On Being an Informant on the Consumer Behavior Odyssey


Bernard J. Jaworski and Deborah J. MacInnis (1991) ,"On Being an Informant on the Consumer Behavior Odyssey", in SV - Highways and Buyways: Naturalistic Research from the Consumer Behavior Odyssey, eds. Russell Belk, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 34-47.

Highways and Buyways: Naturalistic Research from the Consumer Behavior Odyssey, 1991     Pages 34-47


Bernard J. Jaworski

Deborah J. MacInnis

The paper represents a retrospective analysis and interpretation of our experiences as informants on the Consumer Behavior Odyssey Project. The data for this analysis consists of four forms: our field notes, the videotape of our interview, recollections of the experience beyond the field notes, and emotion/cognition triggered by an analysis of the experience. Various topics are discussed including (1) the mechanics of the interview, (2) reactions to the interview, and (3) reflections on the experience one-and-a-half years later.


Approximately a year and a half has passed since we were interviewed by the Consumer Behavior Odyssey researchers. At the time our field notes revealed that the interview was an enjoyable "consumption" experience, the topics covered were diverse, and the emotions that surfaced during the interview were considerable. We still share these views today. The purpose of this chapter is to document the types of thoughts /emotions that surfaced during the interview, provide a retrospective commentary/interpretation of the interview, and raise a few issues concerning the conduct of future naturalistic investigations. While the context of the chapter is novel, both Loud (1974) and Mullen (1935) have reported their reactions to documentaries concerning their lives and/or social environments. Hence our reactions to the process are not novel.

Prior to a discussion of these issues it is worthwhile to consider the motivation for this chapter. First and foremost the intent of this article is to provide a glimpse of Consumer Behavior Odyssey data collection from the perspective of the informant. We consider the type of questions asked, the style of interviewing, the structural arrangements of the group, the interaction of Odyssey members and other issues. Second, we hope that novel issues concerning the process of naturalistic data collection surface.

One additional issue is worth raising before we turn to substantive concerns. During the week that the Consumer Behavior odyssey was in our home area, we assumed multiple roles on the project. Initially, we served as "site coordinators". Basically, this involved identifying research sites that best matched the interests of the group. For example, we identified ethnic neighborhoods, areas that were recently flooded, and outdoor markets. The researchers then selected a subset of sites to target. A few days later we were interviewed by Russ Belk and, to a lesser extent, other Odyssey members. The day following the interview we traveled with the Odyssey to a nearby Polish festival. Since we had limited field experience, we felt most comfortable assuming secondary roles. That evening, in an trailer park, we were "autodriven" by Russ Belk and Melanie Wallendorf (i.e., we saw the tape recording of the interview at our home). We believe our reactions to the autodrive process were recorded at the time.

In order to adequately address our roles as informants, we divide the paper into three basic sections. In the first section, we consider structural issues related to the interview, such as the types of questions asked, the nature of the interview, and the roles of Odyssey members. The second section focuses on our reactions during and immediately following the interview. Here we discuss our feelings about the topics covered and the range of questioning. The third section considers our reflections on the experience after reviewing the videotape of the interview one-and-a-half years later. This section represents our responses to the videotape.


The Odyssey is coming, the Odyssey is coming! Bernie vividly remembers this long, bulky recreation vehicle pulling up to the curb in our tree-lined, lower-middle class neighborhood. While the sight of this RV was quite unusual, parking the vehicle proved to be quite a challenge. After squeezing into a spot, out jumped Russ Belk, Joe Cote, Rick Pollay and Melanie Wallendorf. The first thing Bernie noticed was the energy and enthusiasm of the group. He remembers commenting on how much energy, drive and enthusiasm they had -especially after several weeks on the road. Privately, he also recalls mentioning to Debbie that he was surprised by their collective demeanor noting that he was not sure he could have maintained their level of intensity and goal-directedness after living and maintaining such an active, unusual lifestyle.

