The Fortunate Few: Production As Consumption

Scott D. Roberts, University of Mississippi
Debra L Scammon, University of Utah
John W. Schouten, Iowa State University
ABSTRACT - Integrating notions of involvement and work gratification this paper explores the experiences of craftsmen deeply involved in their occupations. A model of production as consumption is proposed in which the craftsman consumes both inputs and outputs in the process of production. Depth interviews explore with informants the satisfactions they receive from their work and from the products of their work. These informants and others like them are referred to as the "fortunate few" because of the intrinsic rewards they find in the processes and products of their production. The authors recognize that this label is value laden.
[ to cite ]:
Scott D. Roberts, Debra L Scammon, and John W. Schouten (1988) ,"The Fortunate Few: Production As Consumption", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 15, eds. Micheal J. Houston, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 430-435.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 15, 1988      Pages 430-435

THE FORTUNATE FEW: PRODUCTION AS CONSUMPTION

Scott D. Roberts, University of Mississippi

Debra L Scammon, University of Utah

John W. Schouten, Iowa State University

[This research was completed while Scott Roberts and John Schouten were in residence at the University of Utah. The authors are listed alphabetically, reflecting equal contributions. Correspondence should be directed to: Debra L. Scammon, College of Business, Department of Marketing, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, Utah 84112.]

ABSTRACT -

Integrating notions of involvement and work gratification this paper explores the experiences of craftsmen deeply involved in their occupations. A model of production as consumption is proposed in which the craftsman consumes both inputs and outputs in the process of production. Depth interviews explore with informants the satisfactions they receive from their work and from the products of their work. These informants and others like them are referred to as the "fortunate few" because of the intrinsic rewards they find in the processes and products of their production. The authors recognize that this label is value laden.

INTRODUCTION

A guy who drives a cab or works in an office works more than I do. I have time to practice my clarinet, see films, go out to dinner and see people. And my work doesn't have the sense of labor about it.

But if I worked at a different job, I couldn't wait until I got home to write. I enjoy it. It's like being paid to play baseball or something. It's like I'm on a constant vacation....

I'm being paid to do what I like. And that is essentially to write and occasionally perform I do have trouble with my nonwork time.....

Woody Allen

The world will never be happy until all men have the souls of artists I mean when they take pleasure in their jobs.

Auguste Rodin

For many people their job is a "necessary evil" for which they draw a paycheck so that they can purchase the necessities and pleasures of life. Marx describes production in a capitalist economy as essentially alienating to workers in that they neither control the means nor the products of their labor and feel no real personal investment in their products or in the processes by which they are derived. ID this lifestyle people work primarily for extrinsic rewards; intrinsic rewards are achieved through non-work and leisure activities. Sociologists (Applebaum, 1984; Braudel 1979) have noted the demarcation which differentiates production from consumption, both in terms of activities and times for their performance. We refer to this lifestyle as production for consumption.

For some people, however, intrinsic rewards are gained through the process of their work. For them work is not inevitable drudgery but is instead quite enjoyable and fulfilling. Mills (1951) describes an idealized model of work gratification, which he calls craftsmanship, as one in which a person engages in a craft not only for the exchange value of the goods and services produced but more importantly for intrinsic rewards it provides. Work for its own sake and the experiential aspects (Holbrook and Hirschman 19826 of the production process are the life of these fortunate few. We refer to this lifestyle as production as consumption.

This paper explores work as experienced by those who are deeply involved in their labors and who derive rewards beyond the economic from their work. Consumption during the process of production is examined. Ideas, energy, tools, raw materials and other chosen media are consumed as people create products and services with exchange value. And, in addition to producing for public consumption (exchange), it appears that deeply involved workers, or craftsmen, also engage in a sort of personal consumption of their own products as they derive meaning, personal growth, and enjoyment from the process of production.

CONCEPTUAL FRAMEWORK

In describing the conditions of modern work Mills (1951) suggests that in an urban society dependent employees are alienated from both the product and processes of work. Although dependent occupations do vary in the extent of initiative they allow, in almost any job employees sell a degree of independence. Working life is within the control of others. The types of employees' skills that are used and the areas in which employees may exercise independent decisions are subject to management by others. Employees receive wages to compensate them for their efforts. They then spend their earnings purchasing an assortment of goods and services. This notion implies that employees work in order that they may consume.

