ACR Film Festival


N/A (2003) ,"ACR Film Festival", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 30, eds. Punam Anand Keller and Dennis W. Rook, Valdosta, GA : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 2-10.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 30, 2003     Pages 2-10




Jill G. Klein, INSEAD


This film depicts the crucial connection between one’s sense of self and possessions (e.g., Belk 1988). This connection is presented through memoirs and interviews with concentration camp survivors. The phases of dispossession, camp arrival and initiation, and the use of trade to regain possessions are presented. The exchange of food for possessions that enhance appearance represents an attempt to regain dignity in the face of extremely dehumanising conditions. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and our current definitions of materialism are called into question.



Laurie A. Meamber, George Mason University

Gulnar Tumbat, University of Utah


This film explores the artistic production-consumption process from the perspective of the artists at The 2002 Utah Arts Festival. Interviews with three visual artists exhibiting their work at the festival provided insight into the world of arts festivals, including: 1) the submission and selection/invitation process, 2) artistic inspiration and the creation of a piece of art, and 3) the artist’s relationship to the consumer and the consumer’s relationship to the artwork. The 2002 Utah Arts Festival exemplifies the classic features of a typical arts festival, including conspicuous consumption of art, music, performers and food, and the exhibition of surplus and abundance with over 120 artists work showcased at the event. Artists’ participation in the show is competitive, with the majority of the artists having entered into a juried selection process. In addition, the Utah Arts Festival has created the "invited artist" category to allow artists whose work is non-conventional or that does not fit traditional notions of art to display their work at the show without having to enter the juried competition. In this sense, the Utah Arts Festival comes closer to operating like a museum, rather than a commercial art gallery, by exposing festival goers to work that challenges received notions of art.

The artists interviewed for this project, while falling under the classification of "visual artists," work with different mediums and each has a distinct personal motivation and inspiration for the creation of their work. The abstract painter finds inspiration internally and in concert with the palate of colors she chooses to work with, while in contrast, the raku metal artist’s art reflects the landscape of her lived environment and her urge to capture the quality of the natural world in the face of ever encroaching development around her property. Interestingly, both of these artists speak of the creation of the artwork as an organic, evolutionary process and both ascribe human qualities or agency to the paintingsBthe abstract painter holding "conversations" with her work, and the artwork of the raku metal artist "composing" itself.

Each of the artists recognizes that the meaning of a particular artwork is dynamic and negotiated between the artist, cultural intermediaries (such festival organizers), and the consumer (Duhaime, Joy and Ross 1995; McCracken 1990; Meamber 1997) and in relation to various symbolic, cultural reference systems (Belk 1986; Schroeder 2002). The abstract painter deliberately refuses to describe the meaning of a piece, choosing instead to describe her creative process and to allow the viewer to react to the artwork on whichever level (e.g., emotional, intellectual, aesthetic) works for the individual. The kinetic sculptor knows that not every consumer is going to respond to his work in the same way and decries the "production" orientation of many artists. Each of the three artists is struggling with the tension between creating work with commercial appeal and achieving their artistic vision.

In recent years there has been a recognition of the essential role that art plays in the constitution of consumer culture. This short video adds to the work of consumer research scholars such as Russell W. Belk, Morris B. Holbrook, Elizabeth C. Hirschman, Annamma Joy, Jonathan E. Schroeder, Stephen Brown, Grant McCracken, Gary L. Bamossy, Guliz Ger, Terry H. Witkowski, and Lisa Uusitalo, among many others who have examined art and the consumption of art from various theoretical and methodological perspectives. This film and other work on the artistic production-consumption process can help us understand the ways in which artistic experiences and artworks are created, diffused and consumed, including the role of place (such as arts festivals), the creative process, and the consumers’ relationship to the artist and the artwork.


Belk, Russell W. (1986), "Symbolic Consumption of Art," in Artists and Cultural Consumers, Douglas V. Shaw, William S. Hendon, and R. Richard Weits, eds., Akron: Association for Cultural Economics, 168-178.

Duhaime, Carole, Anamma Joy and Christopher Ross (1995), "Learning to 'See’: A Folk Phenomenology of the Consumption of Contemporary Canadian Art," in Contemporary Marketing and Consumer Behavior: An Anthropological Sourcebook, John F. Sherry, Jr., ed., Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

McCracken, Grant (1990), "Matching Material Cultures: Person-Object Relations Inside and Outside the Ethnographic Museum," in Advances in Nonprofit Marketing, 3, 27-49.

Meamber, Laurie A. (1997), "The Constitution of the Arts as Cultural Production: The Role of the Consumer, Artist and Cultural Intermediary as Producer/Consumer of Meaning," Doctoral Dissertation, University of California, Irvine, Graduate School of Management.

Schroeder, Jonathan E. (2002), Visual Consumption, London and New York: Routledge.



Mara B. Adelman, Seattle University

Aaron Ahuvia, University of Michigan


The study of interpersonal relationships and social support gives primacy to close, intimate relationships such as family and friends. As a result, there is minimal focus on more public, fleeting, context-bound relationships that have the potential to offer unique forms of social support, foster a sense of community, and serve to address social issues (see Adelman, Ahuvia, and Goodwin, 1993).

A major form of informal support is found in retail/service encountersBfrom hairdressers to financial advisors. These interactions are pervasive forms of social life that can intersect commercial and therapeutic outcomes, often going far beyond the consumption of goods and services.

