Consumer Culture

Consumer Culture

Consumer culture is a form of material culture facilitated by the market, which thus created a particular relationship between the consumer and the goods or services he or she uses or consumes. Traditionally social science has tended to regard consumption as a trivial by-product of production. However, sociologists have increasingly come to recognize the value of studying consumer culture for its own sake. It could indeed be argued that consumer culture represents one of the primary arenas in which elements of social change are played out in everyday life. Consumer Culture Consumer culture can be distinguished from consumption per se, insofar as it is more about the relationship between the material and the cultural rather than the status and inequalities implied by the ownership of consumer goods. In this sense consumer culture is not simply a process by which commercial products are “used up” by consumers. Consumer Culture People’s relationship to consumer culture is meaningful and reflects, and potentially reproduces, particular values and forms of status. In this sense consumer culture arguably lies at the heart of the relationship between structure and agency in contemporary society. 

This CCT is not a unified, grand theory, nor does it aspire to such nomothetic claims. Rather, it refers to a family of theoretical perspectives that address the dynamic relationships between consumer actions, the marketplace, and cultural meanings. Consumer Culture While representing a plurality of distinct theoretical approaches and research goals, CCT researchers nonetheless share a common theoretical orientation toward the study of cultural complexity that programmatically links their respective research efforts. Consumer Culture Rather than viewing culture as a fairly homogenous system of collectively shared meanings, ways of life, and unifying values shared by a member of society (e.g., Americans share this kind of culture; Japanese share that kind of culture), CCT explores the heterogeneous distribution of meanings and the multiplicity of overlapping cultural groupings that exist within the broader sociohistoric frame of globalization and market capitalism. Consumer Culture Thus, consumer culture denotes a social arrangement in which the relations between lived culture and social resources, and between meaningful ways of life and the symbolic and material resources on which they depend, are mediated through markets.

The consumption of market-made commodities and desire-inducing marketing symbols is central to consumer culture, and yet the perpetuation and reproduction of this system is largely dependent upon the exercise of free personal choice in the private sphere of everyday life (Holt 2002). Consumer Culture The term “consumer culture” also conceptualizes an interconnected system of commercially produced images, texts, and objects that groups use—through the construction of overlapping and even conflicting practices, identities, and meanings—to make collective sense of their environments and to orient their members' experiences and lives (Kozinets 2001). Consumer Culture These meanings are embodied and negotiated by consumers in particular social situations roles and relationships. Further, consumer culture describes a densely woven network of global connections and extensions through which local cultures are increasingly interpenetrated by the forces of transnational capital and the global mediascape (Appadurai 1990; Slater 1997; Wilk 1995).

Perhaps most important, CCT conceptualizes culture as the very fabric of experience, meaning, and action (Geertz 1983). Consumer Culture Owing to its internal, fragmented complexity, consumer culture does not determine action as a causal force. Much like a game where individuals improvise within the constraints of rules (Bourdieu 1990), consumer culture—and the marketplace ideology it conveys—frames consumers' horizons of conceivable action, feeling, and thought, making certain patterns of behavior and sense-making interpretations more likely than others (Askegaard and Kjeldgaard 2002; Holt 1997; Kozinets 2002; Thompson and Hirschman 1995).

Consumer Culture

This “distributed view of cultural meaning” (Hannerz 1992, 16) emphasizes the dynamics of fragmentation, plurality, fluidity, and the intermingling (or hybridization) of consumption traditions and ways of life (Featherstone 1991; Firat and Venkatesh 1995). Consumer Culture While a distributive view of culture is not the invention of CCT, this research tradition has significantly developed this perspective through empirical studies that analyze how particular manifestations of consumer culture are constituted, sustained, transformed, and shaped by broader historical forces (such as cultural narratives, myths, and ideologies) and grounded in specific socioeconomic circumstances and marketplace systems.

Other colleagues have produced overviews of CCT's philosophy of science foundations and methodological orientations (Anderson 1986, 198r8; Arnold and Fischer 1994; Bristor and Fischer 1993; Firat and Venkatesh 1995; Hirschman 1993; Holbrook and O'shaughnessy 1988; Hudson and Ozanne 1988; Murray and Ozanne 1991; Sherry 1991; Sherry and Kozinets 2001) and domain-specific reviews of its substantive contributions (Belk 1995; Mick et al. 2004; Sherry 2004).  Consumer Culture Rather than replicate prior efforts, we provide a thematic framework that profiles four major interrelated research domains that are explored by CCT researchers. We further suggest that this body of research fulfills recurrent calls by Association for Consumer Research Consumer Culture (ACR) presidents and other intellectual leaders for consumer research to explore the broad gamut of social, cultural, and indeed managerially relevant questions related to consumption and to develop a distinctive body of knowledge about consumers and consumption (Andreasen 1993; Belk 1987a, 1987b; Folkes 2002; Holbrook 1987; Kernan 1979; Lehmann 1996; Levy 1992; MacInnis 2004; Olson 1982; Richins 2001; Sheth 1985; Shimp 1994; Wells 1993; Wright 2002; Zaltman 2000). In sum, CCT is an interdisciplinary research tradition that has advanced knowledge about consumer culture (in all its heterogeneous manifestations) and generated empirically grounded findings and theoretical innovations that are relevant to a broad constituency in the base social science disciplines, public policy arenas, and managerial sectors. In this sense consumer culture is not simply a process by which commercial products are “used up” by consumers. People’s relationship to consumer culture is meaningful and reflects, and potentially reproduces, Consumer Culture particular values and forms of status. In this sense consumer culture arguably lies at the heart of the relationship between structure and agency in contemporary society. Consumer Culture It demonstrates the power of capitalism to reproduce the parameters within which citizens of a consumer society live their everyday lives. Consumer culture gives us the tools to express who it is we are, but while doing so it simultaneously reinforces an economic system in which the individual’s ability to be free or to choose is, ironically, constrained. Consumer Culture A number of texts have sought to understand the social significance of consumer culture and this ability to divide as well as to provide. Consumer culture came to sociological prominence in the 1990s and 2000s as scholars came to recognize that consumption was significant for its own sake. Consumer Culture This reflected broader trends such as the “Cultural Turn” and the increased focus on the cultural dimensions of post-modernity. A range of books have sought to demonstrate the significance of consumption to social change. Featherstone 1990 examines the sociological significance of the accumulation of material culture, while Ritzer 1993 looks at the way in which rationalization functions in the context of consumer culture. Consumer Culture By utilizing a range of well-chosen extracts from a diverse range of sources, Lee 2000 pinpoints the contemporary significance of consumer culture. Consumer Culture Meanwhile, Slater 1997 designates consumer culture as an issue intimately bound up with that of modernity, while Gabriel and Lang 1995 explores the consumer from a cross-disciplinary perspective. Lury 1996 is particularly effective on the consumption of identity in a changing world, while Nava 1991 and Sassatelli 2007 highlight the political significance of consumption.

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