In dramatic contrast, the craftsmen of an earlier era, including persons that Firat (1987) identifies as engaging in productive consumption activities, and perhaps the entrepreneurs, artists and scientists of today, are independent, working for themselves. Their independence gives them the freedom and the responsibility to direct their own work. Intrinsic motivation is presumably high for such people and the work experience takes on personal meaning. As these "fortunate few" develop and refine their skills in their chosen areas the ability to create products and services of value to others is secondary to the opportunity for self-expression and intrinsic reward. The model of craftsmanship is often referred to in discussions of worker gratification. This model is described here as a means of understanding the intrinsic rewards experienced by modern-day craftsmen, entrepreneurs, and workers deeply involved in their occupations.

The Model of Craftsmanship: According to Mills (1951) the craftsman has no ulterior motives for working; the product and the process of its creation are all important. Pleasure is derived from the work itself. There is an "inner relation" between the craftsman and the thing made which drives the will-to-work. Other motives such as money or reputation are secondary. But, as Csikszentmihalyi (1975) suggests, both subjectively valued experience and socially valued accomplishments are likely to result from intense and voluntary investments of psychic energy. Thus, though the economic and social rewards may be secondary to the craftsman, they may result concomitantly with the intrinsic rewards.

In work-as-craftsmanship there is a psychological tie between the product and the producer. The craftsman has an image of the completed product, understanding the meaning of personal efforts and skills in terms of that finished product. The details of daily work are meaningful because they are not detached in the craftsman's mind from the product of the work. Satisfaction with the end result infuses the activities instrumental for achieving it with enjoyment. Mills (1951) suggests that in this way the work itself is meaningful to the craftsman. Personal satisfaction is achieved by garnering materials, overcoming mechanical drudgery, solving other processual problems, and emerging from the production process with a feeling of accomplishment.

The craftsman is in control of his/her own actions. The craftsman is responsible for the process and the end product, determining the shape of the work to be done, the activities required, and the outcome, solving problems encountered during the process. The sphere of independent action for the craftsman is large. Personal choice and initiative are paramount for the craftsman who works for the craft first. In his research on perceived choice Csikszentmihalyi (1975) hypothesized that when a person chooses to become involved in an activity, that personal initiative motivates him/her to sustain concentration on that activity long enough to bring it to fruition. The intense concentration required for complex achievement appears to be most readily available when given willingly.

The craftsman is able to learn from his/her work and to use and develop personal capacities and skills through that work. Self-development is the cumulative result of devotion to and practice of one's skills. Through such learning, not only are skills improved, but the craftsman's very nature is developed. As Csikszentmihalyi (1975) proposed, worthwhile accomplishments are based on skill and discipline, and these require extensive commitment of attention to learn and to apply. In this sense the craftsman establishes an identity through the work in much the same way that Bell: hypothesizes that consumers identify with their possessions (Belk, 1987).

For the craftsman there is no split of work and play, or work and culture. In treatises that dichotomize work and play, work is supposed to be an activity performed to create economic value. Work, in a sociocultural context consists of "all the activities whose output can be measured explicitly or implicitly, in terms of marketable goods and services" (G. Rosegger as cited in Bartell and Bartell 1985). Conversely, play is an activity exercised for its own sake to gratify the actor. As Mills (1951) comments, play is something you do to be happily occupied. But work occupies the craftsman happily. Thus, although work is serious for the craftsman, it is at the same time play. Personal expression occurs at the same time and in the same act as the creation of value. Consumption and production are blended in the same act.

The craftsman's work is the mainspring of the only life he/she knows. The values and qualities developed and employed during working time are brought to non-working hours. Leisure is apt to occur in intermittent periods as necessary for rest, reflection and rekindling of individuality in the craftsman's work. The craftsman's way of livelihood determines and infuses an entire mode of living. (Mills, 1951, p. 220-224).

