. Necessary and sometimes novel ingredients (including images and artifacts) may circulate widely, but they are always pieced together in a manner that is informed by previous and related practice. What looks like the diffusion of Nordic walking is therefore better understood as its successive, but necessarily localized, (re)invention. In developing this argument, we explore some of the consequences of conceptualizing consumption and consumer culture as the outcome of meaningful social practice.
 
Article
This article posits a ???mutual fit??? between consumer culture and the task posed to individuals under conditions of modernity: to produce for themselves the continuity no longer provided by society. It therefore explores the new forms of consumption formed from a shift from the functionality of needs to the diffuse plasticity and volatility of desire, arguing that this principle of instability has become functional to a modernity that seems to conjure stability out of an entire lack of solidity.
 
Article
The present interpretive work explores the consumption experiences of pregnant women transitioning to mother roles, focusing specifically upon the consumption of maternity dress, which has not been previously considered within the context of liminal consumption. Of particular interest were if and how the consumption of maternity dress may shape the self during the liminal transition of pregnancy. Findings revealed that consumption of maternity dress during pregnancy both complicated and supported participants’ embodied experiences as liminal, pregnant selves and their transition to motherhood. Three overarching themes were identified and reflect the ways in which participants’ consumption practices were tightly bound with their identities, which, in turn, represented a repertoire of possible selves that often diverged from the participants’ current identities. Specifically, the three emergent themes included: (1) maternity dress consumption representing disruption in the ‘Woman I Am Most of the Time,’ (2) maternity dress consumption to affirm one’s new identity as ‘Pregnant/Expectant Mother,’ and (3) maternity dress consumption to maintain continuity in the ‘Woman I Am Most of the Time.’ Findings also underscored that consumption during liminality is complex, both inciting and relieving ambivalence during role transition.
 
Article
A growing field of research is documenting the political investment of the consumer. Yet, consumers are invested of political responsibilities in many different ways, which respond to different visions of politics and consumption, culture and the economy. In this article we critically explore the particular stance of an increasingly international actor such as Slow Food, placing it in the context of current debates on the scope of alternative food networks and on the moral boundaries of the market. Starting from the Slow Food core in Bra, Italy, and through a variety of qualitative sources, both primary (interviews) and secondary (publications, public speeches), we show that while Slow Food contributes to the current political investment of the consumer, it does so in distinctive ways which bear witness to its gastronomic origin and middle-class constituency. Slow Food rhetoric works out a politically-thick vision of taste refinement: its imagined consumer is an ‘eco-gastronome’, someone who adds ecological concerns onto a continuously trained aesthetic appreciation of food. The article considers the scope of what Slow Food has defined as the ‘right to pleasure’ in the face of a tension between inclusion and exclusion running through contemporary consumer culture. It concludes by exploring Slow Food’s current shifts towards issues such as economic growth, access to resources and environmental protection — crucial in defining the complex world of critical consumption — through a politico-aesthetic problematization of food consumption.
 
Article
Children’s clothes are an appropriate topic for examining maternal consumption, as they are among the first items provided for infants and must be frequently replaced to accommodate growth, requiring repeated consumption decisions. For contemporary mothers, decisions about clothing may act as a way of defining their parenting practice both to their children and to adult peers, and anxieties about this role may be heightened by the characterization of commercial interests as corrupters of childhood innocence.
 
Article
This article reviews the literature that explores the relationship between ethnic identities and food consumption, with particular reference to business management studies. It focuses on the food shopping practices of south Asians in Britain in the period 1947 to 1975, to illustrate the need for more historically contextualized studies that can provide a more nuanced exploration of any interconnections between ethnic identity and shopping behaviour. The article draws on a reasonably long-standing interest in ethnicity and consumption in marketing studies, and explores the conceptual use of acculturation within this literature. The arguments put forward are framed by recent interdisciplinary studies of the broader relationship between consumption and identity, which stress the importance of contextualizing any influence of ethnic identifications through a wider consideration of other factors including societal status, gender and age, rather than giving it singular treatment. The article uses a body of empirical research drawn from recent oral histories, to explore how these factors informed everyday shopping practices among south Asians in Britain. It examines some of the shopping and wider food provisioning strategies adopted by early immigrants on arrival in Britain. It considers the interaction between the south Asian population and the changing retail structure, in the context of the development of self-service and the supermarket. Finally, it demonstrates how age, gender and socioeconomic status interacted with ethnic identities to produce variations in shopping patterns.
 