Beyond Consumption: Retail at the Edge is a 20 minute ethnographic video that pays homage to retailers whose mission goes beyond selling. This ethnographic video blends marketing, consumption and social support, through the examination of two retail establishments in a local Seattle neighborhood. "Venus" is a consignment shop for large women, run by Julia Kaplan, a fat acceptance activist. She specializes in sensual clothing for plus-size women, including sexy leatherware. "Toys in Babeland" is a sex-toy store that caters primarily to women and is a combination of information services, library, and retail. This store has become known as an exemplar of healthy, feminist, sex-positive sexuality. In both stores, retailers address topics with customers that are taboo, stigmatized, silenced and marginalized.

This video revolves around three major themes:

1) "Sites of empowerment" unveils the semiotics of the store’s location, layout, and interior design that serves to reduce stigma and foster community. The underlying meanings of location and the symbolic sentiments of visual images found within these stores is critical to destigmatization of sexual taboos and sizism. For example, Toy’s owners refused to create the traditional dark, secretive storefronts that characterize most sex stores. The windows and front door are always open, the place is well lit, and the interior is painted a bright mustard yellow. As Deena, a store employee adamantly stated, "We try and fight that shame." Affirming messages about size acceptance are evident at Venus in small gestures and large spaces. At the counter is a bowl filled with chocolates, which the owner acknowledges would not be a "big deal" t a boutique but becomes a statement about entitlement, at what Kaplan calls the "fat girls’ store." Chocolates, the ultimate candy symbol, is associated with decadence and fatness. At Venus, chocolates becomes a compelling example of symbolic reversal (Cohen, 1985), a process used by disenfranchised groups to redefine the negative connotations of symbols by inverting them so as to promote positive feelings and self-image. At Venus, chocolates no longer symbolize the forbidden fruit, but rather [PSL1] the fruits of plenty.

2) "Retail activists" focuses on the conversational enactment and commitment by retailers to provide social support. Retail activists are retail or service employees [PSL2] whose mission is to challenge cultural assumptions related to their products, services, or customers; who through their customer contact provide social support beyond the consumption of goods; and who offer "community service" via their businesses that radicalizes public awareness about important issues. The following features [PSL3] characterize retail activists. First, they possess an articulated mission that goes "beyond consumption" and customer satisfaction to reflect a commitment to social justice; this mission is evidenced in the product lines, employee training, and the location of the establishment. Second, they demonstrate an awareness of political and social concerns, including the taboos, stigmas, and stereotypes that predominate for their customers (e.g. widows, persons of size, gays, etc.) and a willingness to challenge the status quo through education, information, language use, and radical presentation of products, services and the setting. Third, they show customer sensitivity by trying to meet the broad needs of their clients, at the same time sustaining a commitment to a social justice mission, even at the cost of sales. This sensitivity is expressed in the way employees interact with customers. Fourth, they engage in community outreach by providing programs, lay referral systems, and creating a positive presence within the local community. For example, Kaplan notes, "My store is not about selling clothes, it’s about helping women feel better about themselves."

3) "Shoppertunities in action" reveal poignant testimonies of customer distress and consolation embedded in these retail encounters. These narratives demonstrate a wide range of social support; including referrals to needed services, concern for clients coping with personal loss, and bolstering of self-esteem. In some cases, these gestures border on quasi-therapeutic assistance and offer help that otherwise would not be accessible to customers. As one of the "sexperts", a trained employee at Toy’s observed, there is information they have that is not covered in medical school.

This video with accompanying curriculum package is designed to be used in teaching about social support and customer services within various disciplines; including marketing, sociology, urban studies, women’s studies, social work, psychology and communication. This video is accompanied by a study guide that includes discussion questions, class assignments, bibliography, and readings.


Adelman, M., Ahuvia, A, & Goodwin, C. (1994). Beyond Smiling: Social support and the service provider. In R. Rust & R. Oliver (Eds.). Service Quality: New Directions in Theory and Practice, pp. 139-171, Newbury Park, CA; Sage.

Cohen, A. P. (1985). The symbolic construction of community. London: Routledge.


Beyond Consumption: Retail at the Edge (Video) Directed by Mahela Shaw & Mara B. Adelman, Copyright, 2000; 20 minutes, VHS format for submission. Original shooting format: Digital. To order a VHS video and curriculum package contact: Mara Adelman, Seattle University, Dept. o Communication, 900 Broadway, Seattle, WA 98122. Cost: $50.00 (includes tax & shipping. Make checks payable to Mara Adelman). Phone: 206-296-5344; email: "



Russell Belk, University of Utah

Gulnur Tumbat, University of Utah


In the beginning (of the Information Age) was the void. And the void was digital. But lo, there came upon the land, the shadow of Steven Jobs (and Stephen Wozniak). And Steven (Stephen) said, "Let there be Apple." And there was Apple. And Steven (Stephen) beheld Apple. And it was good. And Apple begat Macintosh. And it was good. And soon upon the land there began to appear, The Cult of Macintosh. For they had tasted of Apple. And it was good.



