June 18th, 2010 by Joonas Rokka

In addition to the themes covered in the previous posting, here’s to summarize some of this year’s sessions (with a couple of notes linking to our own project). The themes included: new research methods, postmodern and ethnic consumption, challenges linked to public goods/services, class dynamics and consumption, consumer culture in third world countries, consumer resistance/culture jamming, culture and ideology, market-mediated relationships, the contested notion of place that shapes consumer experiences, femininity, consumer-marketer co-creation, community and family, mediated images and ideologies of body and health, consumer identity practices, critical questions on consumer culture terminology, and finally, socio-cultural construction of authenticity — session where we presented this time.

I particularly liked the session on new methods. Visual Analysis (VA) was explored as a tool for gaining cultural insight on consumer behavior and practices. Kristen San Jose presented a piece in which she applied VA in the context of fashion consumption in Tokyo. Although there’s a long tradition of visual research in CCT, I agree that there’s plenty of future opportunities in this regard. For instance, researchers (and companies alike) often rely on text-based analyses. For us, it would be interesting to extend VA also towards moving images / video, something I haven’t seen yet. Adding nicely to the session, Alex Thompson’s presentation brought about interesting views on how companies perceive and conceptualize consumers, in a study where commercial ethnography was the focus. I liked the way in which video was used as a means to communicate consumer knowledge to company executives — this nicely contrasts with more traditional ppt presentations and figures we’re used to. Alex’s points about different mechanisms at play, including rituals, embodiment and symbols, are something video really can capture in an intriguing way.

Another interesting session set out to re-conceptualize the contested notion of place. Drawing insights from material culture theory, Jeppe Trolle Linnet’s presentation shed light on material and social aspects of place and space in the context of home and homeyness (what he called ‘hygge’ in Danish). It was interesting to see how this hygge is constructed and negotiated in different settings, not only at home but also in other social places such as neighborhoods or communities. They act as a sort of social comfort zone, a cozy, warm, and safe environment that is distinguished from other non-hyggelig, cold, and modern places. In a closely related study Zeynep Arsel and Jonathan Bean presented on ‘apartment therapy’ — a conduct in which people modify their homes through interior design to better match their desires. In our own research we’re also interested in how such interlinked and mediated cultural spaces and sites are at play.

In the co-creation session, several papers sought to understand the cultural dialogue and co-creation between consumers and producers/marketers. Robert Harrison presented a fascinating paper on Black Friday – a sort of corporate ritual and event which is largely the result of consumer’s active participation during a consumption event. Another really nice paper was by Daiane Scaraboto and Rob Kozinets who investigated the community of geo-cacaching — a sort of GPS treasure hunt game invented and organized by consumers. This study showed how consumer’s infinite innovative potential, playfulness, and creativity plays an important role in the creation of a new markets — exactly what we’re also seeing our own study.

Finally, our own session in which authenticity was explored as an essential component and a driver of culture. I think the session was very interesting as it nicely brought together three distinct viewpoints on authenticity — namely brand, place, and consumption-production interplay. As it was noted, in consumer research authenticity is often investigated by looking at consumer perceptions, and it is commonly tied to certain objects (e.g. brands), lifestyles, or places. In our presentation on electronic music culture, we wanted to consider how authenticity — which often drives cultural change in (music) culture — is actually achieved and negotiated by different influential cultural agents. In our study these agents in fact simultaneously adopt the role of producers, DJs, and consumers. We also brought with us our new research team member Risto (aka Desto) who is an authoethnographic member in our research team and a DJ/producer himself. This move was very well received, and we had lots of lively discussions after our presentation. Thanks for everyone involved!

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Some pics from our presentation at CCT5

Overall this fifth annual CCT conference pointed out many interesting future directions. Especially, the increasing attention to spatial and embodied aspects of culture as well as emphasis on creative methodologies — including audiovisual and multi-method approaches — brings to the fore new thrilling work that is currently emerging.

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.

February 18th, 2010 by Joel Hietanen

This would be our new videographic project (which we started scetching out late 2009), and I got to say, I am quite happy to push the paintball-related video clips off my editing table for now. Seeing the same material over and over again, from the conferences to my doing-the-Edward-Scissorhands on the editing table – well, its stating to finally become just a bit stale… So, on to new and better things it is, then, and what will such things entail?

For us, an exploration of the consumer community partaking into the growing ‘dubstep’ electronic scene is the answer. We needed an interesting and a highly audiovisual cultural phenomenon, and a great deal of access. Dubstep gave us all of the above.

Coming this far, we have come to understand the role of access and autoethnographic accounts when going after an in-depth understanding of a phenomenon and rich material for its representation. This time we did not have to search far and wide. Our initial impulse came from the ‘Illicit Pleasure’ JCR article (Goulding, Shankar, Elliott & Canniford 2009), even though what we consequently set out to go after is quite different, except for taking an interest in consumption cultures revolving around electronic music. As it happened, I used share a student flat with Risto Roman (going by the alias Desto), and at the time we got together to experiment with music production. I might even post up some of our work dating back to the days of yore, but I’ll need to summon some more courage before you’ll see that happening. With all the other things on my plate, my musical ambitions (or dabblings) had become comprehensively afterburnered. Meanwhile, Desto had gone on to establish himself as an internationally known dubstep producer and DJ.

In this project, he would thus be the autoethnographic member, Joonas would look at the phenomenon from a somewhat less acculturated perspective and I would initially be the fence-sitter with some experience in producing (and obviously partying out to) electronic music, albeit not so much specifically related to the dubstep genre.

