Telling Stories: a Sociolinguistic Analysis of Language Use in a Marketplace


Elisabeth Gilster (1993) ,"Telling Stories: a Sociolinguistic Analysis of Language Use in a Marketplace", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 20, eds. Leigh McAlister and Michael L. Rothschild, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 83-88.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 20, 1993      Pages 83-88


Elisabeth Gilster, University of Arizona

While consumer behavior researchers have illustrated the fact that certain products and consumption contexts offer consumers some sort of intangible yet very special meaning, little work has focused on the discursive interaction between sellers and consumers which serves to convey the "specialness" or the sacred qualities of the products. An analysis of the language used in a sales setting allows us to examine how the value of products and images of their producers are enhanced through the telling of stories. Sociolinguistic analysis yields findings that call for future research employing a critical theory research approach.


Stories that are told in the sales context are elaborated by the sellers in response to their perceptions of consumer wants and needs. These stories serve to enhance the value of the products they accompany. Hence, this is an excellent example of the marketing concept. Despite long recognition as the central philosophy of business, there has been, little attention to the theoretical development of this concept (Kohli and Jaworski 1990). Other authors have pointed out that a strong marketing orientation has led to business practices that are unwise (Houston 1986) or have adverse effects on society (Murray and Ozanne 1991). This paper provides an analysis that encourages us to re-evaluate the implications of this concept.

The sociolinguistic approach used here was never intended to call for social change. Nonetheless, it does illuminate what some may consider a "dark side" of the marketing concept. Consequently, future research in this area may well benefit from the critical theory approach to research (Murray and Ozanne 1991) which extols a balance between the objective and the interpretive paradigms and a goal of effecting change.

The majority of the consumer behavior literature on language use in advertising and promotion has been restricted to the primary or formal economic sector (Sherry 1988). Much work utilizing an analysis of language and semiotics to explore consumption issues has focused on "finished" products. On the other hand, Sherry's (1988) work on market pitching, along with that of Pinch and Clark (1986), contributes to our knowledge of the dramaturgical aspects of the sellers' behavior and how consumer perceptions of value are enhanced by the discursive interaction which takes place in some market settings.

Notions of the processes of sacralization have been carefully articulated by Belk et. al. (1989). These processes occur within the context of the consumption experience with little concern for the actual purchase experience. Minimal attention has been given to the language and other persuasive techniques sellers use to convince consumers that the products they are selling will fulfill consumers' "special" and sometimes spiritual needs. Through an analysis of language use in a marketplace, this paper explores this form of persuasion in the context of the sales of specialty items which are perceived by consumers to fulfill such needs.

This research presents data collected at North American Indian arts and crafts sales settings where the interaction between sellers (who are often producers as well) and consumers is marked by the cultural differences between the producers and the consumers. The consumers are attracted to aspects of what they perceive to be the traditional culture of the producers. As the analysis shows, the language and the stories that are used in the sales context reflect the cultural stereotypes and capitalize on this attraction. The stories link the products with the Indian producers and, in doing so, enhance the value of the products.


The commercialization of Indian arts and crafts has created a multi-billion dollar industry which has improved the lives of many producers, especially those in the Southwestern U.S. This phenomenon also perpetuates many of the stereotypes of the American Indian. The data offered here illustrate how the success of this market depends on the strength of the association between the art object and the "Indianness" of its maker.

The art objects are embellished with stories and narrative descriptions which convey the sense that the objects are special, imbued with sacred characteristics, and/or traditionally made by authentic Indians. These stories are shared by producers, traders, retailers and consumers and serve to make the arts and crafts more marketable to prospective buyers. The production of the identity, that is the co-construction of the stereotypes, has been achieved through negotiation between the producers of arts and crafts and the consumers via the telling of these stories.

This construction of what it is to be "Indian" is closely interrelated with what sells to middle and upper middle class Anglo consumers. Hence, this definition is managed so that consumers are gratified, enchanted, mystified and intrigued. Many of the realities of the Native American historical experience are absent from this scenario. The presentation of self is carefully customized to appeal to the consumers. The success of Indian artists depends on their ability to present themselves in ways that are attractive to the consumers they depend on. This acceptance, then, is actualized in the consumption of their artistic output.

The identities of these American Indian individuals are defined within the acceptable standards of consumers and then articulated through stories that are told by the artists, embedded in the products they produce, reiterated by traders and retailers, and embraced and retold by the consumers who purchase the arts and crafts. Only the more financially successful artists, who represent the top five percent of producers (Parezo 1992), seem to be concerned with challenging the entrenched stereotypes. These attempts are embraced by an equally small proportion of consumers. The images that are most often rewarded are those that link the Indians and their products with spiritual power, quaint tradition, and, to a lesser extent, an affinity with nature.


