Consumer culture theory is a marketing school of thought interested in studying consumption choices and behaviours 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 ». Reflective of a post-modernist society, it views cultural meanings as being numerous and fragmented and hence view culture as an amalgamation of different groups and shared meanings, rather than an homogenous construct (e.g. the American culture). Consumer culture is viewed as « 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 » and consumers as part of an interconnected system of commercially produced products and images which they use to construct their identity and orient their relationships with others.
There is a widely held misperception by people outside CCT researchers that this field is oriented toward the study of consumption contexts. Memorable study contexts, such as the Harley-Davidson subculture or the Burning Man festival probably fueled this perspective, which is far from the theory development aim of this school of thought.
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).
Fields of study
Arnould & Thompson identifies four research programs in CCT:
– Consumer identity projects, such as Schau & Gilly study on personal web space, which studied how consumers creates a coherent self through marketer-produced materials
– Marketplace culture, such as Schouten & McAlexander study on the Harley-Davidson subculture, which looked at consumers as culture producers.
– Mass-mediated marketplace ideologies and consumers’ interpretive strategies, such as Kozinets study of the Burning Man Festival, which looked at consumer ideologies and identities are influenced by economic and cultural globalisation and how cultural product systems orient consumers toward certain ideologies or identity projects.
– Sociohistoric patterning of consumption, such as Holt study which looked at the influence of social capital on consumption choices.