Percentage of Participants Listing Specific Motivations For Living Simply
Article
Overconsumption in affluent societies is the root or contributing cause of many of the world's most pressing problems, including environmental degradation, global poverty, peak oil and consumer malaise. This suggests that any transition to a sustainable and just society will require those who are overconsuming to move to far more materially 'simple' lifestyles. The Voluntary Simplicity Movement can be understood broadly as a diverse social movement made up of people who are resisting high consumption lifestyles and who are seeking, in various ways, a lower consumption but higher quality of life alternative. Recently a multi-national online survey was launched for the purpose of gaining empirical insight into this 'post-consumerist' social movement, and this study provides the most extensive sociological examination of the movement available. After situating the Voluntary Simplicity Movement in theoretical context, this article presents a foundational analysis of these new survey results.
 
Article
Hummus – an Arab dish adopted by Jews in Israel and made into a ‘national dish’ and a culinary cult – was first industrialized in Israel in 1958. In this article we look at the impact of the food industry on shaping both consumption patterns and the signification of the dish. Contrary to accounts that contrast mass production to authenticity and tradition, fast to slow food, globalized trade to local production, we regard the industrial and the artisanal as interdependent and mutually constitutive realms of production and consumption. We argue, first, that the Israeli food industry has played a crucial role in turning hummus into a national symbol and a culinary cult. Second, we argue that the growing popularity of industrial hummus not only did not replace the consumption of artisanal hummus, but the other way around. Third, we argue that the industry is simultaneously an agent of globalization and of localization of hummus: it expands the spread of hummus globally and at the same time it sometimes tries to fix to it a local (‘national’) identity.
 
Article
The key element of Web 2.0 is what O’Reilly refers to as an ‘architecture of participation’. Taglines such as YouTube’s ‘broadcast yourself ’ and Lulu’s ‘publish your words, your art — for fun or profit’ point to the creative empowerment that has accompanied the mass adoption of digital technologies and the rise of Web 2.0 applications. Combined with the ‘rip, mix and burn’ nature of digital technologies, the Web has rapidly become a locus for user-created content, much of which copies, appropriates and mashes up copyrighted materials. The invitation to engage with the media-saturated environment has led to a proliferation of prosumerism through which many consumers have become producers of content. Appropriation and redeployment of copyrighted materials in the prosumption arena has drawn creators and right holders into conflict. Copyright owners seek to maintain control over information flows, whilst prosumers make (what they consider to be) fair uses of elements harvested from the media-saturated environment. This article is concerned with these tensions that — whilst not new — have been exacerbated by Web 2.0. Specifically, this article addresses the issue of fairness (in the context of the US fair use doctrine) in the digital age and questions whether powerful cultural forces require a reconfiguration of copyright law. Fairness is an elusive concept; in the realm of copyright, an act may simultaneously be decried as piracy and defended as a fair use. Web 2.0 has fostered a growing prosumer culture that freely appropriates from media sources to give effect to new works, and this article questions whether the customary practices of this emergent culture should impact upon the legal construction of fairness.
 
Emotion cycle of consumer resistance  
Audience members in emotional ecstasy. Photo courtesy of Fred Askew  
A Nike 'subvertisement'. Image courtesy of Adbusters  
Article
Because emotion plays such a large part in the creation of the hegemony of consumerist ideology, we contend that any complete understanding of consumer resistance movements must also take into account the role of emotion in fighting against consumerist ideologies and global corporate control. In this article, we theorize about the role emotion plays in consumer resistance social movements — especially those using the resistance tactic of culture jamming. Drawing upon the frameworks of emotional hegemony and emotion management, we present an emotion cycle of resistance associated with consumer resistance activism. We illustrate the cycle by using examples from culture jamming enacted by groups such as Adbusters and Reverend Billy and the Church of Stop Shopping.
 
Article
The purpose of this article is to explore contemporary representations and practices of the domestic dinner in the context of households in the process of establishing themselves and families in suburban Norway. The concept of a ‘proper dinner’ is the result of complex social and cultural processes. Cooking dinner is not only an act of caring for others, preparing a proper meal is also an act of positioning oneself. Cooking dinner is an important part of the symbolic production of socially and culturally acceptable feminine subject positions. The empirical analysis is based on in-depth interviews with 25 mothers of young children about how they think and act in their everyday dinner practice. The material shows clear limitations on individuality when it comes to dinner patterns. There is a network of social and cultural conventions that frame eating practices and distinguish between different dishes. These distinctions follow a clear temporal and spatial order. Dishes prepared from a common Norwegian ingredient, minced-meat, are used as an example of how dishes carry quite different social and cultural meanings.While there are several discourses surrounding dinner that offer different possibilities for action, some representations and practices are more ‘proper’ than others. Three distinct dinner models for proper meals are identified: the traditional, the trendy and the therapeutic.
 
Article
In our last issue, the Journal of Consumer Culture published two very different contributions to the debate around women's underwear. In order to develop the issues raised in the original articles, we invited the authors to engage in a cross-cultural and cross-disciplinary exchange.This dialogue is the result.
 
