Community and Consumption

Brenda Gainer, York University
Eileen Fischer, York University
[ to cite ]:
Brenda Gainer and Eileen Fischer (1994) ,"Community and Consumption", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 21, eds. Chris T. Allen and Deborah Roedder John, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 137.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 21, 1994      Page 137

COMMUNITY AND CONSUMPTION

Brenda Gainer, York University

Eileen Fischer, York University

This session directed attention toward the phenomenon of community, often considered to be of immense social importance, yet curiously neglected within our discipline. It focussed on some of the reasons for that neglect and some of the ways in which consumer research might move forward, building on work that has already been done in our own discipline and elsewhere. It highlighted unresolved issues in the study of community and consumption, as well as demonstrating that not only a range of theories but a range of methods will be useful in advancing this line of inquiry.

The paper by Eileen Fischer and Julia Bristor examined the reasons for which the consumption/community link has received inadequate attention. They suggested that our neglect of non-individual level phenomena stems from the biases of our dominant perspectives and theories. The goal of most consumer behavior studies has been to explain how individual cognition, perception, or traits influence individual behavior. When units of analysis other than the individual have been considered, dominant theories have cast group or community level phenomena as the product of rational self-interest maximizing behavior; a perspective which is consistent with a Western or agentic orientation. Their paper drew on theories and research from a range of disciplines to develop a new framework for thinking about the relationships between community and consumption.

The paper by Ajay Sirsi, James Ward, and Peter Reingen focussed on communities defined by their shared consumption patterns, and developed an innovative way of both defining communities and studying them. They drew on ethnographic fieldwork to identify groups who share common food consumption habits, and through intensive semi-structured interviews developed causal maps showing cognitive structures related to foods for members of the groups. Using computer software developed specifically for the project, they were able to identify the nature and extent of shared cognitions related to food consumption which form the basis for the consumption communties they identified. Their results suggested a viable way of defining the boundaries of and linkages between communities, as well as the variation in both beliefs and behaviors that we might expect within consumption communities.

The paper by Brenda Gainer examined variations between the communities that men and women appear to form through a variety of consumption related activities, as well as differences in the social processes surrounding consumption directed at the formation of community. She noted that psychological theory and empirical studies indicate that community is important to women, and that they use consumption to forge bonds of sorority. Based on participant observation and long interviews regarding same-sex shared consumption with male and female informants, she suggested that men also use consumption to build masculine communities; however, it appears that the consumption activities they choose, as well as the communities men constitute, differ from those of women in systematic ways.

The concluding discussion by Craig Thompson emphasized the importance of pushing the boundaries of our discipline beyond the individual level of analysis in order to increase our understanding of consumer behavior. The study of community and its relationship to consumption is crucial to this task.

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