Xin Zhao, University of Utah

Russell Belk, University of Utah


For thousands of years the Chinese have burnt paper replicas of houses, conveyances, money, and clothing for the dead. With the rise of consumer culture in China, these goods have escalated to include cell phones, computers, PDAs, televisions, refrigerators, stereos, and automobiles. This video is based on observations at funerals and joss paper shops and interviews with consumers, joss paper shop owners, and joss paper goods makers in Shanghai, Beijing, Hong Kong, and Singapore. We find that despite Chinese government attempts to eliminate paper goods burning, the practice is growing, especially in southern coastal cities which also enjoy the highest degree of consumer culture.



Rohit Varman, Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur

Russell Belk, University of Utah

Janeen Arnold Costa, University of Utah


This video ethnography based on a Calcutta community shows that market behavior has expressive, moral and emotional underpinnings. The video helps deconstruct the current axiomatic treatment of transaction-centric markets and reconstruct the market as a socially embedded institution. We use the concept of "community" to consider the societal encapsulation of markets and the role of social norms. The lack of an active discourse on markets in consumer research has resulted in prior concentration on microdimensions of markets as disembedded systems. By taking a more macro perspective, this work offers an understanding of the influence of sociocultural norms in market behavior.



Sandra Mottner, Western Washington University

Wendy Bryce Wilhelm, Western Washington University


Increasing numbers of (mostly) white males are participating in Civil War re-enactments (CWR) across the U.S. (up to 50,000 by some accounts), yet little consumer research exists on the kinds of individuals who participate in CWR and what motivates them to devote a significant amount of leisure time and money to recreating the past. Our filmed research project follows one Confederate regiment as it engages in re-enactment activities. Videotaped personal interviews supplement and inform our footage of battles, drills, camp life, sutleries, and the ubiquitous presence of period artifacts. Our findings show that these self-defined "living historians" identify adult fantasy play, nostalgia for the past, a need for male camaraderie, and a desire to (re)educate others about the true causes of the war, and identification with the rebel cause as important motives for participation.



Jill Sharpe, Right to Jam Productions

Rick Pollay, UBC


Hijacking Commercial Culture delivers a fascinating rap on the 20th Century movement called Culture Jamming. Pranksters and subversive artists are causing a bit of brand damage to corporate mindshare. Jammers, cultural commentators, a billboard advertiser and a constitutional lawyer take us on a wild roller coaster ride through the back streets of our mental environment. Stopping over in San Francisco, New York’s Times Square, and Toronto, we catch the jamming in action with Batman-inspired Jack Napier of the Billboard Liberation Front, Disney arch-enemy Reverend Billy from the Church of Stop Shopping and Media Tigress Carly Stasko. Culturejam asks: Is Culture Jamming civil disobedience? Senseless vandalism? The only form of self-defense left?



Robert V. Kozinets

John F. Sherry, Jr.


Using the words and images of Burning Man 2002, this film explores consumer behavior at a self-transformative event. Centering primarily on interview material with the events’ founder, Larry Harvey, this film presents an un-narrated juxtaposition of images, from desert pilgrimage quests to drum circle dancing, Christian parodying to dance partying, fire-walking to shamanic transformations, bodypainting to sacrifical burning. The film intends to raise more questions than it answers. Is Burning Man an evil event, as some claim? Do consumers need religion and a sense of the sacred anymore?



Patricia Sunderland, Practica Group, LLC

Rita Denny, Practica Group, LLC

George Hunt, Practica Group, LLC


Corporate qualitative research in the US has moved beyond the focus group room and embraced ethnographic methods and anthropology as the discipline du jour (Frank, 1999). Ethnography in the consumer marketplace puts researchers in consumers’ homes, businesses and other sites of everyday living and is often motivated by the belief that significant behavior, even 'truer’ or less biased behavior can be observed outside of the focus group room. This video shows how we have been extending current ethnographic practices by applying a new method B consumer video documentaries (videos created by respondents about and around particular life activities).

The 32-minute composite video produced for this conference draws from videos we have edited for two research projects. This current production is divided into three main segments. The first two were created by urban, beer-appreciating, young men. 'Roland’ was selected to open the video as his diary explicitly provides an introduction to the method and the sense of what it can mean to put the camera in the consumer’s hands. Roland gives us a tour and camera inventory of his bedroom, bathroom, kitchen, an evening with friends at a bar, and then at his workplace where he sums up his thoughts on beer drinking. Scott puts the camera in the hand of a friend and then leads us through a weekend evening. He shows and talks about the many different brands of beer he and friends drink as they make their way from one friend’s home to restaurant to bar to party and back to another friend’s home. Scott, a beer connoisseur, believes in a time and place for everything, including the brand which he analogizes to a scene in his video where when he moons the camera.

A glimpse into the lives of pick-up truck owners comprises the third section of the tape. This footage was shot by a number of different owners and their family members and poignantly shows the ways in which owners live with and through their trucks. One sees the ways in which the trucks are part of activity-centered lives and identities.

We have edited the excerpts in a way which we believe implicitly explores the merits B and the minefields B of the video diary technique for qualitative consumer research in today’s cultural milieu. There are benefits of producing data that stretch the traditional boundaries of consumer research in terms of space and time as well as the boundaries of consumer control (see Ruby, 1991). Yet, there are ways in which life-as-it-happens does and does not find its way onto film. In a society where visual images proliferate and 'reality shows’ are standard fare, lived experience is visually conventionalized. The diarists draw on these conventions as they compose their stories.