The essential features of this model of craftsmanship appear to be:

1. Freedom and self-control over the process and its outcome;

2. Personal meaning derived from the production process; and

3. Intrinsic motivation including the opportunity for self- development and growth.

Involvement With Work: Craftsmanship as an ethic certainly goes beyond those occupations typically classified as crafts. One overriding characteristic of most craftsmen seems to be their deep involvement in their crafts. To understand the experiences of those deeply involved in their work some general notions from research on involvement are useful.

The three factors identified above are very similar to those characteristics identified in a recent study of the subjective leisure experience reported in the consumer behavior literature (Unger and Kernan 1983). Unger and Kernan suggest that leisure provides a high level of perceived freedom for the actor, involves intentional involvement, and results in intrinsic satisfaction. Relatedly, Scammon (1987) discussed the factors motivating commitment that ultimately turned a hobby into an avocation. Her introspection revealed the importance of focused behavior, side bets, and affective attachment to her deep involvement.

Bloch and Bruce (1984) addressed the notion of product involvement calling it "an abiding interest in, and attachment to, a product class which is independent of purchase or other situational factors." They proposed a model of "leisure-based enduring involvement" suggesting that product involvement may be related to leisure activities (Bloch and Bruce, 1984, p. 200). Bloch and Bruce (1984) dubbed such involvement "product enthusiasm" in applying it to hobbies. They suggest that it is the product meaning or the connection between the product and the individual that distinguishes the enthusiast Stebbins (1977) describes a hobby as "a specialized pursuit beyond one's occupation (emphasis added) that one finds particularly interesting and enjoys doing."

Since work is an important sphere of life, it is likely that similar product attachments may develop for those people who are deeply involved in their work. Houston and Rothschild (1978) suggest that enduring involvement with a product derives from the product's relatedness to a consumer's needs, values, or self-concept. For those people who are deeply involved in their occupations, product involvement may occur for work-related products. As with the role of products in leisure behavior however, there are likely to be varying levels of connectedness between a product and a particular work activity (Bloch and Bruce 1984). A product may be the central element in the craft as clay or a potter's wheel are to a potter's work. A product may also play a secondary role as a piece of functional or supporting equipment. Bloch and Bruce (1984) explicitly recognize that product involvement may result from role-related demands placed on the consumer. With a craftsman, this involvement may relate to a desire to perfect occupational role performance. Csikszentmilhalyi and Rochberg-Halton (1981) in their studies of the subjective meaning of things, relate instances in which workers report a high level of attachment to and involvement with the tools of their trade.

Deci (1915) proposed that an activity can provide external rewards or be satisfying in and of itself. It has been suggested that with respect to leisure activities, intrinsic satisfactions are primary motivators of highly involved recreational specialists, while lesser involvement is associated with the pursuit of extrinsic rewards. Intrinsic rewards identified in the leisure context include such things as companionship, power, intimacy and self-actualization. The rewards obtained during personal consumption by people deeply involved -in their work may parallel these sorts of satisfaction.

A Model of Production As Consumption: Returning to the notion of production as consumption, a process model can now be proposed. As pictured in Figure 1, the craftsman is viewed as selecting and combining various inputs destined to become finished products which will have value for both public and private consumption.

FIGURE 1

Hyde (1979) suggests that "an essential portion of any artist's labor is not creation so much as invocation. Part of the work cannot be made, it must be received..." He suggests that certain essential but intangible ingredients in the creative process, including ideas and energy, are received as gifts from without and consumed and transformed during the process of production only to be given again. The new gift, or finished product, bears the added value and meaning which come from the artist's or craftsman's personal creative investment.

Tools and materials or media are also chosen and consumed by the craftsman. Lucie-Smith (1981) comments that "every consideration of craft, before it examines what is made, or the processes used, must look first at the materials and implements employed"(p. 19). The selection of materials and tools and the implementation of ideas appear to infuse the production process with personal meaning for the craftsman.