Relatively early in the process, we reached the conclusion that Melanie and Russ played a dominant role in site and topic selection. Several reasons may have accounted for this role. First, they were the driving force behind the Odyssey and were the only researchers to have traveled with the Odyssey from its beginning in Los Angeles. Relatedly, we quickly gained the impression that their research agenda was developing and focusing as the Odyssey moved East. Hence, their notions of appropriate research sites, participants and topics were perhaps more developed than Joe's or Rick's.

Before describing the actual interview, we should put the interview in its appropriate context. The interview was held on Thursday, July 24, one day following Bernie's dissertation defense and two days following Debbie's dissertation defense. We were both working on the final revisions of our dissertations. Our apartment was in the process of being dismantled for the move to Arizona. Many pieces of furniture were being, or had been sold to other graduate students in the business school. We were planning to have a tag sale to sell of the remaining possessions on Sunday, July 27th. On Monday July 28th, a fellow graduate student was going to move in with us. She was scheduled to take over our apartment after we moved to Arizona. Because her lease had expired she either had to stay with us or sleep on the streets. Since the latter alternative was clearly unacceptable, we had an unexpected houseguest during this very hectic time. It was strange though, because her presence made us feel like we were being rushed out of the apartment. Graduation was the following Saturday (August 2nd) and both sets of parents were coming to visit for several days. We were planning to fly to Arizona on August 8th along with our dog and two cats. The movers who were taking the stuff we had planned to keep were coming between graduation day and August 7th. Needless to say, it was a rather hectic time.

The Set-Up

The process of setting up all the audiovisual equipment took Russ and Joe several minutes. First, the video camera needed to be set-up with a tripod. Next the tape needed to be positioned and the microphone attached. Joe assumed the role of cameraperson, Russ was to lead the interview, Melanie was floating throughout the apartment, and Rick arrived a few minutes into the interview. We sat on the floor near Russ while Keisha (our dog or "baby substitute") stayed near us for most of the interview.

The Interview

The interview covered a number of diverse topics. While Russ seemed to have a set of research questions in mind, they were not 'Visibly' apparent to us. That is, he did not have a note pad with questions nor did he seem to "force" the discussion to make sure certain topics were discussed. However, he did probe for more details when certain issues were raised. The general pattern appeared to be to touch upon a given topic (i.e., planned acquisitions after assuming roles as faculty members), discuss some details related to the role transition, and move onto a new topic. The new topic typically was related in some way to the old topic. For example, after discussing planned purchases in Arizona, we discussed joint decision making and then joint research. Bernie's field notes reflected both the process and the number of topics. He noted:

The interview was semi-directed. Although Russ clearly had an agenda, it was also clear that he was willing to diverge from it should some interesting comment or side issues arise. In general, I had no problem with the content of the interview or with the style of questioning....

Concerning the topics covered, he noted:

A number of diverse topics were covered including our role transition, planned purchases, possessions we were planning to sell, images about [our] new role as faculty members, land] the purchase of our new automobile....

In addition to the questions asked by Russ, Joe and Rick also asked a few questions. These questions were always framed in the context of Russ's questioning. Often they required us to elaborate or provide more detailed information. To provide some perspective on the types of questions asked, the direction of questioning and the flow of the interview, we have provided a rough sketch of the interview schedule in the Appendix.

Russ assumed a very casual interviewing approach. His approach seemed to be more of a friendly, "I'd like to get to know you" style as compared to a confrontation or mechanized form of interviewing. To get a feel for the process, we thought it appropriate to report a verbatim excerpt from the interview. Given space limitations and the difficulty in transcribing interviews (e.g. this excerpt took 3 hours to transcribe), we have selected a three to four minute discussion of "selling our Chevette".

Debbie: ..you know, the same thing happened with the car... We have a 1979 Chevy Chevette that has 150,000 miles on it, ..so it's not exactly.. the...it's not

Russ: Now is that going too? to Arizona?

Debbie: That's being sold..

Bernie: No.

Russ: O.K But you just bought a new Camry?

Bernie: Yes.

Debbie: Right. But that's in Arizona.

Russ: Oh. OK .. You got it there..