Yet the 'problem’ of respondent performance in documentaries must be considered in the context of performance in both qualitative research and social life more generally (Goffman, 1959; 1974). In the contemporary environment street corners, living rooms and others’ bedrooms enter our homes via Webcams and club-goers can eye one another via cameras and video monitors (Collins, 2002). Qualitative research as a practice must consider the wider frames within which consumers both live and express themselves and innovate accordingly.


Collins, Sarah (2002). Velvet ropes, bouncers B and Bingo? The Wall Street Journal, May 5, pp.W1, 12.

Frank, Thomas (1999). Brand You: Better Selling Through Anthropology, Harper’s Magazine, July, pp.74-79.

Goffman, Erving (1959). Presentation of self in everyday life. Garden City, NJ: Doubleday.

Goffman, Erving (1974). Frame analysis. New York: Harper and Row.

Ruby, Jay (1991). Speaking for, speaking about, speaking with, or speaking alongside B An anthropological and documentary dilemma. Visual Anthropology Review, 7(2), 50-67.



Gulnur Tumbat, University of Utah


2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City attracted thousands of people to official venue areas and other sites in the downtown area. Visitors, both local and foreign, spent hours in lines waiting to get different types of souvenirs regardless of the hour and the cold weather. This video attempts to understand people’s souvenir consumption and the meanings they attach to those objects through the interviews with visitors at the 2002 Winter Olympics. It further explores the scope and variety of souvenirs people got as mementos, gifts, or status indicators. How an Olympic experience is commodified on a mass scale through the huge variety of souvenirs ranged from pictorial images in the form of postcards, photographs, t-shirts, hats: just anything with an olympic emblem on it or any type of local souvenirs, is also presented.

Souvenirs have been associated with objects acquired during visits to different places and other personal experiences not involving travel, or memories of lost ones (Belk 1991). They are regarded as constant reminders of relationships between people and places. The aim is usually to proclaim the places visited and the experiences at those places. As an actual object, a souvenir "makes tangible what is otherwise only an intangible state" (Gordon 1986). The exhibition "Athletes in Antiquity" involving souvenirs of ancient sport games (e.g., vases, statues, signatures) presented at the Utah Museum of Fine Arts during the Olympics played an important role in demonstrating the history of souvenir consumption. It also gave millions access to an era which in many other ways remains inaccessible.

Olympic events can be seen as extraordinary events since they are regarded as more than just sporting events and are seen as the celebration of human aspirations. According to Gordon (1986), recipients of souvenir gifts also receive a piece of that heightened reality. During the Winter Olympics, people got souvenirs as personal mementos and gifts in order to prove and show that they were part of that extraordinary time and space and also to share their experiences with their friends and families. The motives for souvenir consumption are having a sense of the past experiences, places visited, events participated, and gaining a status and communicating that status to others at home since there is a prestige originating from demonstrating personal attachment to that time and place. At the Olympics however, people did not necessarily wait to go home to use/wear/show the things they acquired. All Olympic event areas were like podiums for those people who got Olympic jackets, pins, and hats among many other items. In addition, although the objects acquired were important, for some people it was the shopping or waiting experience in the lines which was more important and maybe more memorable than the souvenirs themselves.


Belk, Russell W. (1991), "Possessions and the Sense of Past," Highways and Buyways: Naturalistic Research from the Consumer Behavior Odyssey, 114-130.

Gordon, Beverly (1986), "The Souvenir: The Messenger of the Extraordinary," Journal of Popular Culture, 20 (3), 135-146.





Scott Smith, University of Arkansas

Jeff Murray, University of Arkansas

Molly Rapert, University of Arkansas

Helene Cherrier, University of Arkansas

Steven Chen, University of California-Irvine

Jason Cole, University of Missouri-Kansas City

Dan Fisher, University of Southern Mississippi


This film examines the tension between markets and individuals or a community that is often described by consumer researchers. Markets are often viewed as repressing to consumers, with a rebellion against or break from the market held as liberating. In contrast to other research examining emancipatory potentials, we focus on the use of politics as a tool of differentiation in opposing mainstream society. This political opposition is utilized as a release from "power." The Just Peace Organization, a politically active consumer community and the focal point of this videography, does not adhere to an antimarket position, but actually embraces the market and its members as they seek to reach emancipation. Similarly to the anticonsumerism and counterculture view held by some individuals and communities, the Just Peace Organization has found a way to free itself amongst the busy downtown atmosphere of Salt Lake City, Utah. This self expressive, subversive group feels the same appeal as other alternative social communities, but their political resistance to dominance happens down on the corner.



Angela Hausman, The University of Texas

Jan Slater, Ohio University


Live performances comprise an important part of our lives, but few studies have been undertaken to understand this consumption experience. This short film is a preliminary exploration into this arena, looking at the inter-connectivity between the performer and audience, and presents several interesting themes for further research. The first theme is the passion created between performer and audience that enhances the experience for both. The second theme is the effectiveness of this form of communication in resonating with audience members and changing the dominant culture. It is these unique aspects of live performance that ensure the continuance of these art forms against cheaper and more readily available electronic reproductions.



