Special Session Summary You Are Where You Sit: Interior Environments and Social Identity

Michael R. Solomon, Auburn University
Basil G. Englis, Berry College
[ to cite ]:
Michael R. Solomon and Basil G. Englis (1998) ,"Special Session Summary You Are Where You Sit: Interior Environments and Social Identity", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 25, eds. Joseph W. Alba & J. Wesley Hutchinson, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 303-304.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 25, 1998      Pages 303-304

SPECIAL SESSION SUMMARY

YOU ARE WHERE YOU SIT: INTERIOR ENVIRONMENTS AND SOCIAL IDENTITY

Michael R. Solomon, Auburn University

Basil G. Englis, Berry College

OVERVIEW

While the effect of product usage and display on impression formation and social identity has been amply acknowledged in the consumer behavior literature, relatively little attention has been paid to the impact of interior environments on symbolic consumption. Most academic research in this area (largely conducted by environmental psychologists) has focused on such issues as ergonomics, proxemics, and expressions of territoriality. In contrast, fairly little attention has been paid to stylistic nuances of decor that create or reinforce social identity and/or membership in specific taste culturesCeither in real life or in media depictions of consumer environments.

This special session aimed to invigorate research on these processes by focusing on three social domains that jointly account for a very large proportion of everyday human experience that are mediated by the near environmentChomes, offices, and retail settings. These venues can be conceived as lying on a continuum of space that is (loosely) anchored by private consumption at one end and public consumption on the other. Paradoxically, however, we argue that despite these apparent differences in fact much "public" consumption is enacted in the home (e.g., in formal living rooms), while "private" processes are triggered in offices and stores (e.g., as abetted by the invitations to fantasy engendered by "theme environments" such as Niketown). From a methodological perspective, the session highlighted the prominence played by visual stimuli in the analysis of interior environments. While these consumption domains are by definition visually driven, explorations of the nuanced impact of stylistic variations are complex and raise many interesting research issues, problems, and possibilities.

Three of the planned presentations focused on the central issue of the interiors/social identity relationship in different settings: Mary Ann McGrath, Basil Englis, and Michael Solomon focused on the living room and presented results from a study that used a set of actual photographs of living rooms as projectives, while Russell Belk and Joel Watson discussed their research on office decor that uses depth interviews and photographic observations of professors’ offices to examine the degree to which we materially express ourselves in this context. Lisa PeĀ±aloza was unable to attend the conference to present her observational data on a unique store environment (Niketown). Finally, Rebecca Holman shared her experiences with a cross-cultural research project conducted by a major advertising agency on decorating style/value linkages. The progressive focus on home, office, and retail settings provided a conceptual mechanism to integrate and celebrate the centrality of these manufactured environments to processes of consumer expression and identity formation, and served as an impetus for discussion and (hopefully) additional research attention to this vital consumption domain.

 

BEAUTIFUL HOUSES/BEAUTIFUL PEOPLE: SOCIAL CATEGORIZATION AND STYLES OF INTERIOR DECOR

Mary Ann McGrath, Loyola University of Chicago

Basil G. Englis, Berry College

Michael R. Solomon, Auburn University

We examine the meaning conveyed by different styles of interior decor as a function of the observers’ own stylistic preferences and behavior. We conducted a field study in which 240 homeowners were interviewed using projective, associative, and structured interview techniques designed to explore the social attributes and lifestyles that consumers associate with different styles of interior decor. The affective valence and the social desirability of the people, activities, and consumption habits that emerge in the projective stories and the product associations are powerfully related to whether the respondent is describing an ideal or anti-ideal style of decor. Our presentation will use the detailed photographic evidence we obtained to integrate the projective themes and product associations with distinct stylistic categories of decor, and we will relate these responses to the habits, desires, and aspirations of informants.

 

MATERIAL CULTURE AND THE EXTENDED OR UNEXTENDED SELF IN OUR UNIVERSITY OFFICES

Russell W. Belk, The University of Utah

Joel C. Watson, The University of Utah

While several studies suggest that personal objects in our homes are symbolic extensions of ourselves, such self presentation has not been studied in the workplace. We use depth interviews and photographic observations of professors’ offices to examine the degree to which we materially express ourselves in this context. Due to a perceived conflict between self-expression and professionalism, we expected and found systematic differences by rank, gender, longevity in a position and office, discipline, and home and office work habits. We relate these findings to the extended self and add insights into the reasons and extent to which the self is not fully revealed in office contexts.

 

CONSUMING THE RETAIL ENVIRONMENT: RESEARCH ISSUES AND IMPLICATIONS GLEANED AT NIKETOWN

Lisa PeĀ±aloza, The University of Colorado

In recent years companies such as Nike, Time Warner, Coca-Cola, and Calvin Klein have developed fastidiously designed, highly interactive product showcases and located them in the premiere shopping areas of major U.S. cities such as New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles. This dramaturgical presentation begins with a photographic tour of one such site, Nike Town Chicago, choreographed with the voice-overs of informants, and then proceeds to discuss particular consumer research issues raised by this emerging market phenomenon regarding: 1) dynamics of identity formation; 2) the dichotomous treatment of cognition and experience; 3) the division between context and phenomena; and 4) spatial-temporal dimensions of consumer behavior.

 

DECORATING THE CAVE: CULTURAL AND VALUES DIMENSIONS OF HOME DECORATION

Rebecca H. Holman, The Wirthlin Group

The urge to personalize one’s private space probably has its origins in our pimate ancestors who marked their territory in order to establish dominance relationships. The modern study of the uses of space for communication can be traced to the work of Edward Hall who documented cultural differences in the meaning of interpersonal space. While cultural templates affect the meta-communicational aspects of space, recent evidence suggests that personal values explain much in how contemporary personal space is "marked". Examples from the author’s experience in cross-cultural consumer research are incorporated to illustrate this premise.

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