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Title:A critical approach to understanding agency in meaning construction in material consumption: An attempt to synthesize insights of cultural theorists with empirical studies
Author(s):Berchmans, Britto Manohar
Doctoral Committee Chair(s):Grossberg, Lawrence
Department / Program:Communication
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Subject(s):Anthropology, Cultural
Business Administration, Marketing
Mass Communications
Abstract:Popular belief maintains that the phenomenal rise of material consumption can be accounted for by the deception inflicted on unsuspecting individuals by marketing and advertising. The consumer is often depicted as helpless and manipulated. This thesis examines the agency of individuals as they engage in the inevitable act of material consumption.
Based on the three broad theoretical perspectives evident in the writings of critical theorists on material consumption, this thesis proposes three fundamental consumption modes corresponding to the ways in which one negotiates the meanings supplied by marketing and advertising. When individuals "accept" these meanings, they engage in "consensual consumption." When they reject them and create their own, they display "oppositional consumption." When consumers "manipulate" the meanings provided to draw some personal benefit, they give evidence of "social" or "negotiated consumption."
A standardized survey was administered to 496 high school and college students, the majority of whom live in the Midwest. Based on consumer research, the instrument included pre-validated measures and items developed specifically to gauge the proposed meaning trajectories. Statistical analysis revealed three modes of consumption which are manifestations of the three ways in which individuals exhibit their agency in meaning making. Among the predictors that shape these modes, materialism and self expression emerge as the most crucial. Quantitative research also uncovered specific consumer types.
To supplement the quantitative approach, the life history technique was applied to the same sample. Overall findings confirm the conclusions of the quantitative strategy and disclose certain nuances of meaning not contemplated by the survey. The qualitative study also provided a clearer indication of the interplay between internal and external agencies in meaning making and painted clearer portraits of certain typical consumption styles. Thus both the quantitative and the qualitative approaches hark back to the three theoretical perspectives which constituted their original launching pad.
Issue Date:1995
Rights Information:Copyright 1995 Berchmans, Britto Manohar
Date Available in IDEALS:2011-05-07
Identifier in Online Catalog:AAI9543533
OCLC Identifier:(UMI)AAI9543533

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