Markus Giesler, Northwestern University

Mali Pohlmann, Witten/Herdecke University


In this video ethnography (a free copy can be ordered on the authors’ web pages at or, we propose to see the abduction of Elizabeth Smart as a media paradox unfolding for the local community to discursively negotiate its distinct social reality. Two different cultural articulations are investigated: (1) discourse on the principles of fencing and shielding, as a way to negotiate the asymmetry between internal and external, protection and openness, and (2) discourse on social status as a way to present both for the local community and its environment the community’s hierarchy as irreplaceable and expendable at the same time. The case of Elizabeth Smart hints at a cultural operation that performs violence in a local community that seems to do without violence for most of the time. We conclude that the abduction of Elizabeth Smart through the media epitomizes the most outrageous violation of our sense of personal security. There is a very real, unseen enemy. We need the help and protection of a higher power. We need each other. But, ironically, the enemy is us.



Deirdre Guion, University of Utah

Marie Hafey, University of Utah

Hillary Leonard, University of Utah


On the basis of interviews with students and faculty of various ethnic and cultural backgrounds at an international lunch, this video offers a brief exploration into how food is situated in the daily lives of consumers and the role that food plays in constructing identity. The emergent themes from the interviews suggest that food takes on a multitude of roles: serving as a vehicle to create and maintain cultural capital, create social identity and function as a marker of ethnic and regional identity.



Laura R. Oswald, Marketing Semiotics, Inc

Andrew Wright, Marketing Semiotics, Inc


The video, Health Watch: the State of Food, Fitness, and Well Being in the United States, is a compilation of music, consumer interviews, clips from TV shows and films, and stills of ads, books, and other artifacts of popular culture. Shot in mini-DV and SuperVHS, this video formed part of a larger study that was to become the platform for public service advertising for promoting a healthy lifestyle. By reviewing not only works of experts but also the social discourses from popular American culture, discourses made evident in the language and imagery of advertising, entertainment, and retailing, we drew attention to ways public media send conflicting messages to consumers about appropriate lifestyle choices. In the United States almost one in three individuals is obese, and an increasing number of both adults and children suffer from obesity-related diseases such as diabetes. However, advertising and sales promotions emphasize the value of buying in bulk, eating supersize meals, and getting "bigger" and "more" of everything. Attention was paid to the rhetorical force of sounds and images in order to drive home to the viewer findings developed fully in the written report from the study.



Laura Oswald, Marketing Semiotics Inc.

Karolina Brodin, University of Stockholm


In June, 2001, we conducted a brief exploratory study of Temple Square in Salt Lake City, focusing on ways the sacred is constituted and perpetuated as consumption experience through marketing strategy. The video was produced with a Sony mini-DV cam and edited in iMovie. "The Temple Square Exploratory" is an example of video-graphia, using the camera to "speak" directly to the viewer in sound, text, and image with the immediacy of spoken discourse. Unlike film, which requires the time-consuming stages of film processing and mixing, video enables the most inexperienced videographer to record, interpret, and represent an event in a very short time. Though overall objectives were planned in advance of entering the site, respondents were recruited on the spot and interview questions emerged from interactions with respondents. In spite of obvious technical flaws in the piece, the enthusiasm and cooperation of participants, the beautiful music of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra, and the high quality of the Sony image contribute to the interest of this "first" hand-made video.



Laura Oswald, Marketing Semiotics Inc.


In this paper, I locate video ethnography among postmodern strategies in consumer research, examine the theoretical implications of the visual for scientific research, and ground theory in analysis of the practice of video production. I frame my discussion within a conception of video discourse as a form of "writing," or videographia, which enables the video ethnographer to "pen" a consumer study using the video medium as a radical vehicle for knowledge-production. Videographia opens scientific discourse to a dialogue between the inside and outside of meaning production by introducing the troubling instability of the visual into the analysis and understanding of consumer behavior.

Post-modern consumer research places in question the authority of empirical research as the benchmark for scientific validity, by unveiling the instability of rational categories of meaning and the unity and rationality of the consuming subject. The reliability of approaches such as TSE [traditional scientific empirical testing] is contingent upon a phenomenological interpretation of reality as coherent and immutable, and of the consumer as entirely rational and single-minded. Such approaches fall short of accounting for the role of factors such as race and gender in the construction and deconstruction of consumer identity. The very notion of a consumer culture, based as it is on the commodification of signs and meanings on the global brandscape, is grounded in an irreconcilable tension between the (phenomenal) real and the simulacra that we consume (Baudrillard, 1993).

The post-modern adventure in consumer research is a manifestation of deeper ideological shifts in philosophy as to the very nature of reality, perception, and meaning (Firat and Venkatesh, 1992). The critique of metaphysics marshaled by the French philosopher Jacques Derrida challenges the validity of dialectical interpretations of reality by placing in question the ontological foundations of dialectics. Beginning with the critique of Husserl in Speech and Phenomena, Derrida systematically challenges the notion of an original, a priori closure between being and meaning that forms the cornerstone of metaphysics, an assumption that can be summarized in Descartes’ famous claim, "I think, therefore I am." Derrida points to the difficulty of this claim in the framework of a theory of representation, offering instead an interpretation of semiosis which takes into consideration the radical externalization of speech in textual writing or graphia. In other words, I speak, therefore I am taken up in an endless movement between being-for-myself and being-for-others through external representationBwords, images, performance, etc. (Oswald, 1994, 249) As soon as the play of signifier and signified is staged through time and space in a kind of performance, the hypothetical unity of being and meaning is suspended indefinitely. In other words, what you see as the phenomenal 'real’ is always and already mediated by a delay through time and space between meaning and its external representation. Derrida states:

"In inserting a sort of spacing into interiority, it [performance] no longer allows the inside to close upon itself or be identified with itself...this impossibility of closure, this dehiscence of the Mallarmean book as an 'internal’ theater, constitutes not a reduction but a practice of spacing." Derrida, 1981, p.234.