Article
Elaborating on previous work on Poor Chic, this article opens new empirical terrain for gentrification theory by demonstrating how gentrification processes are applicable to ‘symbolic neighborhoods’ in popular culture. Challenging postmodernist-spirited lifestyle consumption theory that asserts the breakdown of stratification systems through consumer habits, the article delineates how three important ‘symbolic neighborhoods of lower class masculinity’ - muscles, motorcycles, and tattoos - have been transformed from lower- to middle-class distinction. Framing these recent changes as investment, invasion, transformation and displacement, the article illustrates how apparent tolerance and fluidity among consumer lifestyles is less reflective of the obliteration of stratification systems than a new strategic means of reconstructing them. Particular attention is focused on Bourdieu’s multi-faceted conceptualization of ‘cultural capital’ and the victorious application of ‘aesthetic disposition’.
 
Article
The consumption landscape is saturated by media messages and media values, as many pessimistic diagnoses of contemporary culture have emphasized. We lack, however, the tools for understanding the details and the structural forces at work within that landscape, a gap which this article aims to fill by developing a concept of media and the boundaries and hierarchies that help produce the media's legitimacy. ‘Media power’ means here the concentration of symbolic power in media institutions, particularly those of television, radio and the press (the common-sense definition of ‘the media’), although the long-term impact of new media on media power is considered in the article's conclusion. The central parts of the article discuss, first, the theoretical framework that underlies this approach, which draws by analogy on Durkheim's account of the social generation of the sacred/profane distinction, but also on the work of Bourdieu and others; and second, material is presented from the author's empirical research on situations where non-media people come into close contact with the media process (both at leisure sites, such as Granada Studios Tour, the home of the set of the UK's longest running prime-time soap, Coronation Street, and at protest sites featured in the media). The conclusion looks more broadly at the implications of this approach for grasping the tensions and conflicts inherent in today's mediated landscape of consumption.
 
Article
This article examines the practices of object maintenance in the home. Drawing on depth ethnographic research with households in north-east England, the article uses three object stories to show that ordinary consumer objects are continually becoming in the course of their lives in the home and that practices of object maintenance are central to this becoming. Located in a field of action and practice, consumer objects are shown to display traces of their consumption.The practices of object maintenance are shown to attempt to arrest these traces, not always successfully. A spectrum of practices of object maintenance is identified, ranging from routine cleaning, wiping and polishing, through quick-fix repair, to the more thorough-going restoration.The object stories show how restorative acts generally rekindle consumer objects; how other forms of repair (the quick-fix mask) are socially problematic, signalling the devaluation of objects; and how the failure of object maintenance can connect to the sabotage of objects.The success or failure of object maintenance is shown to have profound consequences for the social lives of consumer objects. More broadly, the article highlights the importance of consumer competences (and incompetence) with respect to object maintenance, and argues that object maintenance works to integrate consumption, connecting home interiors with acts of acquisition, purchase and ridding.
 
Article
Drawing upon ethnographic data, this article discusses the adoption of technologies into everyday life in People’s Poland, in the wider theoretical context of the consumer revolution or a shift in consumption patterns towards fashion. There were two mechanisms of the consumer revolution in People’s Poland: collective usefulness and modern hedonism. For the mechanism of collective usefulness, the main factors in the shift in consumption patterns were the state-controlled propaganda of ‘progress’ and the domestication of technology. Household appliances were adopted as necessities that helped people fulfil their needs, in line with the idea of ‘progress’ propagated by the authorities of People’s Poland in the post-war period. In the process of the domestication of technology, customarily female activities were changing into flexible practices of using household appliances driven by fashion. In the case of modern hedonism, the main factor in the shift towards fashion was the ‘advertising’ of a Western standard of living in American films shown on television in the 1960s. The course of the consumer revolution was diversified by gender, social class and generation.
 
Article
This article explores the relationship between self-image, representation and professionalization in the formative years of the design profession in Britain between 1945 and 1960 through a focused empirical study of two independent but interrelated design organizations, the Society of Industrial Artists and the Council of Industrial Design. The article examines publications, correspondence and internal memoranda to identify attempts by both institutions to manage, steer and govern the professional image of the designer. As this material reveals, both organizations held the image of the gentleman professional as an aspirational figure for emerging designers. Attending to a gap in historical and sociological readings of the professions, the article establishes the discursive function of self-image in relation to the particular value of professionalism in design, suggesting that dress, behaviour and physical appearance can be read as sources through which to historicize and theorize the shifting status of the designer in the cultural economy.
 
Top-cited authors
Alan Warde
  • The University of Manchester
George Ritzer
  • University of Maryland, College Park
Nathan Jurgenson
  • University of Maryland, College Park
Elizabeth Shove
  • Lancaster University
Mika Pantzar
  • National Consumer Research Centre