Certain intrinsic rewards can be associated with the actual process or activities of production. The rewards from self-controlled activity include the opportunity for growth and self-development that come through the practice of personal skills. Another important benefit from work-as-craftsmanship may be the achievement of "flow," described by Csikszentmihalyi (1915) as "the holistic sensation that people feel when they act with total involvement" (p. 56). According to Csikszentmihalyi, flow is achieved during the interaction of challenges posed by the situation and skills possessed by the actor. The craftsman who has honed skills through long hours of apprenticeship and extended study finds satisfaction in the production process. In these ways, work-as-craftsmanship is seen as consumptionC Cconsumption of personal skills and energy, consumption of inputs of materials and tools, as well as experiential consumption of the process and final outputs of production by the producer.

An obvious final result of the production process is the creation of some product or service with the intent that it be consumed by somebody. What may be less obvious but no less real is the way in which the product is also consumed by its producer. Some objects, most notably but not exclusively works of art or fine craftsmanship, are consumed primarily in an aesthetic, experiential way. Csikszentmihalyi and Rochberg-Halton (1981) describe the aesthetic experience as an appreciation of an object for its intrinsic qualities. Probably no one understands and appreciates the intrinsic value of a product as well as the person responsible for its existence. The highly involved producer is also, in many cases, the first and most ardent consumer of the thing produced.

Within the framework laid by the above discussion and depicted in Figure 1 a set of dimensions of the production-as-consumption experience are identified. These dimensions include:

1. Consumption of "inputs", e.g., tools, materials, ideas, and energy.

2. Consumption of "outputs."

3. Satisfaction from the production process.

4. Relation of involvement in work to other aspects of life, e.g., non-work interests.

AN EXPLORATORY INQUIRY

In an attempt to provide some empirical insights into the nature of the production-as-consumption phenomenon, depth interviews were conducted with a number of informants who were identified as loving or being passionately involved in their work. Among those interviewed were a potter, a horse trainer, a head and neck surgeon, and a jazz disc jockey. Lincoln and Guba (1985) describe this type of sample, that is a sample chosen based on informational rather than statistical considerations, as a "purposive" sample. According to Patton (1980, p. 105) purposive samples are useful in "providing]...information about unusual cases that may be particularly troublesome or enlightening."

Upon completion of each interview, the researcher wrote extensive field notes recording the verbal transactions as well as non-verbal communications and contextual information about the setting and the interview itself. These transcribed interviews were then analyzed for thematic content and, where possible, interpreted symbolically as described by Levy (1981, 1986). Pseudonyms have been used in this paper to protect the anonymity of the informants.

INTERPRETATIVE LOOK AT THE DATA

Drawing from the factors emphasized in Mill's model (1951), interviews probed the areas of perceived freedom and self-control, personal meaning derived from the production process, and intrinsic motivation. Several themes expanding on these notions developed out of the encounters.

Consumption of Inputs: During several interviews, the informants talked about the tools they used in their work. Comments ranged from the attainment of mechanical proficiency with high-technology equipment to deep emotional attachment to "special" implements. Dave, a potter, talked about certain tools as "old friends," but noted that for him to get hung up on tools would be distracting. Even though he had dozens of tools in his studio, some tools had very special meaning. When he couldn't find one particular tool that he "needed" for a week-end pottery show he was visibly distressed. As with some of his tools, Dave also ascribes human qualities to his clay, describing it alternately as "very sensuous", having "a meaty feel to it", and "fleshy." For special jobs he insists on preparing the clay himself in order to "know what the clay feels like...what it wants to do...and what it will or won't do."

A disc jockey, Brian, professes no attachment to the equipment he works with but feels that mastering the equipment is important because it frees him to be creative and self-expressive in his programming and in communicating with his audience. He reveres his records very highly. In response to a comment that he took good care of his records he said, "Oh yeah! I love records...I feel like sort of a librarian." During the show (this part of the interview was conducted while Brian's program was airing) he pointed out certain records that seemed to have special significance. One was by a band that his father had played with in the 1930s.

Another important input to the production process, aside from tools and media, is information. Larry, a surgeon, recalled that while teaching surgical skills to residents he was forced to know all the cutting edge research in order to keep ahead of them: "You had to read the journal the morning it came across your desk, and then be able to critique it for the residents that afternoon; you had to be able to tell them when what's been written is so much horseshit."

