Consumer Culture Theory Conference 2013 - Part 1

I attended the Consumer Culture Theory Conference in Tucson, Arizona last week (June 13-16). There was a lot of new information, tons of interesting research being presented and developed, and many good friends to see, all in an awesome location! The conference was so well organized that I experienced it as a flow – fully involved and enjoying every minute of it.
Before I share the highlights of CCT 2013, let me just do a quick review on Consumer Culture Theory for those of you who are reading about this topic for the first time: (Someone did a good job on editing the CCT page on Wikipedia, so this text is slightly adapted from it)
Consumer culture theory is a marketing school of thought interested in studying consumption choices and behaviors from a social and cultural point of view, as opposed to an economic or psychological one. It does not offer a grand unifying theory but “refers to a family of theoretical perspectives that address the dynamic relationships between consumer actions, the marketplace, and cultural meanings.” Consumer culture is viewed as a “social arrangement in which the relations between lived culture and social resources, between meaningful ways of life and the symbolic and material resources on which they depend, are mediated through markets.” CCT scholars view consumers as individuals who participate in an interconnected system of commercially produced products and images which they use to construct their identity and orient their relationships with others. While CCT is often associated with qualitative methodologies, such as interviews, case studies and ethnographies, which are well adapted to study the experiential, sociological and cultural aspects of consumption, these are not a prerequisite to CCT contribution (Arnould & Thompson 2005).
Now, let’s talk about the conference! Day I is reviewed below, and I will soon post highlights of days 2 and 3. The conference was four days long, the first of which was dedicated to a CCT board meeting, a welcoming reception, and acclimating to the hot and dry Arizona weather. Each of the following days was organized around several different breakout sessions that could be attended. Sometimes I wished I could be in two places at once…parallel sessions are torture! So mind you, my review will cover only the sessions I attended.

Session: Consumer Embodiment and Lived Time
Alex Schwob and Joel Hietanen, from Aalto University started the session presenting their perspective on the phenomenological experience of lived time. Their study was conceptual – and will serve as the basis for an investigation of the lived time experience of inmates. Rebecca Scott followed presenting her work with Mark Uncles (The University of New South Wales) on how the senses interrelate to constitute extreme consumption experiences. One of their research contexts is “Tough Mudder,” a military style adventure racing. Really extreme! The session closed with Bernardo Figueiredo (University of Southern Denmark) presenting his work (also co-authored with Mark Uncles) on the impact of mobility on consumers’ temporal frameworks. They explain how mobile consumers (who have lived in at least 3 different countries) develop their own time-managing practices and temporal structures, which ultimately influence the way these individuals consume. Try to find a restaurant open to have lunch before 1pm in Santiago de Chile and you will understand. Having lived in two other countries where lunch is to be had at noon, 11am snacking is my latest hunger-management practice.
Plenary: Prof. Carlos G. Vélez-Ibañez We had a plenary at lunch time, and Prof. Vélez-Ibañez presented his long-term research on transnational community and household economies, focusing on rural areas of California and New Mexico – and their sending communities in Mexico. His research is fascinating, especially in respect to how social ties influence exchange. I couldn’t help but snap a photo of this very useful diagram he presented, showing the ritual cycle of exchange that contributes to the formation of dense ties among members of the local community.
Dense ties imply in feelings of trust, reciprocity, and mutual responsibility. These come in handy when one needs to leave their child under a neighbor’s watch or borrow money through participating in a community credit system. The discussion on ritual cycles of exchange is in Vélez-Ibañez’s book “Border Visions”. First chapter is available on Google Books:

Session: Cultural Contentions: Reconciliation in Value Co-Creation
Co-creation is a topic that I have been reading a lot on – and writing some – since the framing of my dissertation proposal a couple of years ago. In this session, Melissa Akaka (University of Denver) presented her work with Hope Schau and Rob Lusch (both from the University of Arizona), focusing on the differences between local and global institutions through the growth of a market culture. They have collected data on surfing, comparing Hawaiian surfing culture with the broader, “global” surfing culture. Although Melissa hasn’t mentioned this, it seems that this case goes beyond co-creation to be one of co-management– in which members of the Hawaiian surfing culture collaborate with local companies to preserve and perpetuate the original aspects of surfing. By the way, Melissa’s paper with Jennifer Chandler on is a great read for those of you who are (I know I am!) interested on working with value co-creation from a network perspective.
In the same session, Angeline Nariswari and Navin Bahl (both from University of Hawaii) presented their papers on how co-creation unfolds in two contested contexts: Valentine’s day in Indonesia and online poker gambling in the U.S. For me, the most interesting takeaway from this session was that all three projects looked at co-creation from a consumer-centric, macro-level perspective. They haven’t focused on one particular company that invites consumers to collaborate in a very much structured co-creation project, nor on consumers congregating around a brand in a brand community. The phenomena Melissa, Angeline, Navin, and their co-authors are investigating are broader movements, led by individuals (the ones we refer to as consumers). In developing these movements, consumers cross ways not only with market agents, but also with other actors such as government and religious representatives. I think this move further approximates the co-creation literature with CCT and its very promising in terms of developing both.
Session: The value(s) of value(s)? A CCT perspective
In a packed room, Dannie Kjeldgaard (University of Southern Denmark) and Eminegul Karababa (Middle East Technical University) got the discussion started on what value means. They presented the multiple definitions of value that have been around in the literature: a long list including concepts such as “economic value,” “symbolic value,” and “social value.” Although I am familiar with the multiple definitions of value and have used some of them in writing my dissertation, Dannie’s and Emi’s presentation was really interesting and brought some great insights on how to deal with this definitional complexity in very practical terms. In particular, I found really useful their observation that market segmentation is a tool that allows marketers to integrate perceived value and economic value. Identifying other such tools may be the key to integrating multiple forms of value into a complete value system.
Eric Arnould (University of Bath) shared his perspective on value (and values) as an outcome of consumer practices. He highlighted that value is the outcome of interactions – it is, in fact, contingent on interactions that are supported by resources. Eric also observed that macro-level distinctions between gift-giving, barter, and commodity exchange determine the type of value resulting from practices. This links directly to the research project Bernardo Figueiredo and I have been working on, in which one of our goals is to understand the value created by object circulation, and how it compares to other types of value. Finally, Alladi Venkatesh (UC Irvine) presented a summary of the discussion in a visual representation of value systems. The session was closed by Soren Askegaard, who made the bold and tempting proposition that we should “get rid of value” and think of other outcomes and concepts to replace it with.


Unknown said…
Hi Professor!

Thanks for summarizing the conference. I am new to the CCT world but am loving reading all the papers about it! In fact, I recently applied to a PhD to be done in CCT research so wish me luck!

It is really nice to see there seems to be a rich community of people who are really devoted to studying such a, for lack of a better word, super cool research area :)!