Bernie: We bought it there.

Debbie: We bought it in Arizona.

Russ: Have you seen it yet? The actual car?

Bernie: No.

Debbie: No. Not the actual car.

Bernie: Yes. But we sort of knew what we were getting..We got out there, we got to the dealership we argued.. finagled-and everything else and we ordered it..The only thing is that we were not sure what the color it would be..because they gave us some choices..

Russ: O.K. so if you do not get the new car until you get there and you sold ... you're selling the old one here.. How do you get there and how does your furniture get there?

Bernie: O.K. we're leaving here on the 8th of August..We're flying out.. I'm giving my car to the person we sold it to on or about the 6th or 7th.. When we arrive on the 8th, the person... the bank where I got the loan.. I got to know the guy on the phone, .. he is going to pick me up at the airport.

Russ: O.K. that is good.

Bernie: ..and drive me over... and we will have the car that day ... So it is only a one or two day period where we won't have a car.. and I'll just borrow..down below there are some graduate students... and I'll just use their car..for that day or two.

Russ: Oh O.K.

Bernie: But to finish Debbie's thought there..Is that we were selling this car..even though it has 150,000 miles on it.. I have done a lot of work on it..The body is in very good condition, .. so I mean Its not..its something where if you spent let's say six or seven hundred dollars I know it would last for several at least for a few years ... enough for a sort of a graduate student hack car.

Debbie: [says something we can't make out]

Russ: uh huh.

Bernie: It turns out that our neighbor next door here ... was working-and he came over and said I have someone who I work with who would be interested in your car ... Sol went to see this guy and it turns out he is a fellow who has a family with I think he has about six kids..He looks to be about thirty..

Debbie: He's a security guard ... [stops as Bernie interrupts.]

Bernie: He's a security guard ... He's ah..back-.. I'm not sure what education he has but my feeling is that he doesn't have a lot so I sold it to him for 450 dollars and I felt pretty good about it because I feel like, you know the car let's say I could have gotten 700 ... I'm not sure but let's throw that number out ... I felt good about giving it to this guy for 450... and I didn't feel like I was ripping him off at all ... I mean I felt like you know 450.. [we miss some of the verbatim because Joe has to change to new tape] and all of a sudden he buys it...I didn't misrepresent anything... exactly what had been done what worked ..what he was getting into ... The nice thing about it is that he really loved the car ... he took it around ... went to get his wife and loaded three of the kids in the car and went driving around for about an hour and a half .. and he loved it ... I felt so good about it ... You know I wish I. I wish I had a little bit ... even if we had a couple thousand in the bank, I would have said listen, just keep the car ... it would have made me feel really good.

Debbie: In fact we were thinking that if we didn't sell the car there's a couple of people we have met around here just through walking our dog that are not real well off.

Bernie: For example, we walk through this cemetery each day and take our dog for a walk.. And there is this guy over there his name is Bud and I don't know what he earns for an income, but I'd say maybe 5 or 6 dollars and hour plus he has a house on the grounds. But he simply doesn't [have much. He had to] take a part-time job..He is a very bright guy, .. no formal education... I was saying to Debbie it would be nice if we had a few thousand in the bank and simply bring the car over and say here, take it.

While this excerpt of the interview lends itself to various interpretations, our primary concern is to illustrate the types of questions and responses. The only other significant structure-oriented dimension of the interview concerned Keisha's constant demands for affection. Frequently this interrupted the flow of conversion.

After the interview itself, we were asked to walk around the apartment and talk about our "stuff'. We talked about what had been in the room (some of it had been sold to other grad students), what was left, and whether we were, taking it or selling it. The entire interview lasted approximately 2 hours. After the interview we all went to a Vietnamese restaurant, in part, to celebrate the defense of our dissertations.


Early Friday morning we began a trek to the nearby Polish festival after a few hours of data collection in the city. At some point during the next two days we had the opportunity to record our reactions to the interview using the PC's in the recreation vehicle. Below we report verbatim our field notes concerning our reactions to the interview.