One interesting comment came from the horse trainer, Cliff, who said he needs nothing more than "his mind and a rope; any old rope will do." It was obvious that with his mind this man could think through any situation and come up with a solution. In talking about where these solutions came from, he said he owed a lot to the people he learned from: "whether they know it or not, those people have a hand in what I'm doing in a round about way even if they never see the horse."

Contemplating the inputs consumed by these diverse informants, one similarity emerged. The tradition in which they worked was important to all of them. Whether via cowboy culture, the medical profession, or a particular artistic community, in each case a flow of ideas, a "right" approach to their work, a sense of quality and peer acceptance, and other such codes, were received by them as part and parcel of their chosen sub-cultures. It seems that these informants have life patterns similar to the consumption patterns described by Firat (1987) in which products attain meaning from their consumption context and at the same time give meaning to those contexts.

Consumption of Outputs: In addition to consumption by the public of their finished products or services, our informants talked about what they got from the products themselves. For instance, as Brian airs his jazz program for public consumption, he also listens very purposefully to the music for his own reasons. He reports that intensive listening helps him hone his own skills as a musician giving him insights into techniques used by others so that he can better translate his musical thoughts into his own performances. He also claims to select the music based on the mood he desires to create for himself.

For Dave, sharing his pottery with other artists is important. He enjoys seeing his peers on the art show circuit and says they notice when he has something new to sell, or when he's altered an existing product. He looks forward to the appreciation of his work by others whom he respects. His finished work acts as a message to his peers of his accomplishments as an artist. In another context he talked about the "inside, creative, interpretive, instinctive part" of his work saying that when he sells a fine piece, the customer is paying for that part of him which it contains.

For both the surgeon and the horse trainer an important way in which they personally consume their own products or services involves seeing their "students" make conceptual breakthroughs or finally overcome previous mental blocks. The surgeon commented that he got immense satisfaction when, after long suffering with some "knothead resident" there was a breakthrough. In a similar discussion of breakthroughs in training, the horse trainer said that he doesn't have any problem students: the "timing or the situation may not be right but that doesn't mean the horse has a problem." He went on to explain that "you can be the most impatient SOB in the world but you still have to wait [until you and the horse can] Bet together," implying that a horse too has a will and a mind that must be respected if the trainer is to enjoy the result of his labors.

Personal Fulfillment from the Production Process. Production as consumption provides many sources of fulfillment for those who experience it. One of the most frequently reported and highly stressed by informants is the freedom and autonomy they have to do what they want to do in the way they want to do it. This is not to say that the informants do not recognize their responsibilities to their employers, clients, or audiences, but rather that they have a very high degree of control over both product and process.

Brian is a good example. He appreciates the fact that he is accountable to no one but himself for the music he plays. Although he is acutely aware of his audience and occasionally honors requests for special pieces, he does all his own programming. He feels no kinship whatsoever with pop radio disc jockeys who must tow the line of professional programmers interested primarily in the commercial value of their selections.

Cliff feels similarly and claims that "there are few people qualified to tell me what to do." He doesn't mind suggestions from horse owners but demands the freedom to use his own techniques in his own way and in his own time. Customers who are not content to give him that freedom are "weeded out right away." Asked about the prospect of being someone else's employee he responded, "There are a couple of guys I would work for just for my keep and to be able to learn from them," but says he wouldn't be a good employee unless he was constantly learning and had tremendous respect for his employer.

Not only are all the informants relatively free from the controlling influences of bosses or rigid policies, they are also remarkably free of the exigencies of money. The informants unanimously remarked that they either worked for significantly less money than they could earn at other jobs or that they would continue doing what they do even if the monetary rewards were reduced. Brian gave up a lucrative opportunity to take over a family motorcycle franchise in order to work in jazz music. His first job as a jazz disc jockey was strictly volunteer work for a local community radio station. His current job with a PBS station pays barely $1000 a month. Although he would like to be making more, he adjusts to the low pay by keeping his consumption in other areas, e.g., house, car, and lifestyle, to a minimum.