Derrida refers to this mediation and the suspension of logic that it entails as a movement of differance, a neologism which accounts both for the role of difference in the construction of meaning [signifier/signified, etc.] and the permanent deferral of a dialectical closure between signs and meaning.

Such trends in philosophy have important implications for empirical research. By deconstructing the metaphysical assumptions of phenomenology, Derrida undermines the very possibility of a definitive interpretation of reality and forecloses the dialectical synthesis between researcher’s observations and the behavior of the subjects in his/her research. As I demonstrate elsewhere [Oswald, 1999], contradictions and ambiguities within consumer identity and meaning-production can be theorized by means of an understanding of the consuming "subject" [the self] as originally divided between a being for itself and a being for others. Studying the formation of ethnic identity among middle-class Haitian immigrants, I showed how ethnic consumers culture swap, using goods to move between one cultural identity and another as they negotiate relations between home and host culture. The opposing movement of these two moments of self-presentation undermines any attempt at interpreting a final cause or motivation for behavior, holding, as it does, the subject in a movement between the multiple frames of reference that constitute their world. The study of consumer ethnicity and identity formation highlights the dynamic and mutable nature of self, social identity and cultural identification in global consumer culture.

Derrida uses the term ecriture or textual writing to describe the external trace for this troubling (non)origin of meaning and being in living language. Writing throws into question the epistemological self-certainty of positivism, while opening up research to the ambiguities and contradictions inherent in human behavior. Writing is also the signifying activity in ethnography that lends itself to analysis and theoretical elaboration. By bringing into play a movement between the internal closure of word and thought in the mind and the external, visual representation of meaning in its various forms [words on page, film, performance, etc.], the moment of writing deconstructs the metaphysical unity of thought and meaning in speech and destabilizes the epistemological certainty of scientific discourse altogether.

Video ethnography stands as an example of what Jacques Derrida would call the intrusion of visual "writing" into the closed system of emprical research. In order to clarify the distinction between writing in the sense of putting ink to paper and textual writing, I propose the term videographia to describe the play of meaning production in video discourse. Videographia must not be understood simply in terms of its technical dimensionBa form of writing in sound and image through an electronic medium. Videographia is inscribed with a reference to the deconstruction of the logic and closure of ethnographic discourse by bringing multiple voices and points of view to bear on the interpretation of a consumption site.

The notion of non-verbal writing originates with the New Wave Cinema in France in the 1950’s, when filmmakers such as Goddard, Truffaut, and Rivette challenged the prevailing esthetic and technology of commercial cinema. Film critic Alexandre Astruc described the New Wave cinema in terms of a kind of film writing that would allow film authors to "pen" their vision directly in words and images without reliance on production companies and return on investment at the box office. They also sought freedom from traditional theatrical and literary traditions of expression, traditions that emphasized the manufacture of an illusion, the illusion of narrative reality as an unbroken movement of a plot to its conclusion. Making low-budget films and using amateur performers, the New Wave authored films the way poets author poetry and prose, and opened up the film medium to a range of new important experiences.

Astruc coined the term camera stylo to describe the expressive function of cinema freed from its ties to theater and prose fiction, a type of writing having the fluidity and semantic complexity of written speech. [Graham, 1968, pp. 17-23].

"I would like to call this new age of cinema the age of camera-stylo. By it I mean that the cinema will gradually break free from the tyranny of what is visually, from the image for its own sake, from the immediate and concrete demands of the narrative, to become a means of writing just as flexible and subtle as written language." [Graham, p. 18]

Though Astruc did not address the radical philosophical assumptions of camera-stylo for theories of representationBwriting as he did during the reign of phenomenology in FranceBhis critique of the ontological origins of cinema in the photographic image anticipates Derrida’s critique of the phenomenological tradition in philosophy. By defining cinema with reference to the movement within and between frames, and between image and sound, Astruc, like Derrida, undermines the metaphysical unity of signifier and signifiedBin this case image and meaningBwith reference to the play of meaning in textual writing. Astruc thus replaces the coherence of the single image as origin of cinema with the slips and slides of representation and absence traced by the movement of film images through time and space. In cinema, the illusion of movement itself is created by the rapid movement of a strip of still images through a projector. It is perceived by the spectator as continuous movement by means of the ability of the mind to retain past images and project them upon the present and presence of meaning, as the film moves irrevocably towards a horizon in the future. Such memory traces in film time and space strain the relation between the signifier and signified of any specific segment of film.

The introduction of video technology puts another twist on debates about the origins of film discourse in the photographic image, and its ontological destiny to embrace the esthetics of narrative realism (Bazin, 1970, pp. 9-16). Video reproduces vision without the intermediary of photography. By recording the visual electronically, video captures the world in movement, rather than manufacturing an illusion of movement from still pictures. Thus video, as technology and medium of discourse, is inscribed with the movement of differance, that is, the potential for semiosis and suspension of a final meaning.