Before we entered into the contexts where dubstep happens, we held (quite) thorough conversations about the curiosities of dubstep culture with Risto. Additionally, he provided us with a wealth of internet resources in the form of forums (e.g. Step Ahead), blogs (e.g. Blackdown) and insider documentaries (e.g. Dubfiles) all revolving around dubstep. At that point Risto had already set up interview sessions with renowned DJ/producers as they came over to Finland to strut their stuff at dubstep parties. At present, we have already conducted some interesting filming with a couple of DJ/producers of international fame in interesting backstage settings and the like.

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Bristol based Jakes in the back room of SLAM IT at Kuudes Linja, Helsinki.

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Desto on decks at Kuudes Linja.

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Some screengrabs of Pinch from our video material. The low light capabilities of our JVC videocam leave a lot to be desired - which is why we decided to go shopping for new gear.

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Pinch again.

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Pinch in the backroom of Kuudes Linja, displaying his dubplates. He keeps them unlabeled so as to not let onlookers easily learn his selection.

This time, in order to not spend as long pondering on what the hell we are actually doing, we decided to focus on uncovering the perspectives of cultural agents, specifically the DJ/producers, who, through their actions, shape and reproduce the culture. At this early stage we are primarily interested in (still hanging on to the practice theory as a foundation),

  • The practices that drive the evolution of the dubstep culture
  • Agency and authentication in dubstep culture
  • The marginal/mainstream tension regarding this genre of electronic music

Next we are looking forward to visiting some of the most interesting international settings where dubstep has a central role. This would, at the very least, entail two trips to UK (Croydon and Bristol) and a hop over the pond to the states (New York). We will keep you all updated about our progress (and all unplanned slapstick-like outcomes during the process) on this same bat channel, so please keep reading this blog in the future as well.

While this project is still at quite an early stage (we are going after a rich ethnographic immersion, not a few quick & dirty interviews), we have already submitted some early scribblings to the CCT 2010 conference. Hopefully we get accepted, and I hope to see all you guys there.

References:

Dubfiles – Dubstep Documentary. Directed by G. McCann and G. Jugdeese. Dubfiles 2008.

Goulding, C., Shankar, A., Elliott, R., Canniford, R. 2009. The Marketplace Management of Illicit Pleasure. Journal of Consumer Research. 35, 5, 759-771.

February 1st, 2010 by Joonas Rokka

My inspiration for video research was spurred by a few occurrences that took place in 2006-7. Firstly, I had just jumped on to my doctoral studies at the Helsinki School of Economics (currently known as Aalto University School of Economics) the previous year and was anxiously looking for new potential topics for my thesis work. I soon discovered that I needed to look outside of Finland to be able to find something interesting.

As it happened, I found myself first on an intensive course on Consumer Culture Theory (Odense, Denmark) headed by some of the most renowned figures in cultural consumer research, including Eric Arnould and Craig Thompson. The course instantly set the tone for my future work: I was caught to study the cultural aspects of consumption and consumer society from emerging approaches that stem largely from cultural anthropology and sociology.

Not long after, I took part in my first research congress: the 2nd Consumer Culture Theory Conference 2007 (at York University). This annual conference was organized for researchers employing qualitative, interpretive, ethnographic, videographic, netnographic and phenomenological approaches, in other words, in many ways emerging, if not completely novel approaches considering the dominant corpus of work within consumer and marketing research.

CCT conference was a success in many ways, not least because it also offered conjoined workshops designed for new students entering the field. I took part in the Video Ethnography Workshop, which was held for the third time. The purpose of this two-day workshop was to experience videographic research in a hands-on manner, guided by experts. After opening lectures on video-based research production, student teams were given camcorders and editing software as well as professional assistance for designing a small-scale video study in practice. By the end of the workshop we also presented our videos and received feedback.

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Pics from the workshop.

During the assignment I ran into my future co-author, Kristine de Valck from HEC Paris. We conducted a video study in a local shopping mall interviewing and observing consumers about their personal styles. We got to experience some on-field action and stumbled upon a number of challenges typical for video research including 1) the difficulty of gaining access to people in such public environments and 2) the trouble of presenting camera in interview settings without scaring people away instantly. Despite of these, we managed to shoot some footage that we could edit and produce into a short film – my first videographic experiment.

The videography event was organized by Russell Belk and Robert Kozinets who have written several articles and book chapters about video research (see Belk and Kozinets 2005; Kozinets and Belk 2006). They have also founded the Association for Consumer Research Film Festival. Held annually in the North American ACR conference and in rotating years in Europe, Latin America and Asia Pacific, the film festival has spawned considerable interest among consumer researchers now for over 9 years.

As soon as the workshop was behind, I began to ponder how video research could work out for me. What is it good for? What makes it so compelling? Why hasn’t it been used previously? What new avenues could be opened up? Soon Kristine asked, if I could join her in Paris and to come up with a brand new video project. I knew this would be the perfect chance, so I was in…

References:

Belk, R.W. & Kozinets, R.V. (2005) Videography in Marketing and Consumer Research. Qualitative Market Research, 8, 128-141.

Kozinets, R.V. & Belk, R.W. (2006). Camcorder Society: Quality Videography in Consumer and Marketing Research. In Handbook of Qualitative Research Methods in Marketing, R.W. Belk (ed), Cheltenham, UK: Edward Elgar Publishing Limited.