Special Session Summary Becoming a Awhere@ B Constructing and Consuming Space


Janeen Arnold Costa and Gary J. Bamossy (2003) ,"Special Session Summary Becoming a Awhere@ B Constructing and Consuming Space", in E - European Advances in Consumer Research Volume 6, eds. Darach Turley and Stephen Brown, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 312-315.

European Advances in Consumer Research Volume 6, 2003      Pages 312-315



Janeen Arnold Costa, University of Utah, USA

Gary J. Bamossy, University of Utah, USA and Vrije Universiteit, The Netherlands

Marketing and consumer behavior theorists have focused primarily on retail venues in their investigation of "place," addressing such issues as location, merchandising, and a "sense of place," for example (e.g., Sherry 1998; Lego et.al., 2002; MacLaran and Stevens 1998). More rare are those scholarly works that explore "place" from a sociocultural, experiential or historical perspective (e.g., Brown and Sherry 2003). For example, Belk (1998) assessed the roles of fantasy and farce in Las Vegas, and Costa and Bamossy (2001) evaluated Disney Paris within the context of European consumption of American icons and an idealized United States. Researchers also have considered tourist destinations as settings where "place" is significant and may include specific settings, traditions and behaviors. For instance, such studies have shown that consumers may seek products such as souvenirs, performances and experiences that conform to their pre-existing knowledge of the destination (e.g. Costa 1998), or that provide further education or familiarity with historical or social aspects of a place (e.g., Alsayyad 2001; see also Arnould and Price 1993).

While the papers in this proposed special session continue in the vein of these recent studies, the presenters also hope to impart new and greater understanding of "place" consumption. They explore the application of various relevant theories, as well as new cases and data that provide substantial insights into the consumption of place. Their research illuminates the processes involved in the transformation of "space" into "place," the dialectical tensions and intertwining meanings of the physical settings and their spiritual, cultural and social associations, and the dynamic character of symbols and interpretations attached to a given space or place.

Suggestive of both the Frankfurt School (e.g., Horkheimer and Adorno, Marcuse, and Habermas) and the perspectives of Stuart Hall (1997), Bamossy, van Herk and Velliquette consider the issues of power and difference as local culture-holders attempt to manipulate the presentation of "their place" in the media. The authors also apply and analyze the role of culture in the consumption of the 2002 Olympic venue from the perspective of some 2500 European consumers in five different countries. Their point of departure in this portion of their analysis is the presentation of "place" via national and international media. Their data sets of Utah power-holders marketing the Olympic place, of national and international media presentations, and of consumers’ pre- and post-Olympic perceptions and attitudes concerning Utah as a place provide an exceptionally nuanced and detailed delineation of the role of communication and of culture in the consumption of place.

The designation of places as sacred is apparently a cultural universal; that is, a practice found in all known societies and cultures. Sacred sites in contemporary societies are typically buildings such as churches or temples and their surrounding grounds. More unusual are those places that encompass a larger space and may include a topographical featureCa mountain, valley or river. According to Hirsch, "the purest form of potentiality is emptiness itself...sacred sites and places are physically empty or largely uninhabited" (1995, p.4). In their presentation, Costa and Zhao investigate consumption of the American desert as a "sacred space." Located in the American Southwest, the desert includes expanses of sand and large sandstone cliffs, buttes, canyons and bluffs. Costa and Zhao invoke the classic theories of Durkheim (1965/1915) and Hegel (1996/c.1840) in the context of reflective self that produces projected self, not-self, and recognition of society as sacred. Here, the varied encounters of consumers who visit or live in the desert suggest the sparse, arid landscape often evokes notions of the sacred and the sublime. The presenters analyze consumers’ reported thoughts concerning self, the past and the future, and their daily versus their "hoped-for" lives. Consumers also report ritualized behaviors involving the rising and setting of the sun, as well as contemplation of Native American religious beliefs. Experience of the dialectical tension between the desert and the not-desert, between the sacred and the profane, and between self and society, is typical of consumption of the American desert as sacred space.