Bernie's Reactions to the Interview:

... The interview was fun. It was anenjoyable 'consumption' experience.... I would be willing to bet that many of the interviewees would consider the interview [to be enjoyable].

I really didn't like to talk about the car purchase. I thought we were ripped-off and it was not easy to share the experience. It brought back the same feelings all over again.... I would guess that the interviews bring out strong affect. Many of the topics discussed are not "light"; rather they are very personal... A lot of emotion is expended in the course of the interview..

... at a few points I thought that Russ might be trying to get "more data" or "read more into situations" than the situation allowed. I couldn't help but think I don't process certain things deeply. For example, the two bureaus we were giving to our landlord /neighbor/friends did not have a tremendous amount of meaning...even though they were my grandmother's. When Russ began to question us, only then did I begin to consider their sentimental value. Up to that point I never really thought about it. That is, on a day-to-day basis I don't even think about them. It is only in situations where you are given a choice of saying "keep" or "sell" that you consider their value...

I couldn't help but notice that Melanie was not in the room. At one point I thought she might be scouting our possessions .... In situations where the individual is being interviewed, but some of the group 'interviewers' leave or do not pay attention, I wonder what the interviewee thinks..

Debbie's Immediate Reactions to the Interview.

I really enjoyed being interviewed. It was fun talking to Russ about our experiences. I noticed, however, that he had a tendency to say "Oh Okay"in response to our comments. I wondered several times during the interview what he meant by that. Did it mean Oh, OK, I know what you mean. Or was it, OK, I have to acknowledge what they said, even though I'm not getting any real meat here. Or, was it OK I have no idea what you guys are talking about, let me try to direct it somehow.

I felt the interview made me learn a lot of things about myself. For example, I never really realized how much I do treasure my office space, and how I really do feel that Bernie violates it when he comes in there. In fact, now that I think about it, whenever he comes into my office I always ask, "What do you want"; as if to say, why are you here? The thing is that I realize I'm selfish with my office space, but I have no motivation to change it.

I also realized how much of our stuff is related to special occasions, friends, places, etc. Pictures, decorative items are all tied to those we have known. We have always had some close friends wherever we have been. Having things they have given us around is as much a confirmation of our friendship with them as it is a recognition of where we have been... Of our roots. When we remember them, we remember ourselves.

I am really puzzled by the fact that we have a lot of stuff that I really dislike and think is ugly, but that I still hate to sell. For example, why will I feel upset if we only get $100 for our upholstered living room furniture when I really hate the stuff? We talked about the sacred-profane notion. Added to that is an equity notion, I think. It's like saying,"Look, I paid $1200 for this stuff. It's still in reasonable condition. It's worth at least $2001" The feeling involved in the whole selling of personal possessions issue is very complex. I'm having a very difficult time articulating it. Some might be: (1) the actual value of the stuff itself in some sort of objective sense (2) the feeling of personal identification (I really like this thing-, it's me) (3) The feeling of instrumental identification (I had a lot of experiences in which this thing was involved, (even though I don't like it), but you look at it as just an object). In other words, you don't know the history of this thing in terms of its relevance to my life.

The fact that the interview was a learning experience to me was interesting and somewhat positive. But I'm worried whether other people find out negative things about themselves through the interview. What are the ethical implications of this?

Our only regret in writing this section is that we wish we had more detail in our field notes. Bernie recalls typing his field notes on the way back home from the Polish festival. In addition to trying to figure out Word Perfect, he recalls being under time pressure to get the thoughts on paper before arriving back in the city. Debbie remembers being carsick from writing and reading her notes while in the moving RV. As a result, she couldn't write as much as she would have liked. Immediately after we returned home was had to begin the process of getting ready for our tag sale.


Debbie's Reactions to the Interview

a. Reactions to Watching Myself.

