Responsible consumption conventionally stems from an increased awareness of the impact of consumption decisions on the environment, on consumer health, and on society in general. We theorize the influence of moralistic governance regimes on consumer subjectivity to make the opposite case: responsible consumption requires the active creation and management of consumers as moral subjects. Building on the sociology of governmentality, we introduce four processes of consumer responsibilization that, together, comprise the P.A.C.T. routine (personalization, authorization, capabilization, and transformation). After that, we draw on a longitudinal analysis of problem-solving initiatives at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, to explore the role of P.A.C.T. in the creation of four, now commonplace, responsible consumer subjects: the bottom-of-the-pyramid consumer, the green consumer, the health-conscious consumer, and the financially literate consumer. Our analysis informs extant macro-level theorizations of market and consumption systems. We also contribute to prior accounts of responsibilization, marketplace mythologies, consumer subjectivity, and transformative consumer research.
We offer a genealogical perspective on the reflexive critique that consumer culture theory (CCT) has institutionalized a hyperindividualizing, overly agentic, and sociologically impoverished mode of analysis that impedes systematic investigations into the historical, ideological, and sociological shaping of marketing, markets, and consumption systems. Our analysis shows that the CCT pio- neers embraced the humanistic/experientialist discourse to carve out a disciplinary niche in a largely antagonistic marketing field. However, this original epistemological orientation has long given way to a multilayered CCT heteroglossia that features a broad range of theorizations integrating structural and agentic levels of analysis. We close with a discussion of how reflexive debates over CCT’s supposed biases toward the agentic reproduce symbolic distinctions between North American and European scholarship styles and thus primarily reflect the institutional interests of those positioned in the Northern hemisphere. By destabilizing the north–south and center–periphery relations of power that have long-framed metropole social science construc- tions of the marginalized cultural ‘‘other’’ as an object of study—rather than as a producer of legitimate knowledge and theory—the CCT heteroglossia can be further diversified and enriched through a blending of historical, material, critical, and experiential perspectives.
Using actor-network theory from sociology, the author explores the creation of new markets as a brand-mediated legitimation process. Findings from an eight-year longitudinal investigation of the Botox Cosmetic brand suggest that the meanings of a new cosmetic self-enhancement technology evolve over the course of contestations between brand images promoted by the innovator and doppelgänger brand images promoted by other stakeholders. Each contestation addresses an enduring contradiction between nature and technology. A four-step brand image revitalization process is offered that can be applied either by managers interested in fostering an innovation’s congruence with prevailing social norms and ideals or by other stakeholders (e.g., activists, competitors) interested in undermining its marketing success. The findings integrate previously disparate research streams on branding and market creation and provide managers with the conceptual tools for sustaining a branded innovation’s legitimacy over time.
Consumer researchers have tended to equate consumer moralism with normative condemnations of mainstream consumer culture. Consequently, little research has investigated the multifaceted forms of identity work that consumers can undertake through more diverse ideological forms of consumer moralism. To redress this theoretical gap, we analyze the adversarial consumer narratives through which a brand-mediated moral conflict is enacted. We show that consumers’ moralistic identity work is culturally framed by the myth of the moral protagonist and further illuminate how consumers use this mythic structure to transform their ideological beliefs into dramatic narratives of identity. Our resulting theoretical framework explicates identity-value–enhancing relationships among mythic structure, ideological meanings, and marketplace resources that have not been recognized by prior studies of consumer identity work.
How do markets change? Findings from a 7-year longitudinal processual investi- gation of consumer performances in the war on music downloading suggest that markets in the cultural creative sphere (those organizing the exchange of intellec- tual goods such as music, movies, software, and the written word) evolve through stages of perpetual structural instability. Each stage addresses an enduring cultural tension between countervailing utilitarian and possessive ideals. Grounded in anthropology and consumer behavior, I illustrate this historical dynamic through the process of marketplace drama, a fourfold sequence of performed conflict among opposing groups of consumers and producers. Implications for theorizing on market system dynamics and the consumption of performance are offered.
This article develops a critique of the dyadic model of consumer gift giving and an extension of the classic paradigm of gift giving as elaborated in fundamental anthropological and sociological texts. I conceptualize and present empirical evidence for the notion of a consumer gift system, a system of social solidarity based on a structured set of gift exchange and social relationships among consumers. Social distinctions, norm of reciprocity, and rituals and symbolisms are defined as key characteristics of a consumer gift system and are shown to be present in peer-to- peer music file sharing at Napster. Implications for extant research on solidarity, gift giving, and consumption are discussed, and future research directions are provided.