Cliff echoes these sentiments: "I wouldn't know what to do if I retired; besides, you'll never make enough money to retire." Although he refuses to discount his rates for training, he claims that the money isn't the issue. He said, "If the money wasn't there it probably wouldn't change anything," implying that he would continue to train and ride horses even if only for himself and for the horses. For Cliff the customer and the fee are the least important elements in his business.

In stark contrast to the informants for whom production is a consumption activity, consider the case of Joe, a lab technician. When asked to tell about his work he said, "You know, work is work. It's okay. Basically its a way to make money for the things I like to do...You know, biking, woodworking, gardening...." When asked if he enjoyed his work he spoke immediately to the issue of control: "It all depends on the supervisor. If you've got a good supervisor it's okay; right now my supervisor and I don't get along too well...just different personalities I guess." Joe controls neither the product (which he describes as "just data") nor the process ("We are required to follow certain procedures."), nor the circumstances of his work ("We used to be right there in the hospital; we could talk to the physicians and relate to them. Now, of course, they've moved us out there [to the research park] and we're more isolated.") Joe said that the ideal situation would be to be his own boss. When asked if there was any chance of that ever happening he just shook his head slowly and pursed his lips in a gesture indicating "no."

Whereas the actuality or the feeling of autonomy are important elements of production as consumption, perhaps even more important are the consumption experiences which such circumstances facilitate. Cliff is free to allocate his time and energy according to the needs of the individual animal, enhancing his ability to develop real communication between him and the horse, a relationship that approximates parental fondness in its closeness and intensity. Brian is free to choose music that best fits his personal listening needs and, thereby, to listen intensively and purposefully while he broadcasts. For Dave the very action of squeezing the clay and seeing it transformed at his touch from an amorphous mass to an object of beauty bearing the stamp of his own creativity is an absorbing and intrinsically rewarding experience.

Lifestyle: Perhaps the one thing that most obviously distinguishes the informants from those who engage in production for consumption is the way in which their jobs are central to and even definitional of an entire way of life. Brian lives jazz. He performs it, practices it, and teaches it at the university. His social life revolves around jazz musicians and listeners. His most important personal possessions are his instruments, his records and his stereo equipment. Even his home decor reflects his preoccupation with jazz music, one entire wall being covered with photographs of musicians sort of a pictorial museum of his affiliation with his music.

Cliffs involvement with horses goes far beyond the level of occupation and work time hours. In his spare time he enjoys drawing horses, cowboys, and other western motifs. He plays guitar, sings western songs and recites cowboy poetry. He also spends hours tooling leather, but confines his leather work to equipment which is useful in his occupation. He says these are "sort of an outlet, something else I like to do, but they all deal with the same things I do [at work]."

Dave does engage in activities which are not obviously related to his craft, but they are all things which he feels are harmonious with and contributory to his work. Such activities as going to the mountains to cut and collect firewood are enjoyed partly for the intrinsic enjoyment they provide and partly for the "creative boost" and "inspiration" that he derives from them for his work.

Larry's lifestyle can probably be best described in his own words, "pushing it to the limit." He speaks of the thrill of employing "cutting edge" surgical techniques or of encountering life-threatening emergencies and compares it with the exhilaration that comes from his alternate passion, flying his own airplane. He especially enjoys the thrill of flying in inclement weather and speaks excitedly about his heightened awareness of essential gauges and about studying the clouds "for a hole to escape through." The things he emphasizes in his life experience are precisely those things that involve the greatest novelty and risk.

CONCLUSION

Production as consumption defines the life pattern of a number of individuals for whom the work experience is, as Woody Allen said, "a constant vacation" (Geist 1987, p. 40). More than just a paycheck, work is a process of consumption which provides, in all its stages, vital intrinsic rewards for the doer. It is not just a means to an end but an end in itself. Such work, though rewarding, is also demanding. The "fortunate few" seem to feel the price is well paid and can frequently be heard to say, like the horse trainer, "I can't imagine ever doing anything else."

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