June 18th, 2010 by Joel Hietanen

Joonas and I just attended CCT5, consumer culture theory conference in Madison, Wisconsin, held at the Grainger Center of the University of Wisconsin’s Wisconsin School of Business. Attendees consist of academics interested in cultural research in the field of marketing and consumer research. We presented a preliminary account of our new videography project, ‘Pushing the Scene’, in which we attempt to build rich accounts of the negotiation of the social constructs of authenticity in the dubstep electronic music subculture. The newest member of our research team, Risto Roman, was also present to bring further insight into the cultural realm of dubstep (Risto produces and DJs under the alias Desto).

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Relaxing after our presentation on Sunday morning.

Like Rob Kozinets has already pointed out in his insightful blog postings, this was the best CCT yet. From my humble vantage point of having attended approximately 20 conferences in international contexts, I can do nothing else than to wholeheartedly agree! Indeed, the presentations and discussions were of high quality, but I must also emphasize what consists of the true magic of the CCT gatherings – the laid-back atmosphere and the truly engaging conversations that occur beyond the conference agenda (yes, this would also entail the great parties this year and before). A special shout-out must go out to Rob, Alex Thompson, Marylouise Caldwell, Paul Henry, Handan Vicdan and Sofia Ulver-Sneistrup along with others making up our outgoing posse. Good times, good times. Like the saying goes, this trip was not one of economy or its health-promoting qualities.

Coming back to Rob’s blog, he has already provided an in-depth account of the conference and its contributions (and rumors and some minor controversy). What happened in the first session was that Eric Arnould called for the cessation of case studies in the CCT field. The discussion developed into relatively voluminous amounts of spilled digital ink (see also the comments in Rob’s blog) about what became resolved as an issue of conceptualization. This approach is further clarified by Robert Kozinet’s following point “…ethnography leave unclear what the difference is between “single” and “not-single”. From my perspective, there thus seems to be more agreement than not on the larger issue, which would naturally have to do with the further work of legitimizing CCT research in general. This task can be undertaken by further development of a focus in robust theoretizations and deep ethnographic takes. Certainly, if scholarly work in our field remains primarily focused on a description, we we stand to lose a lot of our potential. From my perspective, especially one that is now fortified with encouraging experiences in the CCT5, the general ethos of the CCT crowd is exactly doing this, moving to the direction of emphasis on theoretical work and (even) more holistic approaches into various consumption contexts.

Another thoroughly interesting moment was the luncheon keynote on Friday by John Deighton, the editor of Journal of Consumer Research (JCR), the most prestigious journal in all scholarly things consumer. One of the core insights he shared was the increasing need to consider the impact of CCT for managers – i.e. what can CCT offer in the practice of companies’ marketing efforts. Indeed, it seems, that the cultural side of the matter is becoming increasingly recognized by companies also (e.g. Proctor & Gamble, Nokia), and therefore we must contemplate our role in this transformation. This provides opportunities for interesting shifts in ethos, as many CCT scholars with their close affiliation to the critical marketing discourse have traditionally not been closely tied to the managerial end of things. Perhaps, as cultural insight becomes increasingly relevant for companies, they will also provide us with more interesting opportunities for cooperation to bring in thought that has less to do with the reduction of the consumer into a number and more to do with holistic and co-creative approaches. Thus, we CCT researchers must remain ever vigilant in reminding ourselves to keep and open mind and readily pursue these opportunities as they emerge. Perhaps, in the future, there may be new openings for positions of chief cultural officers, as McCracken calls it.

Regarding the contributions of the CCT crowd in JCR, Deighton gave us some juicy morsels along with more sobering accounts and suggestions for the future of CCT research. Now, it must be remembered, that even with the encouraging growth of the CCT tradition, we are still far from being a firmly established and traditional field – some would certainly refer to us as still being on the fringe. For these reasons it was truly inspiring to have Deighton tell us that CCT accounts for much of very interesting and high-quality research in the journal. Thus, he contended, we CCT scholars have (in terms of the number of researchers in the field) become ‘over-represented’ in the journal. However, he continued, with growth comes responsibility and the need strategize and find ally discourses in academia. One such promising field could certainly be anthropology, with their ongoing trends of becoming increasingly interested in subcultural phenomena and becoming less ‘realist’ and more interpretative and reflexive.

While Deighton’s insights are certainly valuable for our field – indeed we need to display a more cohesive whole to become more distinctly recognizable – it is my belief that CCT’s somewhat Feyerabendian approach of (virtually) ‘anything goes’ has and will continue to be a source of interesting research and creativity. Naturally, this ‘anything goes’ does not mean complete ontological and epistemological relativism here, but rather denotes the ongoing freedom to pursue social phenomena from diverse theoretical perspectives and a relatively liberal methodological toolkit. Social phenomena will continue on to consist of equally diverse constructs – constantly negotiated, constantly evolving – and thus we can certainly draw form a tradition promoting freedom and courage in our work.

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Risto creating a soundscape for Robert Kozinets's presentation in the poetry session.

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The way of the mobile artist.

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Sid Levy reciting his work in the poetry session.

Anyway, thank you CCT for a fantastic experience. See you guys in EACR London in a couple of weeks. Meanwhile, we’ll hang out in the Big Apple to continue our project of exploring the negotiation of authenticity in the electronic music subculture of dubstep. Lots of film to capture! Joonas will provide a more detailed account of the presentations in the conference, and I’ll be sure to jot down an account of our experiences in NYC also.