Baudolino At the Edge of History: Narrative Construction and Narrative Closure in a Heritage Museum

Athinodoros Chronis, University of Nebraska-Lincoln
Ronald D. Hampton, University of Nebraska-Lincoln
EXTENDED ABSTRACT - Consumption of stories is a large activity in marketing (Levy 2001). Product and brand stories are found in advertising (Escalas 1998), movies, books and many retail environments. In all of these cases, marketing plays a major role in constructing and communicating stories for consumption.
[ to cite ]:
Athinodoros Chronis and Ronald D. Hampton (2003) ,"Baudolino At the Edge of History: Narrative Construction and Narrative Closure in a Heritage Museum", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 30, eds. Punam Anand Keller and Dennis W. Rook, Valdosta, GA : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 355-356.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 30, 2003     Pages 355-356

BAUDOLINO AT THE EDGE OF HISTORY: NARRATIVE CONSTRUCTION AND NARRATIVE CLOSURE IN A HERITAGE MUSEUM

Athinodoros Chronis, University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Ronald D. Hampton, University of Nebraska-Lincoln

EXTENDED ABSTRACT -

Consumption of stories is a large activity in marketing (Levy 2001). Product and brand stories are found in advertising (Escalas 1998), movies, books and many retail environments. In all of these cases, marketing plays a major role in constructing and communicating stories for consumption.

While the story-creation responsibility in many cases lies in the hands of the marketer, there is a great number of consumption activities, where consumers encounter an array of events that are not complete stories, but are story-like encounters. In these cases, part of the responsibility for the construction of a story lies on the marketer and the communicative staging of the consumption experience (Arnould, Price, and Tierney 1998). Part of the narrative, however, depends on the personal involvement of the consumer in the construction of his/her market story. The purpose of this paper is to examine the role of the consumer in the construction of marketplace narratives.

We are using heritage museums as the selected context of our study, since heritage museums present historical accounts that can be seen as people stories (Macdonald 1997). In this work we adopt the position that history is a selective interpretation of the past (Fowler 1992). It is a widely accepted assumption in heritage literature that, no matter how successfully recreated and convincingly authentic, the past cannot really exist. (Fowler 1992, p. 81). The past is "a picture pieced together from the available accounts and artifacts remaining from the past" (Goulding 2000, p. 847) and the major challenge in offering an attractive link between heritage and consumption "lies in reconstructing the past in the present through interpretation" (Nuryanti 1996, p. 252). However, we claim in this paper that consumers have an active role in heritage interpretation that is justified by their need to bring a closure in cultural narratives (Chronis, Hampton, and Ball 2002). Our goal is to provide an explanation to the question of "how do consumers construct heritage narratives?"

The narrative way of thinking is contrasted to the rational world paradigm (Bruner 1986, 1990) that is based on the assumption that humans are essentially rational beings that make decisions based on logical argumentation in order to achieve a te?o? (telos: final goal) (Fisher 1984). In an accelerated pace we are being told that "life comes to us in the form of stories, articulated through storytelling" (Gubrium and Holstein 1998, p. 163; Alasuutari 1997). In contrast to the rational world paradigm, the narrative paradigm assumes that "man is in his actions and practice, as well as in his fictions, essentially a story-telling animal" (MacIntyre 1981, p. 201). As Heidegger (1949) observes, "We are a conversation conversation and its unity support our existence" (p. 278). The adopted theoretical background provides the basis for collecting, understanding, analyzing, and interpreting data collected in a Heritage museum in a Midwestern State.

The data collection and analysis approach that we adopted are based on the phenomenological tradition (Chronis and Hampton 2002; Husserl 1931, 1970; May 1961; Moustakas 1994; Thompson, Locander, and Pollio 1989, 1990), that, in its most general sense, intents to explore the essences underlying a particular phenomenon of interest. In accordance to the premises of phenomenological interviewing, we started our interview with the broad question of "Can you describe to me your experience as you walk through the museum?" Our informant was asked to provide a running commentary of everything that he had in mind during his visit into a particular section of the museum.

Based on insights acquired through phenomenological interviewing we shed light into the role of consumer in the construction of marketplace narratives. Our findings suggest that consumers go through a thee-stage process during their heritage experience:

Stage 1: Sensory input (the pieces of the puzzle).

Consumers investigate the environment and explore related and unrelated pieces of events.

Stage 2: Vicarious experience (filling the gaps of the story through imagination).

During this stage, various pieces of information are treated like pieces of a larger puzzle that consumers are trying to put together using their imagination.

Stage 3: Bringing a closure to the story (heritage connection).

In the last stage, consumers bring a closure to a consumption narrative that integrates their heritage experience.

The contributions of this study relate to the role of consumer in the construction of marketplace narratives and the creative use of consumer imagination. In existing literature, imagination: (1) moderates the relationship between consumption and identity, (2) constitutes a creative power that helps the subject pursue new ideas and accomplish plans, and (3) acts as an important antecedent of consumer desire (Giorgi 1987; Schau 2000). We add a fourth role that imagination can play in consumption experiences and this is as a "story completion" mechanism.

Based on the narrative mode of thought, Bruner (1987) asserted that "stories happen to people who know how to tell them" (pp. 11-12). Similarly we argue that (successful)museums experiences happen in those museums that know how to construct them. The steps we followed in this paper might provide a useful guideline for museum practitioners who want to facilitate a meaningful and memorable heritage experience.

While the narrative paradigm has been used to some extend in advertising, it has not been applied into other consumer-related phenomena. Consumer experiences, for example, is an area that can greatly benefit from the adoption of narrative thinking. Consumer narratives have the ability to both trigger consumer cognitive processes and elicit consumer emotions (Escalas 1998).

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