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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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Likewise, we studied blogs at a particular juncture in the diffusion of Web technologies.

Whether blogging, on fashion or any other topic, will continue to provide ordinary consumers access to the megaphone going forward is unknown. The megaphone effect itself seems likely to endure for some time; but the different routes by which consumers may access that megaphone are likely to shift and evolve. Similarly, although we linked blogging to Yelp reviews to YouTube haul videos, and address Pinterest boards below, the exact profile of similarities and differences across different means of getting hold of the megaphone remains to be ascertained.

In a similar vein, the finding that (in)authenticity seemed neither here nor there in explaining the success of these fashion blogs requires further probing. Prior work in consumer research has placed great importance on the quest for authenticity as a driving motivation for consumer action (Beverland and Farrelly 2009; Price and Arnould 2003), and has often seen authenticity as requiring an oppositional stance toward the marketplace and toward mass market brands in particular (Holt 2002). Might authenticity be less determinative of the behavior of mainstream consumers, as opposed to consumers residing in a distinct sub-culture with an oppositional cast (Thornton 1996)? This is an issue that requires further research.

Taste Goods

Taste displays leading to the accumulation of cultural capital should be evident in other categories and contexts as well. One task for future research is to set a boundary on the kinds of consumer behavior where a dynamic conception of cultural capital founded on taste as judgment power can be explanatory. Taste may only be relevant where, per Thornton (1996), ‘things that can’t be learned in school’ are central. When knowledge that can be learned in school provides relevant expertise, or when professional and institutional experience is important, taste may not be pertinent. Put another way, wherever Becker’s (1993) idea of human capital can provide an adequate explanation for consumer behavior, cultural capital may not have explanatory power (Ratchford 2000).

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

Within this first limit, a second limit may be glimpsed: not all taste judgments can produce cultural capital. Whereas taste is present anywhere that an aesthetic discrimination can be made, the exercise of taste can only accumulate cultural capital in circumstances where preferment is possible. That is, taste leadership, rather than simply taste clustering, must be possible for cultural capital to come into play. In this study taste leadership was manifest as the acquisition of a mass audience; other manifestations may be possible.

A third limit confines the applicability of a dynamic conception of cultural capital. This research does not deny the continued pertinence of a static notion of cultural capital wherein large amounts of it come into one’s possession as a family endowment or as a result of institutional position, education, or occupation. High levels of taste—taste that will be ratified by large numbers of those one regards as social peers—can still be produced as a result of being born into or acquiring a favorable social position. We argued simply that the reverse sequence, in which the exercise of taste itself leads to a higher social position, is also possible, and found an anchor case for this trajectory in fashion bloggers’ acquisition of a mass audience online.

Pulling together these threads, a dynamic conception of cultural capital may be most applicable to three broad categories of consumer goods: fashion, as studied here; food, including restaurants (Johnston and Bauman 2010); and home decor, including all visible aspects of the presentation of the abode, both interior and exterior (Arsel and Bean 2012; Lynes 1980). These domains are offered in Bourdieu (1984, 78) as sites for the operation of cultural capital in everyday life, and as a focus of restrictive practices in Goffman (1951). These three spheres also provide much of the material for post-Bourdeusian scholarship on taste (Bayley 1991; Falk 1994;

Gronow 1997; Warde 1997). Of course, taste operates much more widely in consumer behavior, as in the consumption of music, art, and travel; the argument is only that food, fashion, and home décor are good places to start in further exploring the role of taste leadership in consumer behavior.

Forms of Capital

Another task for future research is to examine what Bourdieu called the ‘rates of exchange’ and ‘modes of conversion’ among types of capital. Arsel and Thompson (2011) intriguingly showed how dynamically acquired social capital can be converted into embodied cultural capital, while we showed how cultural capital, accumulated through public displays of taste, can be exchanged for both economic rewards and social connections. As part of this effort it may be worthwhile to re-examine the role of social capital in consumption, building on sociological research concerning taste (Erickson 1996; Lizardo 2006). It has long been noted that Bourdieu’s conception of social capital lies at a far remove from that of Putnam (1995), and that these two do not exhaust the definitions of social capital on offer (Baron, Field and Schuller 2000). There is thus an opportunity to evolve conceptions of how social capital operates in consumption as we undertook to do with cultural capital. Likewise, the exact relationship between symbolic capital—a formulation that occasionally crops up in Bourdieu’s work—and cultural capital remains to be ascertained (Ustuner and Thompson 2011).

Fashion blogs are not the only instance of online consumer behavior where a Bourdieusian analysis may bear fruit. For instance, Yelp provides multiple pieces of information suitable for ranking other Yelp members, roughly parallel to our use of follower counts to assess bloggers. One of these indices, number of friends, rather directly indexes Bourdieu’s definition of social capital in terms of social connections, while another, the lifetime total of reviews rated This document is part of a JCR Manuscript Review History. It should be used for educational purposes only.

as ‘cool’, perhaps indexes symbolic capital, even as number of reviews written might index cultural capital. Data from the site thus offers a rare opportunity to test simultaneously the impact of varying levels of different types of capital on the production and consumption of online reviews. Finally, what blogging enabled us to do with fashion, and what Yelp may enable future researchers to do with food consumption, Pinterest may enable for home décor, inasmuch as pictures of décor play a major role on this site, and various metrics such as following another consumer’s pinboard and re-pinning a picture are available for investigation. In all these online sites, acts of consumption serve as the focus of social action with respect to a mass of strangers, indicating that these engagements may reward sociological investigation.

Toward a Sociological Perspective on Consumer Culture

Consumer researchers have learned a great deal about consumers’ pursuit of identity projects (Arnould and Thompson 2005; Parmentier and Fischer 2011), the role of community in supporting identities formed in opposition to the mainstream (Thornton 1996), and the ways in which authenticity can be claimed or disputed (Arnould and Price 2003). Less is known about the practices consumers engage in to improve their social position, how mainstream success may be pursued through acts of consumption, or the processes whereby an ordinary consumer can gain preferment over others outside of an institutional path. The present study suggests that many consumers wish to join audiences, as well as participate in communities, that a select few ordinary consumers desire to acquire an audience for their acts of consumption, and that both these actions can readily be observed online. Hence, the time seems ripe to pursue more sociological formulations of online consumer behavior (Nicosia and Mayer 1976).

In this regard, Muniz and O’Guinn’s (2000) innovative treatment of the existence and prevalence of community in consumption marked a swing of the pendulum in social history. As originally conceived by German sociologists such as Tonnies, the marketplace was portrayed as the antithesis of community and in fact, the agent of its destruction. Following Muniz and O’Guinn, consumer research has explored how consumers construct and participate in diverse kinds of marketplace communities, including virtual communities (Mathwick et al. 2007). That work has served as a much-needed corrective to individually-centered and purely psychological accounts of consumption. But the gist of the sociological perspective advanced in the present research is that consumers do not only affiliate with communities—they also seek positions in society, which is to say, vis-à-vis a mass of strangers. These positions may not only shape, but be shaped by, and even attained by, acts of consumption. In fact, courtesy of the Web a new kind of social position has emerged: that of the taste leader who takes hold of the megaphone, builds an audience for her consumption, and thereby gains a position. This rich new vein of Web-enabled consumer behavior awaits further exploration.

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

–  –  –

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

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