One of the first things that struck me was how different I looked. I seem to have aged considerably in a short year and a half. I was amazed at how I talk and what my laugh sounds like. I was also acutely aware of my nonverbal responses during the interview; the fact that I often sat with my arms folded or hugging my knees (perhaps indicating some trepidation and self-consciousness about the process of being interviewed and/or filmed), the fact that I talk with my hands, that when I'm thinking about something I don't maintain eye-contact with the individual, and the fact that I play with my hair a lot (another nervous gesture?). None of these things were very pleasant. The process of watching the tape was somewhat painful.

b. Reactions to the Interview Process.

I became acutely aware of the fact that despite my nonverbal defenses against being interviewed, the process was quite conversational and relaxed. Bernie was just about lying down on the floor and was his usual animated self. We were clearly not hesitant about talking, and our answers to Russ' questions were quite frank. I wondered whether this was a factor attributable to Russ' interviewing savvy, or whether we simply felt comfortable with him due to our similar status as academies, our understanding of the kinds of things the Odyssey was studying, and/or the fact that we were so burnt out from finishing our dissertations and would have talked to anybody about anything.

Despite the fact that Bernie and I spent most of the two hours doing the talking (we hardly let Russ get a word in edge-wise), I remember feeling frustrated over the fact that we brushed over many topics that we would have liked to talk about in greater depth. We could have gone on and on about any one of the major areas we talked about: transition imagery, product dispositions, the car buying process. And we wanted to do so. More in-depth discussions would have left me more satisfied. I just didn't get the feeling that I had "told all" and really given them an idea about various aspects of our lives. As an interviewee there was a real desire on my part to make sure the response was fully explicated.

c. Reactions to the Interview Content.

Emotions. Watching the tape brought back a lot of memories, most of which produced considerable anxiety: the stress of finishing our dissertations, the fact that our house was being torn up and our possessions given away, the potential problem of two sets of parents visiting for several days for our graduation, worry over teaching once we got to Tucson, distress over the fact that we felt we had gotten ripped-off in our car purchase, wonder over how we were going to make ends meet financially until we got our first paycheck, fear that Keisha (our "baby substitute" dog), and Humphrey and Boo Boo (our cats) wouldn't make it to Tucson alive after traveling in the baggage compartment of the plane for seven hours, and distress over leaving some very good friends. It was a tense time, and there it was, relived on film! It was awful! The autodriving technique is a very powerful one for reliving experiences. I started to wonder what the autodrive technique might be like to those people interviewed by the Odyssey members who had really been through some traumatic experiences; such as the flood victims. Perhaps the re-creation of the emotion would cause them a tremendous amount of negative emotion, and bring back memories they would have wanted to put behind them.

Aside from the emotional re-experiencing of the time in which the interview was conducted, I also teamed a lot about my consumption behavior by watching the tape. Interestingly, some of these things were not apparent to me while we were interviewing. This point also raises the important issue of field note recording. Several of the issues raised in my field notes I had completely forgotten.

The Meaning of Possessions. The meaning of possessions was a dominant theme in our conversation, which was natural since were in the process of either packing up or selling our stuff. Several interesting things about our possessions became apparent as I watched the interview. I realized that I tend to personify some of my things. For example, I talked in the interview about "rescuing" a table of my grandfather's (that later became my desk in college) from an old garage. When talking about fixing up some of our old pieces of furniture, I talked about "revitalizing" them.

The dispositions of our possessions were also symbolic of our transition. I remember that while we were not planning to take most of our furniture with us, because it was too expensive to move, it was not very good (graduate student furniture), and because I hated some of it, I felt like I was giving away kittens when we sold it. You know you can't keep them, but it's still sad to give them away. Here had been a family or collection of pieces that had represented the center of our existence for at least four years, and we were breaking it up. It was the most concrete signal of the transition. It represented the break up of a stage of my life. Not that I didn't want to move on and stop being a graduate student! But I had bittersweet feelings about the transition. We were leaving some good times behind and moving to an unknown situation.

Related to the above is the notion that selling our possessions at the tag sale was difficult because people just picked over them and treated them as things, just somebody else's junk. It was junk, but it was my junk, and I resented the fact that people couldn't see it in its context of my life. Some possessions have real meaning in terms of self-history or self-identity, regardless of their aesthetic or functional value. I hated haggling over the price. It was making something that had a role in my personal history a simple exchange good that was going to a stranger. I would rather have just given it to somebody than to haggle over the price.

