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.
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'.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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’.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.