Emergent Understanding of Relationships Among Consumption, Production, and the Family


Deborah D. Heisley (1994) ,"Emergent Understanding of Relationships Among Consumption, Production, and the Family", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 21, eds. Chris T. Allen and Deborah Roedder John, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 253.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 21, 1994      Page 253


Deborah D. Heisley, UCLA

Although the individual is the focus of most consumer research, the family is recognized by consumer behavior researchers as incredibly important. Most consumer research on the family addresses a priori hypothesized relationships between the family and consumption, focuses on pre-purchase decision making, and frequently misses the contextual richness of the family.

This session presents three empirical papers. Each project uses a qualitative, emergent methodology to attain a rich, complex understanding of consumption and production within the context of households and kinship structures. By focusing on the intergenerational transfer of goods, the American Indian arts and crafts industry, and VCR usage, these papers explicate the complex relationships that occur between consumption, production, and the people that construct and maintain meaning within families.

The first paper, "Structural Dimensions of the Inter-generational Transfer of Possessions," by Deborah D. Heisley, Deborah Cours, and Melanie Wallendorf, concentrates on the intergenerational transfer of goods. Seventeen in-depth interviews indicate that three general models are used by individuals or families to determine the flow of goods through the kinship structure. These models are termed the "immortality of self" model, the "family ties" model, and the "status enhancement of self" model. The immortality of self model and the status enhancement of self model focus on the goods, while the family ties model emphasizes the family relationships that are symbolized by the goods. Each model embraces the complex relationship of several factors. Examples are given of several of the factors operating in each model. When family members employ different models, conflict can occur.

The second paper, "Family Businesses and Recursive Relationships: The Impact of Production and Consumption of Family Structure," by Elisabeth Gilster examines family businesses, specifically the impact of family relationships on industrial consumption activities and of business activities on family structure. Ethnographic data from producers and intermediaries in the Navajo jewelry industry indicate that working with family is generally good for business. Family members foster learning, cooperation, and mutual trust. Being in business together has the effect of strengthening family bonds, but it also creates strains on family relationships. The resultant family situation is likely to have some impact on future industrial consumption activities.

The third paper, "The Family VCR: Ordinary Family Life With a Common Textual Product," by Thomas C. O'Guinn, Timothy Meyer, and Mary McNeil, reports the findings of a study of family consumer behavior as it relates to a common family product, the videocassette recorder. Participant observation, in-depth interviews, viewing questionnaires, and diaries were used in six households for periods from four months to eight years. Their findings indicate a largely individualistic family role structure, strongly influenced by gender and domain authority. They also find the family VCR strongly situated within interpretive communities, with the production and consumption of text an essential aspect of the socially embedded behavior they sought to explore. Finally, they note a distinct disparity between observed and self reported data.

This session goes beyond the typical focus on the interaction of family members surrounding purchase decisions. The focus is on the importance of the kinship structure and the household on negotiating meaning within the complex production and consumption activities which families and households engage in. Emergent, qualitative approaches capture the richness and complexities of these experiences.



Deborah D. Heisley, UCLA


NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 21 | 1994

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