Catharsis. At the same time there was almost a thrill of getting rid of some things. It represented change and an acknowledgment that we were making a transition; that things were going to be different. It was exciting! It was also great to get rid of things I had hated for so long; Things that were ugly (I hated our living room furniture), things that didn't work right, or were so pathetically out of style. I remember being embarrassed about having such awful clothes in grad school and saying that I couldn't wait to put them in a pile and light a match to them.

Poor as we were, we had accumulated quite a bit of things since we were married, and it was exciting to pare down to only the essentials. I stated in the interview that I was worried that once we started working we would buy too much stuff simple because we had the "means" (i.e., the money). I was worried because I didn't want to become overloaded. I didn't want to drown in the things I had purchased. Luckily, I had overestimated the "means" we would actually have left over for discretionary purchases. Although in this year and a half we have acquired a house, furnishings, and new clothes, we haven't yet had to deal with the problem of becoming overloaded.

Giving. We felt like we were incredibly fortunate to be moving on to a better, more lucrative lifestyle, and because we had that opportunity, we wanted to give our stuff to people who were not as fortunate as us (i.e., people in our neighborhood who didn't have much, other grad students). it made us feel really good. First, we were sure that the stuff went to a place where it would be welcomed, appreciated and needed. Second, we wanted to feel like we were helping out people who had and still have tough times; something for people who deserve a break in life.

Gifts as Symbols of People. I realized that many of the things we were taking were gifts (artwork, wedding gifts) given by friends or very close relatives. While not all of these things represented my most favorite possessions, it was unthinkable to get rid of them. It would be like throwing your friendship away. For example, we moved a painting by my grandmother of a bunch of flowers in a vase. It's not very good by artistic standards, and neither Bernie nor I like it very much as a piece of art. But it was a part of her. She died this past year. I'm glad I have It.

Imagery. I suppose it should come as no surprise to hear this from me, of all people, but our future plans were so obviously filled with imagery. Anticipatory imagery makes up such a huge part of our consumption experiences. ours were so rich and developed. And we built upon each other's imagery every time we talked about some aspect of our transition. Some of our images were so incredibly unrealistic, and we looked back and laughed at them when we watched the tape. For example, we felt that in the evenings after teaching and research we would have time to prepare gourmet meals, drink fine wine, and listen to music. I think we have done this once or twice in the past year and a half. However, the images were necessary and they were a definite part of the planning process, realized or not.

Complex Decision Making- Although I had not realized it at the time, watching the tape made me realize the very complex nature of the car purchase decision making process. In part, the process was one we savored, since it represented the realization of a fantasy for us (a new car--after driving the old Chevette), and because it represented a break from working on our dissertations. So maybe we made it more complex that it needed to have been. In part, It was a complex process because we bought the car in Arizona rather than where we were living. Word of mouth influence from friends was perhaps the dominant information source, followed up by information from nonpersonal, non-marketer dominated sources (e.g., Consumer Reports) and then literature provided by the dealership. We did everything we could to avoid talking to the salespeople. It's as though we felt they had absolutely no credibility because they had such a great incentive to try to sell us a car. Their hard sell tactics are just too much! We wanted to run every time we walked into a dealership (we had the same feeling every time we talked to a realtor when we were searching for a house after we moved to Tucson). We enjoyed the search aspects of the process and certainly did not view them as burdensome or costly in any way. It was the actual buying (negotiating) and financing (payment) process that engendered all the bad feelings.