In describing the changing role of the piano within the space of an Irish shopping center, Maclaran suggests the ways in which objects are representatives ofCand metaphors forCconsumer experiences, interpretations and meanings. In addition, such objects and the places and spaces associated with them can embody identity and identification, in this case of Irish cultural patterns and behaviors, including the well-known Irish talents for music and art. When the objects and design of a space change, not only does the nature of the "place" become different, but the objects themselves take on other meanings and have altered implications for consumption and experience. Thus, as the "old" shopping center was re-designed, the piano was no longer a focal point, and its former role symbolizing transcendence of music and art, separating the center from typical, mundane shopping, and creating a "hyperreal" experience reminiscent of the theatre, concert or opera was circumvented. Thus, as Maclaran’s analysis indicates, place becomes "something both fixed and fleeting" (Richardson 1984, p.1).

All three presentations suggest the significance of both society and the individual in the creation and consumption of place. The identification of a space as "place" taps into extant social discourses (e.g., Costa 1998) but also serves to further the dialectical interactions of culture, society and self in the construction of identity and meaning. Thus, "[place] meanings crystallize into shared symbols and ultimately link people to a sense of common history and individual identity" (Kahn 1996, p. 168). Finally, the association of "place" with the dialectical tensions of sacred and profane, of unusual and of everyday, of past, present and future, of "own culture" with "cultural Other," and of media and individuals/societies in various domains is also illustrated in the presentations.




Gary Bamossy, University of Utah, USA & Vrije Universiteit, The Netherlands

Hester van Herk, Vrije Universiteit, The Netherlands

Anne Marie Velliquette, University of Utah, USA

Second only to Soccer’s World Cup in terms of being a global media sports spectacle, the Olympic Games attracts a world-wide audience of viewers. For the Olympic host city, "being in the spotlight" implies more than just planning and organizing for the smooth running of sporting events. There is no doubt that the host city also wants to "put on its best face" for the world to see during the run-up to the games, a process which increases in intensity beginning approximately eight weeks’ prior to the event and ending with the closing ceremony. While the main focus of the Games is on the athletes’ performances, the Olympics are an event with many important side-shows. The venue for the Games can be seen as two distinct places: The physical space, comprising the terrain, climate, and majestic views of the host’s geography, and the cultural space, comprised of the local, regional, and national contexts. In the case of the Salt Lake City Winter Olympic Games, the national context had an extra dimension of drama, as the U.S. was on the world stage, hosting a global event for the first time since the September 11th 2001 attack. At the local level, Salt Lake City added an extra dimension of discourse to the Games as a host city whose dominant culture of Mormons has long been a curiously viewed sub-culture to other Americans (Twain, 1872), and to the rest of the world.

The focus of this study is on the presentation, representation, and interpretation of the 2002 Games’ physical and cultural spaces. McCracken’s framework on the cultural transfer of meaning (1986) and Kozinet’s model of Consumer-Media Articulations in a Mass Media Culture of Consumption (2001) provide the theoretical frameworks for our analysis. Within these frameworks, we conceptualize three separate but related cultural levels of analyses:

1. The multiple cultures of consumers of the Games (viewers from France, Germany, the U.K., Italy, Denmark, and the U.S.A.)

2. The Culture of the Place/Space Producers (The Western USA, and the local Mormon culture of the host city)

3. The Cultures of the national and international media who provided coverage, commentary, and images of the Games to viewers in their respective countries.

In spite of all the careful planning and pre-event efforts carried out by the local organizing committee, the ultimate presentation and representation of the host city and its citizens are seen through the cultural lens of the global media members, who come from most countries of the world. It is this intersection of the unique local culture, the Western American regional culture, the American National Culture, and the variety of global cultures, represented by the world’s media that provides the focus for this study.

This paper provides three unique data sets to assess the pre- and post-Olympic awareness and images of Salt Lake City as host of the 2002 Winter Olympic Games, of Utah as a state, and of the American West as a region.

1. The first data set is a sample of 2,500 Europeans from five European countries (the U.K., Italy, Germany, France, and the Netherlands), who were surveyed on their awareness and perceptions of Salt Lake City, the state of Utah, and the region of the American West prior to the Winter Games (this "pre-Olympics" study was carried out in 1999).

2. The second data set is a "post-Olympic’ study carried out six months after the 2002 Winter Games, which sampled 2,500 Europeans from the same five countries. These survey respondents were administered the identical survey as in 1999, but the 2002 survey also included measures of media behavior during the Winter 2002 Games, and a measure of behavioral intentions of visiting Salt Lake City as a tourist destination. These two carefully constructed surveys allow for a quantitative measure of the impact that the Salt Lake City Winter Olympic Games had on Europeans’ awareness and perceptions of Salt Lake, the state of Utah, and the American West.

