Special Session Summary the Poetics and Politics of Place: Spatialized Aspects of Consumption Behavior


Siok Kuan Tambyah and Maura Troester (1999) ,"Special Session Summary the Poetics and Politics of Place: Spatialized Aspects of Consumption Behavior", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 26, eds. Eric J. Arnould and Linda M. Scott, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 270.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 26, 1999      Page 270



Siok Kuan Tambyah, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Maura Troester, University of Wisconsin-Madison

This special session investigates the unique dynamics that occur when place and consumption activities intersect. In recent years, there is an increasing attention to the spatialization of social theory (Harvey 1993; Soja 1989), and a call to address the time-space constitution of social structures (Giddens 1984; Thrift 1983). In the field of consumer research, the influence of place and space on consumption behavior has also garnered research interest (e.g. Sherry 1998). To add to this continuing dialogue, this session explores the relationships between consumption and spatial structures across three sites: a festival marketplace, an ethnic neighborhood, and a historical theme park.

The co-chairs opened the session by introducing the theoretical framing for the presentations to follow. Place isa multi-dimensional construct (Agnew and Duncan 1989) that could be viewed as (a) location, the physical site of economic decisions; (b) locale, the setting for habitus and everyday routine; and (c) sense of place, or identification with a place engendered by living in it. Specifically, place is constituted at the intersection of multiple forces such as political struggles, historical discourses, economic processes and social interactions.

The papers investigate various aspects of these intersections and the ensuing dynamics, which we have termed the poetics and politics of place. The poetics of place refer to the symbolic meanings people ascribe to place. By the politics of place, we refer to the struggles over these meanings. The papers address how places can be consumed literally and vicariously for aesthetic and political ends, and in the production of utopian beliefs.



Pauline Maclaran, The Queen’s University of Belfast

Lorna Stevens, University of Ulster

Stephen Brown, University of Ulster

Maclaran, Stevens and Brown’s paper discusses an interpretive study which draws on literary perspectives to explore the utopian and dystopian elements of the Powerscourt Townhouse Shopping Centre in Dublin, the refurbished Georgian residence of Lord Powerscourt. Characterized by an historic atmosphere, festival markets such as this provide a space where consumers are free to browse and fantasize in an environment that is a mixture of past (the setting) and future (the anticipation of shopping). An idealized past merges with an idealized future to produce this postmodern utopian marketplace. Social control has always been a part of utopian thinking and, accordingly, this environment is carefully planned and manipulated by management to achieve certain effects. In a longitudinal study, the research explores the interplay and tensions that exist between the physical space that is the shopping centre location and the mental space that is the consumer imagination.



Siok Kuan Tambyah, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Tambyah’s presentation explores what shaped a sense of place for a specific ethnic group, the Italian-Americans, who lived in a historic multi-ethnic neighborhood known as Greenbush. Using depth interviews, participant observation and archival research, she examines how place was incorporated as a part of their ethnic identity. In her analysis, she shows how place myths depicting a safe and harmonious neighborhood were nurtured and used by former residents to counter the negative images of Greenbush held by city authorities and other outsiders. In addition, these place myths were a part of a contested collective memory of place for these residents in their efforts to preserve the remnants of the Greenbush for future generations.



Maura Troester, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Troester’s paper focuses on how the history of a remote region in northern Wisconsin was unearthed, rebuilt and reenacted at Historyland, a tourist attraction in Hayward, Wisconsin. Using semiotic and hermeneutic analyses, Troester traces the attraction’s dual function as a site marker, bestowing meaning on the former logging region (MacCannell 1975), and as myth, transforming these meanings into concrete forms (Barthes 1972; Shields 1991). By examining the values embedded in the stories told within and about Historyland, she shows how Historyland was perceived by locals as a valid tourist attraction and by journalists as the "bearer of newfound prosperity" to the economically depressedregion. Historyland initially obtained this status by enacting a story that framed both lumberjacks and native Americans as hard workers. Later, as Historyland grew in size and popularity, tourists were able to participate in a new enactment of the past: a "lusty era" full of abundant material resources and kind, generous natives.

A short question and answer session followed the presentation of papers.


Agnew, John A. and James S. Duncan (1989), The Power of Place, Winchester, Massachusetts: Unwin Hyman.

Barthes, Roland (1972), Mythologies, Selected and translated from the French by Annette Lavers, New York: Hill and Wang.

Giddens, Anthony (1984), "Space, Time and Politics in Social Theory: An Interview with Anthony Giddens," Society and Space, Vol. 2, 123-132.

Harvey, David (1993), "From Space to Place and Back Again: Reflections on the Condition of Postmodernity", in Mapping the Futures: Local Cultures, Global Change, Jon Bird et al eds., New York: Routledge, 1-29.

MacCannell, Dean (1975), The Tourist: A New Theory of the Leisure Class, New York: Schocken Books.

Sherry, John F., Jr. (1998), Servicescapes: The Concept of Place in Contemporary Markets, Lincolnwood, Ill.: NTC Business Books.

Shields, Rob (1991), Places on the Margin: Alternative Geographies of Modernity, London: Routledge Chapman Hall.

Soja, Edward (1989), "Redoubling the Helix: Space-Time and the Critical Social Theory of Anthony Giddens," Environment and Planning A, Vol. 15, 167-172.

Thrift, Nigel (1983), "On the Determination of Social Action in Space and Time," Society and Space, Vol. 1, 23-57.



Siok Kuan Tambyah, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Maura Troester, University of Wisconsin-Madison


NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 26 | 1999

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