Space as a Consumption Good. Bernie mentioned on tape that my office at home was regarded as a "sacred" place that he wasn't allowed to enter unless he had some work related activities to talk about. Things really haven't changed. I now have a home office in our new house and I still hate to be bothered when I'm in there. The violation of a "possession" known as space was also apparent in our reactions to the new tenant moving into our apartment. We had gotten to know her through graduate school, and while she was a wonderful, pleasant person, we both felt her presence and her stuff in what was ,.our" apartment was a true violation of our space. I would imagine that needs for space rank quite high in the needs hierarchy for some consumers. It is an interesting consumption domain, but to my knowledge, under-researched. It is also interesting to note that our perspectives on space have changed. It is interesting to note that during the inter-view process we noted that the sabbatical house were renting was large (1600 sq. feet). That amount of living space seems small to us now.

Bernie's Reaction to the Interview

a. Reactions to Watching Myself

I agree with Debbie, watching oneself interact with others or discuss life experiences is an interesting experience. Actually, I didn't dwell on my physical features when I watched the tape for the first time. However, several other things shocked me. First, I couldn't believe how much I interrupt Debbie. She barely had a chance to talk when were discussing certain topics. In the course of everyday conversation I don't think I do this as frequently. However. when I get excited about a topic, then I seem to bulldoze through the issues. 'Me second thing I noticed was how much I use my hands to discuss or illustrate points. While this might be somewhat interesting in its own right, the thing that struck me is how much my mannerisms, movements and hand gestures resemble my father's. The last point that I found surprising was the speed at which I talk. My students sometimes complain about how fast I talk. I now know exactly what they are talking about - particularly since I attempted to transcribe a few minutes of the conversation.

b. Reactions to the Interview Process.

I had the same reactions to the interview as Debbie. Namely, I wanted to hear us talk more about different aspects of our life at that time. In retrospect, it was a very stressful time. However, a number of interesting things were happening - I now wish we had the time to say more (or perhaps were given the time to go into more detail). Actually, I would be willing to bet this feeling would be representative of those informants who discussed their collections. I'm sure that when they are autodriven that they feel they did not provide enough detail for a listener to pick up the subleties of the collection. More importantly, I would think that the collector would want to hear himself/herself talk about things that are very important to him/her.

c. Reactions to the Interview Content.

Emotion. Similarly to Debbie, I also thought a great deal of emotion was expended in the course of the interview. It vividly brought back some terrible experiences ( the course loads, buying a car, having no money) and some great experiences (defending the dissertation, selling/ "giving" the Chevette away, reflecting on friendships). Perhaps the most vivid emotion concerns the purchasing of the new car. To this day I can still recall the negotiation process and the feeling that we were ripped-off during the financing. It pains me to write about it. On the other hand, the interview brought back some very pleasant memories. For example, it was great to relive the old apartment. We worked exclusively at home during graduate school and it was nice to tour the apartment by watching the film.

One other point is worth mentioning. In the course of watching the video, I had the opportunity to observe Debbie. It was obvious that the tape brought back a great deal of emotion for her - it was etched on her face. Every time that Keisha appeared on the TV screen, Debbie smiled.

Financial Theme. One overarching theme covered virtually every topic discussed: money. I simply could not believe how much money- or lack thereof- influenced the way we saw the world at that time. For example, in selling the Chevette, I remember being disappointed that I could not give the car to the security guard. He and his wife loved the car - as did his kids. But we needed the 450 dollars at that time. The sad epilogue to the story is that he could not come up with the money to pay for the car. As a result I sold it to another security guard working at the same church. As it turned out the person I sold it to would also be classified as part of the lower or under class. I feel great that I could sell it to him. I often wonder if the car is still running. I hope so.

The financial theme found its way into a number of other topics. For example, we talked about joining a health club in Tucson, purchasing new clothes, being about to go our to dinner, shopping for groceries, imagery related to purchase and buying an airline seat for the dog. Obviously, when one discusses consumer behavior, financial concerns are frequently at the forefront. However, in our case, it seemed to dominate many of the topics. I suppose it makes some sense since graduate school provides a weird mix - a great deal of intellectual stimulation on the one hand and material poverty on the other.

