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«BLUETHROAT MANUSCRIPT REVIEW HISTORY MANUSCRIPT (ROUND 3) Abstract The megaphone effect refers to the fact that the Web makes a mass audience ...»

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----------------------------------Blog Analysis We conducted an analysis of the verbal and visual texts visible in these blogs (Fairclough 2003; Gleeson 2011), with an emphasis on instances where taste was asserted and displayed. The method is textual and historical, inasmuch as we treat blog posts as primary sources, and examine their development over time (Sewell 2005; Stern 1996). This text analysis differs from netnography in that it does not apply an ethnographic frame (Kozinets 2007, 2009). It corresponds instead to an element within the fourth theme in Consumer Culture Theory, associated by Arnould and Thompson (2005, 875) with the analysis of literary texts and aesthetic objects (McQuarrie and Mick 1996; Scott 1994; Stern 1989). The focus is on the taste judgments made by bloggers, with a secondary focus on audience response to these judgments.

Two of the authors independently analyzed published blogger posts and follower comments for each blog. Both the images and the words of current posts were examined for taste practices. That is, what did the bloggers choose to discuss and not discuss? What kinds of words and phrases were used and avoided? What was the content and style of the pictures displayed?

Fashion blogs differ from many other blogs by the frequency with which pictures are posted, the centrality of these pictures, and the often scanty text accompaniment, a reminder that fashion is a fundamentally visual phenomenon (Phillips and McQuarrie 2010). Each blog was studied until the researchers felt they had a good understanding of the characteristic practices of the blog; this usually entailed studying 20 to 40 current posts. The researchers also analyzed every comment sent in by followers of the blog to the current posts; on average, between 40 and 200 comments were attached to each current post. The comments were examined for their character and topical focus; in addition, we explored whether the blogger responded to the comments in the comments field or in subsequent posts, and in what ways.

The next step in the data analysis was to go back to the blogger’s original posts at the inception of the blog. Each blog contained archives of every post, so we returned to the very beginning of each blog and again examined 20 to 40 archived posts, noting differences and similarities in early versus later blogging practices. (It is considered taboo on fashion blogs to edit previously published posts, and attempted editing is policed by followers. This allowed the blog’s progression over time to be analyzed.) The comments to these posts were also examined, but they were much fewer in number (between 0 and 50). The third step was to examine posts in the “middle” of the blog – those situated at a time between the first and current posts. If blogs had been running for more than two years (Table 1), we sampled posts and comments from multiple periods in the middle of the blog in order to get a sense of its progression over time. The third type of analysis focused on marketing efforts and examined the practices the blogger used to discuss marketing tactics and comments from followers in response. Quotes from this sampled This document is part of a JCR Manuscript Review History. It should be used for educational purposes only.

content are provided largely verbatim, and may lack proper spelling and punctuation; quotes are labeled with the blog source (i.e., abbreviated blog code from Table 1) and date of publication.

The blogs were analyzed using a grounded theory method (Strauss and Corbin 1998) where key findings are allowed to emerge from the data. Line-by-line analysis and the constant comparison method were used to identify emergent themes in blogger and follower comments;

blog pictures were compared in terms of content, style, placement, and theme (Gleeson 2011).

The constant comparison method ensured consistency and allowed non-confirming cases to be identified. The two researchers used an independent, iterative approach to analyze the blogs, moving back and forth between examining each blog in depth versus examining a cross-section of several blogs at once. Preliminary themes were discussed by two of the authors, tested, expanded, and refined as the analysis progressed. The third author was provided the blog address, field notes, and emerging themes, and then vetted the overall model and the mapping of selected quotes and pictures onto the proposed conceptualization, questioning some attributions and calling for better examples of others. Data saturation and redundancy was confirmed independently by the two primary researchers after 8 blogs had been coded; all 10 blogs were analyzed and this was deemed a sufficient sample. Analysis continued until no further ideas emerged and all of the data could be encompassed in a model of fashion blogging themes and outcomes.


Initial Position

All ten bloggers began blogging as ordinary consumers outside of the fashion system.

McCracken (1986) describes the fashion system as composed of the designers and manufacturers of fashion clothing and accessories, the media institutions that promote such clothing in editorials and advertising, and the social elite, especially celebrities, who engage in the vast public relations machine of television and movie roles, special event appearances, and talk-show and gossip magazine placements (cf. the ‘gift system’ defined in Giesler [2006]). These are the traditional, professional sources that govern the determination of what is fashionable, also recognized by Bourdieu (Rocamora 2002). None of our bloggers was a fashion insider or professional and no family connections to the fashion system were uncovered. At the time of the launch of their blogs, these ten individuals appear indistinguishable from the millions of ordinary consumers who make up the market for fashion clothing. Note that ‘ordinary’ in this usage does not mean average or typical, nor does it exclude extraordinary skill, as in the taste displays to be discussed subsequently. We mean ‘ordinary’ in Turner’s (2010) specific sense: neither endowed by family connections nor credentialed by professional or institutional position.

Evidence that these bloggers may never have intended their blog to be only a personal journal online can be found in the titles (Table 1), which are rhetorically stylized and replete with complex, allusive forms of wordplay : ‘Fashion Toast’, ‘Style Bubble’. Wordplay is a device used by mass advertisers to attract consumers by means of aesthetic appeal (McQuarrie and Mick 1996). We infer that these bloggers constructed rhetoricized blog titles to accomplish the same goal. The rhetoricization may also signal to prospective audience members that aesthetic judgments will be on offer.

This document is part of a JCR Manuscript Review History. It should be used for educational purposes only.