3. The third data set gives meaningful insights into the survey data, and is comprised of several hours of video recordings of the Winter Olympics as it was being broadcast live in five European countries. In addition to the taping in Europe of the Games, video recordings of the U.S. coverage as broadcast on national and Salt Lake City media were also taken (recordings started two weeks prior to the Games, and went through the closing ceremonies). Additionally, magazine and newspaper articles in each country for the same time period, and web publications and photo essays were collected.

The focus of the analyses is on the presentation and representation by global media of the U.S., Utah, Utah’s culture, and Salt Lake City. Using McCracken’s and Kozinet’s models of the movement of meaning and articulations in a mass media culture of consumption, we provide a critical comparison of the data at several levels and across a variety of subject matters relating to the Games.



Janeen Costa, University of Utah, USA

Xin Zhao, University of Utah, USA

Reflective of consumer culture, where individuals typically derive substantial happiness from the possession of material goods, consumers may sacralize virtually any product or service (Belk, Wallendorf and Sherry 1989). However, this form of consumer sacralization is substantially different from that involving the "supernatural," where products are often referred to as "magic," "spiritual" or "religious" (see Arnould and Price 1993; Costa 1998). Focusing on places rather than objects, we address the nature of sacred spaces where consumers believe the supernatural to be (or to have been) present.

Some consumers apprehend and experience the American desert as this type of hallowed space, somewhat similar to the consecrated sites of churches, synagogues and temples, pilgrimage destinations, cemeteries and Indian burial grounds. For example, consumers variously see the desert as a regenerative and rejuvenating "mother Earth," a manifestation of the awesome, ageless sublime (Kover, 1998), the locus of "contagious" divinity derived from Native American religions, and/or as a pilgrimage site, all materialized representations of spiritual forces. In interpreting and understanding their own consumption, they draw upon discourses involving landscape (real, imagined, and produced), past and present Native American Indian life, New Age religion, legends of the American West, and spiritual expressions of the desert embodied in the work of artists such as Georgia O’Keefe or authors like Tony Hillerman (based on Navajo, Pueblo, Zuni cultures) and Carlos Castaneda (delineating Yaqui belief systems). Moreover, consumers experience the desert as a site for reflection and self-analysis, where they can "discover" their basic character, plan for a more "meaningful" life, and experience both God and nature (the latter often seen as the same thing in this context).

Addressing the resultant perceived differences between their "daily" existence and the fragile yet sublime desert life and environment, our informants suggest the significance of dialectical interactions of the profane and the sacred (Durkheim 1965/1915). They first desire, then experience and assess, reject or accept, and finally escape from and/or return to each sphere (the daily profane and the sacred desert) in a continuing pattern of processual consumption wherein profane and sacred mutually define one another. While some consumers desire full immersion in the supernatural and consequently choose to live in the desert, others seek temporary residence and consumption, focusing on liminal/liminoid (Van Gennep 1960; Turner 1969) states that offer both distraction from work and responsibility, as well as rejuvenating preparation to return to these obligations of their quotidian existence. While the temporal dimension differs, however, the meaning-based and discursive characteristics of their consumption are basically the same.

Finally, our data indicate that the dialectical reflection upon and interaction of the individual and society are manifest also in consumption of the desert. Drawing upon personal experience and introspection, as well as contemplation of the dictates, demands, and benefits of urban versus rural society, their consumption suggests fruitful analysis would be based upon both the Hegelian (1996/c.1840) reflexivity of "true" versus "projected" selves and the Durkheimian (1915) dichotomy of self versus not-self, the latter conceptualized as secularized, normative society. Our presentation will utilize multiple media and is based upon data collected through observation, informal and depth interviews of consumers and service providers, assessment of marketing materials and websites, and analysis of literature on space and place.



Pauline Maclaran, De Montfort University, UK

It is not spaces which ground identifications, but places. How then does space become place? By being named: as the flows of power and negotiations of social relations are rendered in the concrete form of architecture; and also, of course, by embodying the symbolic and imaginary investments of a population. Place is space to which meaning has been ascribed. (Carter, Donald and Squires 1993, p. xii)

Potentially, places play an important role in the symbolic and psychical dimensions of our identifications (Carter, Donald and Squires 1993). Casey (1996) highlights how a given place takes on the qualities of its occupants, becoming a complex intertwining of physical, spiritual, cultural and social factors. In this way markets and other retailing milieu, for example shopping centres and malls, contain what Sherry (1990) refers to as a "matrix of energies."