I forgot. There were several topics that were discussed that I completely forgot. Even with some "cued recall," I still would not have remembered them if I did not see the tape. For example, at the start of the interview, I was discussing my ideas for a "auction of belongings" by invitation only to the graduate students at the business school. I thought it would be a good way to sell the furniture and at the same time give these students/friends a good deal. We were not out to make a great deal of money. I'm not sure why we chose not to follow through on it. This is but one example of things we discussed that I would not have recalled. Obviously, this simple example illustrates the importance of recording field notes immediately after returning from data collection activities.

Ftiends. It was very sad to talk about some of the people who we knew then. The cemetery caretaker - Bud - is one person who comes to mind. For the three years we lived in that apartment, we took Keisha for a walk 4 times a day - every day of the year. Ninety-five percent of the walks were through the cemetery so that Keisha would not have to be on a leash. As one might expect, we struck up a causal friendship with Bud while were on our walks through the cemetery. More often than not the conversation was about the weather, cutting the grass, or cemetery politics. Nothing very heavy. Yet, we saw him almost everyday. I really wanted to give him a present for allowing us to so freely walk undisturbed on his turf (there were leash laws/signs all around). I regret to this day that we forgot to say goodbye and did not leave him some small token of our appreciation. Unfortunately, it is sad to think that he is probably still plodding away with very few financial rewards and appreciation - even though he takes his job very seriously.

The interview also triggered memories about graduate students who were in our cohort or are still in school. Fortunately, we have kept in touch with a number of these friends. There is no question that graduate school builds some type of bond between peers. I kiddingly tell Debbie it must be like being combat buddies. There is no way to communicate the experience that was shared. Only by passing through the experience at the same time -sharing the highs and lows- could one truly appreciate the effort.

The Car. I hate to talk about the car purchase. Interestingly, each month as we pay the bill, we are reminded of the experience. We are also reminded as we (1) bring the car in for routine service (thank God it hasn't required any repairs), (2) drive by the dealership, (3) talk with friends about their new car purchase and (4) budget for each month's expenses. Melanie and Russ - please do not follow up on this purchase!


The good news is that we have settled into our new home in Arizona and currently we enjoy a very comfortable life. Interestingly our normal routine is not much different from graduate school- except that we now have to teach.

The dog and cats survived the plane trip to Arizona. We tried to buy Keisha a seat on the plane but the airlines wouldn't let us. Fortunately it was a one-way, direct flight so the probability of losing them was slim. They seemed to have settled into the warm Arizona climate quite nicely. Our only concern is that coyotes live in our rather untamed neighborhood so we need to make sure everyone is inside the house after dark. Given the importance of our animals in our lives, it should come as no surprise to learn that one of our first purchases in the new house was the construction of a five foot tall wall that enclosed the back yard so that our "babies" could be protected from coyotes, tarantulas, rattlesnakes and other creatures of the desert.

On the consumption front we have begun to lessen the burdens of graduate school poverty. Much to Debbie's delight, we have managed not to over-consume, although this is probably because the domains in which we want to consume are so broad. Although the first few months were spent shopping for reasonable clothes (i.e., beyond T-shirts and scruffy jeans), we now have a wardrobe that is not comprised entirely of pregraduate school attire.

We have also furnished our bedroom, kitchen, family room and two home offices. As one might expect, Debbie's office was fully furnished about 3 or 4 months before Bernie's. We still have a way to go, however, we are making progress. Interestingly, the "financial theme" still tends to worm its way into our lives. With a new house that needs a lot of work we somehow never seem to have enough money. We also seem to be extremely goal directed in our consumption habits. The house has become an area of achievement of sorts. We are always planning to get this or that "done", as if the completion of the project marks some sort of achievement. Interestingly too, our home, reflects more of us personally than any other house in which we have lived. Our financial means have allowed us this pleasure. We think we are all set for Melanie or Russ to begin to follow-up on purchases related to role transitions!


Loud, Pat (1974), Pat Loud: A Woman's Story, New York: Coward, McCann and Georghegan.

Mullen, Pat (1935), Man of Aran, New York: E. P. Dutton Co.






Bernard J. Jaworski
Deborah J. MacInnis


SV - Highways and Buyways: Naturalistic Research from the Consumer Behavior Odyssey | 1991

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