The significance of products for people and cultures.
This research area aims to be recognized internationally as a centre for research activities within interpretive consumer research. Interpretive consumer research refers to an approach where the focus is on the systems of meaning that consumers' apply to make sense of the world's consumption opportunities and their relevance to consumption activities in the consumers' own personal and social lives.
We deliberately call the research area 'consumption' rather than 'consumer' studies to indicate that we are not only interested in consumption from a micro-perspective, i.e. referring to the life-world of the single consumer, but also from a macro-perspective, i.e. consumption as a social institution. Furthermore, we refer to 'studies' as a broad reference to three formats of knowledge generation all of which are included in the activities: Science in a classical Popperian sense, research from a broader, post-positivistic perspective, and finally the essay, a science- or research-based comments on social and market phenomena.
Foundations for the Research
Our theoretical point of departure is the range of theories existing within the field of consumer research. However, with inspiration drawn mainly from sociology and anthropology, we apply a specific critical approach to the legacy of the field. Our field of research can be illustrated by the scheme of relations shown below
The relation between consumer and culture represent a macro-sociological perspective on the analysis of the interaction between consumers and their surrounding culture(s). Globalization of consumption and local appropriation of global or international consumption patterns or the discussion of macro-social changes such as they are expressed in the concepts of McDonaldization (Ritzer) or risk society (Beck) are examples of such processes.
The relation between consumer and organization represents analyses of consumer imagery of companies and organizations, analyzed by means of, e.g., semiotics or reader-response theory. It also includes the organizations' view upon the consumer as expressed through, for instance, market research activities.
The relation between consumer and object (product, event, service) deals with the processes through which the objects play a role in consumers' identity formation. When the object becomes a central part in identity formation processes, this also influences the conditions for market exchanges, marketing efforts and contributes to the development of consumer culture in general.
Focusing on the relation among consumers indicates an interest in the way consumers use objects in their mutual relations, for example how they gain attractiveness through the influence of opinion leaders or reference groups. Also included in this perspective is the particular role given to the object as a gift, signifying a human relationship, and the fact that some consumers form social groups such as the so-called 'brand communities' around consumer objects.
The research activities can be grouped under three major themes.
1. Conceptual clarification and critique. The research area aims at contributing to the conceptual development through a critique of basic consumption-related ideas and constructs central to the marketing field such as consumption, utility, need, desire, luxury, status, experience, interaction, legitimacy, etc. The research area also aims at debunking myths and ideas expressed though consumption practices, as reflected in research projects in, e.g., tourist experiences, lipophobia, and e-commerce.
2. The economy of symbols, understood as the exchange of symbolic meanings through consumption activities. Here, we especially focus on brands and branding processes in the contemporary consumer society, and the impact of brands and branding on symbolic relationships between consumers, and between consumers and organizations.
Global consumer cultures, dealing with the spreading of consumer culture to still more societies in the world as well as to new spheres of social life in the Western world. These processes have a range of consequences from issues pertaining to the distribution of wealth locally and globally to cultural change processes in the markets (McDonaldization, new exotic forms of consumption, etc.)