Unfettered by the tradiional claims of art and literature, video has the potential to realize the radical aspirations of the New Wave and even earlier filmmakers, such as Dziga Vertov, an early soviet filmmaker who made agitational and educational films in the 1910’s and 20’s. Perhaps more than any other predecessor, Vertov captures the essence of video in his notion of the camera/eye, the roving reporter capturing life as it happens. Even more distinctive than his esthetics of first-person documentary film was Vertov’s participation in agit-prop production teams that traveled the soviet countryside spreading communist ideology as well as teaching and organizing peasants. Vertov and his crew would shoot, develop the film, and edit into a short documentary in a lab located on the train, then screen it for the community they were visiting. The film was not viewed as an end in itself, as an esthetic object, but as a tool for creating dialogue, organizing, and instructing the masses. In his documentary The Man with a Movie Camera, Vertov roamed the urban landscape recording life as it happened, then edited imagery together according to a style of conflictual montage that embraced the contradictions of urban life during the revolutionary period. More than any other New Wave filmmaker, Jean-Luc Godard, took up the cause of Vertov and employs video to instruct and create dialogue with working class people.

The refinement of video technology and computerized editing software facilitated the evolution of the video as a form of personal speech or videographia. As many of the videos at the conference illustrate, the use of the hand-held mini-dv cam, with astounding clarity of sound and image, and the iMovie and Final Cut Pro editing programs, enable amateur videographers like myself to bring a new kind of knowledge and insight to the research process. Furthermore, video radically reduces the lag time between shooting, editing, and final product, creating an immediacy which cries for a radical rethinking of the video spectacle as a social tool rather than simply an art form.

There is nothing new about the idea that video, by virtue of its technical facility and immediacy, is an important means of capturing details in the fieldwork that may escape attention during the researcher’s visit. However, video has an even more important role in the analysis and presentation of findings. By capturing multiple points of view on a setting, by creatively juxtaposing sound and image, by letting respondents speak for themselves, the researcher can inscribe an interpretation onto a consumption event, while exposing the inherent contradictions and ambiguities in the event and the researcher’s participation in that event.

Take for example, the Temple Square Exploratory video, produced with Karolina Brodin in conjunction with the Video Ethnography Workshop at the University of Utah in June 2001. The videographers spent one afternoon and evening conducting exploratory research at Temple Square in Salt Lake City, focusing on ways the sacred is constituted and perpetuated as consumption experience through marketing strategy.

The video was produced with a Sony mini-DV cam and edited in iMovie. We spent three days editing the final version. "The Temple Square Exploratory" is an example of videographia, using the camera to "speak" directly to the viewer in sound, text, and image with the immediacy of spoken discourse. Unlike film, which requires the time-consuming stages of film processing and mixing, video enables the most inexperienced videographer to record, interpret, and represent an event in a very short time. Though overall objectives were planned in advance of entering the site, respondents were recruited on the spot and interview questions emerged from interactions with respondents. In spite of obvious technical flaws in the piece, the enthusiasm and cooperation of participants, the beautiful music of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra, and the high quality of the Sony image contribute to the interest of this "first" hand-made video.

The video was conceived, filmed, and edited in a matter of days. While the final product that was screened displays the rough edges of the fast turn-around, inadequate sound equipment, and lack of editing experience, the video nonetheless brings to life the consumer story of Temple Square, site of the headquarters of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. The video medium, by engaging in the play between voice-over, music, consumer responses, and visual performance, makes evident the multi-dimensional nature of ethnographic research, including the contradictions inherent in marketing the sacred as consumption experience.

Temple Square is the site of the world headquarters of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, founded by Joseph Smith in 1829. The walls surrounding the site mark a divide between the sacred spaces within and the commercial spaces outside. Within the square sacred spaces such as the Temple, are off-limits to non-church members, while profane spaces including a Visitor’s Center and Tabernacle welcome the non-initiated. Indeed, the profane spaces are used to promote the church message and recruit new members.

The Sacred as consumption experience in this case satisfies a consumer need for relationship, commitment, and community. The promotional apparatus including church elders and sisters, as well as TV spots and short films, drive home the importance of relationshipBbeginning with the family and extending to the church community and even the dead.

The church relies on one-to-one proselytizing for support and propagation of the flock. As a tourist attraction, Temple Square plays an important role in bringing prospects to the church. We talked to two young women called "sisters" of the church, who have volunteered to leave home and work as missionaries to spread the word at places like the Visitor Center. They told us about the benefits they derived from belonging to the Church, and explained reasons why they chose to volunteer as "missionaries," for 18 months, at their own expense.

Baptism in the Mormon Church guarantees, among other things, that the individual will be reunited with his or her ancestors in the next world. Marriage, moreover, does not end with a spouse’s death, since the couple will meet again in the hereafter. These benefits do not come cheap, since tithing a percentage of one’s annual income is a condition of membership.

Outside the Visitor Center we conducted ad hoc interviews among tourists waiting to hear the rehearsal of the Mormon Tabernacle choir. The stories of these tourists paint a more negative picture of the church. These women express feelings of rejection and outrage about the strict exclusivity of the Mormons. One woman tells a story about a friend whose wife was ostracized by the Church community when she divorced her first husband, an alcoholic. The other woman tells the story of a date she had with a Mormon who ended the lunch when she stated she was not interested in having children.

Tourists are nonetheless drawn here by the renowned Mormon Tabernacle choir, whose Sunday morning broadcasts have drawn thousands of visitors since 1927. The choir rehearsal, a profane space open free to the public, exhibits many of the elements identified noticed throughout Temple Square aimed at attracting, engaging, and converting non-members into the inner sanctum of the faith community. The music captures audience and researchers alike in its thrall. The long musical passage at the end of the video was included in order to draw the video spectator into something like the emotional trance of the audience at Temple Square. The spell is broken as we leave the temple and are greeted again by missionaries, eager to commit our names and addresses to their list of recruits. In other words, the Temple Square video embraces the contradictions within the sacred as consumption site by moving the spectator between cultural critique and pleasure.