Using the story of a piano to illustrate the dynamics of place in a festival market in Dublin, this paper explores the multiple levelsof symbolic meanings that are inherent in those energies that surround "being-in-the-marketplace" (Sherry 1998, p. 9). As the only musical instrument that is rooted in place, the piano is an especially potent and apposite physical symbol of these marketplace dynamics. Whenever we think of a piano, we are very likely to contextualise it within a particular setting. Moreover, in relation to consumer culture, the piano epitomised the successful development of mass-marketing techniques in the nineteenth century. Due to the evolution of consumer credit, it transcended socio-cultural boundaries, and no Victorian parlour was considered respectable without one (Ehrlich 1975).

This particular story is about a piano in the Powerscourt Townhouse Centre in Dublin, a piano that became invested with a multiplicity of meanings as the centre underwent a radical, and highly unpopular, refurbishment. Prior to this modernization, three levels of retail outlets were grouped around an atrium-enclosed courtyard, the majority of which were specialist arts, crafts and designer goods. Rising up from the courtyard was a stage for cultural events with a grand piano to provide special recitals and enhance the centre’s ambience. After the refurbishment, the emphasis changed from arts and crafts to high street retailing, and the piano was no longer a focal point. I draw on findings from a major ethnographic study conducted over a two-year period in the centre to illustrate the meanings that were created by consumers and retailers alike in relation to these changing dynamics of place. In this presentation I will highlight the ways in which the physical setting, as represented by the piano, interacted with the consumer imagination in the centre and how spiritual, cultural and social meanings became interwoven in a complex and mutually interdependent web.

For example, in relation to spiritual aspects, the piano symbolised for consumers the transcendent effects of music and the arts, associations that prior to the refurbishment had been a key part of the Powerscourt experience. In turn these associations also reflected important cultural aspects of the Irish psyche that were seen as being represented by the centre through its arts and crafts. This feeling of transcendence was subsequently lost in the centre’s new emphasis on high street fashion. At an additional cultural level the piano epitomised the nature of postmodern consumer culture, and the search for the future in the past. The central space in which the piano sat was not simply a "conspicuous and scandalous waste of space" (Ferguson 1992, p. 31), but an integral part of the shopping experience in Powerscourt. This space was one devoted to stimulating the consumer imagination, and conveyed meanings that far outweighed narrow, economic calculations and considerations. Even when it remained unplayed, the piano created an air of expectancy and anticipation, creating a hyperreal ambience that reminded consumers of the theatre (Maclaran and Stevens 1998), the concert hall and the opera house. It thereby simulated a more cultured environment, one that was very much removed from the mundanities of shopping.

At a social level the story of the piano in Powerscourt mirrored the rise and fall of consumer engagement with the centre and the utopianism inherent therein. For Dublin consumers, the piano in Powerscourt represented a corner that remained unsullied by the modern environment. It lent a sense of continuity and security in terms of the tradition it was able to evoke for them. Yet, in that very tradition and its association with past grandeur and nobler aspirations, it was able to transcend the immediate present and act as a symbol for critiquing the present, namely the over-commercialization of the rest of Dublin. Consumers associated the loss of the piano with a capitulation to wider market forces. These wider market forces were associated in turn with an impending loss of Irish identity in the face of increasing globalization and the encroachment of the British High Street with its uniformly bland chain stores. Ironically when it first opened as a festival marketplace, Powerscourt had been perceived as part of an Anglo-Irish heritage that was now freely accessible to the Irish people (Maclaran and Brown 2000). Given its history, a piano in this context was a particularly appropriate symbol to denote this mass accessibility to a previously elitist culture. However, in a further ironic twist of fate, Powerscourt revisits its colonial past with the domination of the British chain store, FCUK, over its entrance.


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Janeen Arnold Costa, University of Utah, USA
Gary J. Bamossy, University of Utah, USA and Vrije Universiteit, The Netherlands


E - European Advances in Consumer Research Volume 6 | 2003

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