From Personal Journal to Taste Display Early posts made at the outset of these blogs give the impression of a consumer using the blog as an online journal for personal disclosure, as described in some of the initial scholarship on blogging (Chittenden 2010; Hodkinson 2007; Kretz and de Valk 2010; Reed 2009).

just got home from teddys, decided to not go to the after party, we had a great night as it is. me, z and deb went, paparazzi snapped pictures of us all night long...they are so clueless… the gastineau girls were chillin at a table by themselves, still a foreign concept that the mom and daughter party together. random other models and celebs partied really hard… cant help but love la! time for bed as hollywood continues to party (BIA 03/25/07).

This post, with its casual focus and lack of attention to spelling and punctuation, describing a night on the town with friends, would pass unnoticed on Facebook or any other social media site.

This is important in that it emphasizes the under-motivated character of fashion blogging:

virtually anything that can be posted on a blog could have been posted on one’s personal page at a social media site. The key difference is that with a blog, one can potentially reach an indefinitely large audience of strangers.

Posts to these ten blogs soon cease to resemble private social media posts aimed at friends and quickly begin to transition toward public displays of taste. Here is an example from later in one of the most popular blogs.

Found the perfect gray socks while shopping at Uniqlo in Tokyo with my mom/favorite shopping partner (she's always down to stop randomly to eat and shares my love for finding wearable things in unlikely places). Vaguely sheer and just the right length. This sounds extremely trivial, and sort of is, but I've been looking for something like them forever now (FT 05/12/10).

This post came to be read by over 30,000 people. It received 174 comments, such as “OMG Rumi, you are my greatest inspiration EVER, you just rock with your amazing outfits and with your breathtaking photos. You are the best style icon EVER,” which expressed appreciation for the aesthetic judgment made by the blogger.

Choosing to display gray socks would seem to be neither here nor there as far as taste as distinction-between is concerned. These gray socks do not serve as a badge of membership in some group (Berger and Ward 2010). Likewise, the socks are not a marker or signal inviting affiliation with other marginalized youths over against a fictive mainstream (Thornton 1996); the blogger is, after all, shopping with her Mom. It is not the display of gray socks per se on a fashion blog, but selection of a particular brand, length, and opacity of gray socks to display— and choosing to pair them with leather shorts—that constitutes a display of taste leadership. And such displays can be recognized as taste leadership insofar as these attract and hold a large audience (in this case, more than 30,000 people).

Consider next the post reproduced in Figure 1, from a different blog. The picture is captioned: “Everything I’m wearing is Vintage, except the Doc Martens. Those babies are fakes, and now the black plastic is peeling away, which I kind of love.” We again take this as a claim to be tasteful, in the form of a risky choice. Who knew that peeling plastic fakes could look good, look right—be fashionable?

----------------------------------Figure 1 about here

----------------------------------This document is part of a JCR Manuscript Review History. It should be used for educational purposes only.

Further insight into what is going on in this post comes from the recognition that ‘Vintage’ is not a stray capitalization error, but the name of a brand of clothing which, according to the manufacturer’s web site, “is a premier streetwear brand that was born out of the free thinking and creative spirit of the underground music and art cultures … [designed for] lyrical wordsmiths, crate digging-vinyl loving deejays … fed up with the mediocre mainstream brands from malls and major department stores.” The Vintage clothing brand, then, lays claim to the heritage of the club, hipster or indie culture studied by Thornton (1996) and Arsel and Thompson (2011), with which (real) Doc Martens shoes are also associated. But by wearing peeling plastic fake Doc Martens this blogger lays claim to a distinctive personal style. She takes a risk, and invites her audience to make a judgment in response: “how does this look?” She exercises taste and makes a display of it for public consumption.

It might be objected that peeling plastic fakes are in fact a signal of subcultural membership—that the blogger here makes use of the aesthetic vocabulary of punk, where trashed versions of an original are routine. However, the idea that she is affiliating with a punk community is challenged by the final lines of the post: “The city is beautifully sunny today. I'll be outside all day reading Victorian literature.” It is also challenged by the collective body of her blogging posts. For example, the Frassy post in Figure 2 does not assert group membership by displaying more indie brands or a punk aesthetic, but features a (not faux) fur hat paired with an oversized cardigan and a classic Chanel bag.

----------------------------------Figure 2 about here

----------------------------------A more parsimonious explanation of these posts as a whole is that they build a persona, in Goffman’s (1959) terms, an elaborate statement of who the blogger proposes to be taken as: “I am a woman of style. I combine the indie brand of Vintage with the punk brand of Doc Martens yet openly acknowledge I wear fake footwear, while on another day I may pair a real fur hat with a Chanel bag. I make my own fashion statements.” Rather than affiliating with a community, the blogger makes a declaration of taste: “I think this looks good.” The definition of what may be judged tasteful, in any concrete instance, is not something ‘that can be learned in school‘, to use Thornton‘s (1996, 13) formulation. Rather, audience members with a passion for fashion clothing know taste when they see it. Hence, each taste display by the blogger represents a risk.

The blog is an ongoing performance that could bomb at any time (Deighton 1992).

The element of risk also supports the description of these ongoing taste displays as a process of capital accumulation. It is because the blogger takes risks, and is judged tasteful more often than not, that she may be said to accumulate cultural capital beyond what she started with.

Taste as judgment power can’t be learned in school, but it can be developed through repeated exercise. A blogger accumulates cultural capital insofar as she succeeds again and again in being judged fashionable, and as a result, develops more and more capacity to take fashion risks and succeed. Per the metaphor of Bourdieu and Wacquant (1992), once a poker player has amassed a large pile of chips she can play differently than one who has got only a small stake.

Taste judgments may be visually presented, as in the Frassy posts just discussed, or

offered verbally:

Surely the only reason to like Laquan Smith is his work. I have to say from his previous collections his New York Fashion Week debut has really stepped it up a gear and with This document is part of a JCR Manuscript Review History. It should be used for educational purposes only.

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