The Temple Square site itself stages a kind of performance involving not only the staff or performers but the visitors as well. The visitor is exposed at every turn to marketing messages about the social and emotional benefits of with membership in the Mormon, such as family, community, and spiritual connection, as well as entry into sacred spaces such as the cathedral, which are off-limits to the uninitiated. TV ads and mini-documentaries extolling the virtues of family values shown continuously in various rooms. Pretty young hostesses or "sisters" guide visitors and answer questions about their mission. On Thursdays and Sundays the visit is capped by performances of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. By the seamless flow of visitors through the narrative space of the site, Temple Square is reminiscent of amusement parks such as the Disney Epcot Center, which literally stages the visitor in an imaginary/symbolic performance.

The other short, Health Watch: the State of Diet and Fitness in the United States, demonstrates how video can be edited to create a rhetorical force that a research report lacks, by virtue of the compelling montage of sounds, images, and real-life interviews. This video was produced in the context of a trend study aimed at convincing upper management of a large company of the need to address public health issues as part of their marketing strategy. Leaders within the company foresaw class action suits by disgruntled consumers emboldened by the success of recent litigation against tobacco companies. In addition to a detailed written report, the project called for a kind of video presentation that would grab attention and move management to action.

The Health Watch video was produced in Super VHS and edited in Final Cut Pro. It consists of a compilation of consumer interviews, cultural icons and advertising messages, the opinions of experts and clips from popular movies, all of which direct attention to the baffling contradictions in the media messages reaching consumers as they make day to day choices about diet and fitness. Andrew Wright provided technical support and in some cases developed sounds and imagery for the themes outlined in a prepared scenario. The objective was to interpret the plethora of mixed messages surrounding health in American culture and identify unsatisfied needs and wants at the base of attitudes toward diet and exercise. Focusing on the expression of health and fitness discourses in the popular media, we identified logical and rhetorical associations, patterns and codes that form a kind of popular consciousness relative to the meaning of health in the United States. The success of this production was measured less on the basis of esthetic merit or originality, than on the effect it produced within the organization, where a budget was created to develop public interest programs and examine the company’s role in promoting a healthy lifestyle among its customers.

Americans are admonished to eat less, clean their plates, cut fat, buy Super Size cheeseburgers, take diet pills, nibble on snack cakes, work out, eat well, drive big cars and walk to work. The confusion occurs at all levels of life, from the kitchen table to the mega-stores promising much more for much less. Current social discourses about health move away from this balance of good food and moderate exercise in many different directions, losing the sense of balance the further they go from the center. Discourses on health tend to center either on exercise or food. Though the need to eat right is suggested by most exercise programs, and though minimal activity is recommended to accompany diet programs such as Weight Watchers, many people do one at the expense of the other. They may use a workout to compensate for a fast food binge, or spend all their time counting calories rather than introducing more exercise into their lifestyle. The rapid montage of sounds, images, voice-over, and movement was employed to engage the spectator directly into the findings of the research about the confusing state of health and fitness culture in the United States.

Post-modern consumer research not only opens the field to new methodologies and technologies for collecting and analyzing data about consumers, such as film and video, but also demands a rethinking of the epistemological foundations of empirical research grounded in an unexamined belief in the logic and unity of meaning and representation, and of perception and objective reality. [Hirshman and Holbrook, 1992, 2): "An implicit theme running through [these] post positivistic or postmodern approaches to research deals with problems of epistemology that arise from questioning the connection of knowledge to empiricist moorings in a real world."] Traditional scientific inquiry, in other words, is implicitly grounded in the belief that "what you see is what you’ve got." Video radically disturbs such assumptions by relocating scholarly research and thought from the realm of metaphysics to the realm of the performance of knowledge in time and space. Video performance holds the spectating subject in a movement between thought and pleasure, perception and a radical critique of the I/eye of scientific discourse.


Baudrillard, Jacques (1993), "The Order of the Simulacra," in Symbolic Exchange and Death, trans. Iain Hamilton Grant, Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 50-86.

Derrida, Jacques (1981), Dissemination. Translated by Barbara Johnson. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Derrida, Jacques (1973), 'Speech and Phenomena’ and Other Essays on Husserl’s Theory of Signs, trans. David B. Allison, Evanston, Illinois: Northwestern University Press.

Firat, A. Fuat and Alladi Venkatesh (1992), "The Making of Postmodern Consumption," in Consumption and Marketing: Macro Dimensions, ed. Russell Belk and Nikhilesh Dholakia, Boston: PWS-Kent, 19-48,

Graham, Peter, ed. (1968). The New Wave. Garden City, New York: Doubleday.

Oswald, Laura (1994) "Cinema Graphia: Eisenstein, Derrida, and the Sign of Cinema," in Deconstruction and the Visual Arts, New York: Cambridge University Press, 248-263.

Oswald, Laura (1999), "Culture Swapping: The Ethnogenesis of Middle-Class Haitian Immigrants," The Journal of Consumer Research Vol. 25, March, 303-318.




NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 30 | 2003

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