The extensive speech data presented here were collected at twenty different sales settings where Indian artists, traders and retailers sell arts and crafts. These settings include regional shows, retail shops, a large scale Swap Meet and a major juried outdoor market in the Southwest. Brochures, newspaper articles and magazines were combed for additional examples of the language used to promote these products. Such publications are intended for audiences of prospective buyers of these objects. I attended the above events in the role of participant observer, shopping, browsing, and even assisting sellers. Some natural exchanges between artist/seller and consumer were recorded; however, this was difficult because many artists and/or sellers were not comfortable with the obvious presence of a tape recorder at their selling location. Consequently, the excerpts cited below are from informal interviews conducted on location during lulls in sales activity, more formal interviews conducted after closing and the above cited print material.

In the analysis I will first consider the production of the identity of the producers, then discuss how this identity is maintained. These processes of identity production and preservation are accomplished through the interaction in the sales setting. Within these discussions, language data will be examined for linguistic components (those that are in italics) which reveal specific meanings. Finally, a brief summary of what is being done by some artists to counter the stereotypes that the stories support will be presented.


The construction of the producers' socially acceptable identities is accomplished through their interaction with the prospective buyers of their arts and crafts in a manner reminiscent of Shutz' (1967) idea of the intersubjective construction of one's identity. The "life world" of the Indian artists is constructed through the intersubjective experience they share with the Anglo consumers. Stereotypes were formed early in the history of the industry and have evolved over time. Edgar Lee Hewitt, the founder of the first Indian Market in Santa Fe in 1922, was an anthropologist and philanthropist dedicated to the preservation of the Native American culture. In a publication distributed during the 1991 Indian Market, he was quoted as calling the Indians "the most priceless possession of America" (Tarchinski 1991:17). While this is an example of Anglo sentiment in 1922 when the Indian people were seriously objectified, the quote appears in a very recent publication circulated to promote Indian products.

More recently, a Pueblo potter conveyed his impression that the stereotypes are still with us. He stated, "...people still think of Indians wearing war bonnets and feathers." (Tarchinski 1991:38) While there may be Indians from a few tribes who dress in this manner for special ceremonial occasions, it is not the everyday attire for all Indians as the stereotype suggests. Although a handful of artists are challenging these stereotypes (as will be discussed later), it is much more common for artists to either consciously or unconsciously manipulate and utilize them in the service of economic ends. The management of these stereotypes entails reshaping them to render them inoffensive to producers and consumers alike. This is partially accomplished through the incorporation of the stereotypic images into the stories that are told about the artists and their products.

According to Goffman (1963), management of the presentation of self serves many purposes, especially for members of a stigmatized group. It has recently been reiterated that there is a very lucrative market for artwork and crafts produced by "primitive societies" (Torgovnick 1990). The survival of the Indians who are stigmatized by Goffman's definition in the multi-cultural world in which they live is contingent upon their ability to manage their identities as a component of managing their livelihoods. Aware of the trend of the commercialization of the output of "primitive societies", they are cleverly taking advantage of it to enhance the marketability of their products.

Life history stories related by producers and intermediaries in the sales context provide opportunities for the management of identities. These stories offer the prospective buyers a seemingly intimate view of the artist's life. Such stories tend to elaborate on the unique "Indianness" and spirituality of the artist. These details which convey the uniqueness and sacredness of the objects are related metonymically (Lakoff and Johnson 1980) to the artists themselves. To increase the reach of the message, artists often have brochures available to customers visiting their booths.

One artist offered an extensive brochure based on an article by Mary Carroll Nelson (n.d.) in Southwest Profile, a regional art publication. Here the reader is given the impression that the artist is extraordinary in an almost supernatural way.

Perfectita (Baca) and Seriaco Toya had been childless for all the long years of their marriage when, in her 40s, she gave birth to their "miracle baby" Mary (her Tewa name is Kal-La-Tee, meaning New Indian Basket) on July 12, 1945 at Jemez Pueblo. The Toyas were faithful Catholics, but they raised Mary, who is a member of the Sun Clan, to honor and practice her Indian religion, as well as Christianity.

The label "miracle baby" implies that this artist has from birth been an extraordinary person. The inclusion of her Tewa name and its meaning also gives the reader a sense of the artist's identity. Finally, the identification of her clan and the statement that she participated in her native religion tells us that she is a full fledged Indian, not only physically but also spiritually. This is not to imply that these are false statements about this artist, but that they are emphasized to convey these specific images in relation to the products.

In addition to the identities of artists, the attributes of products are also managed through the stories that accompany them. Stories that are told include narratives about the production process, descriptions of a particular piece, and ones that promise that possession and use of a particular object will provide a blessing and/or good luck to the consumer. The stories have common certain key images that are associated with their producers, including the spiritual, powerful, natural, and supernatural. The sellers attempt to persuade the customer that if the object is purchased, its magic, an intrinsic part of its "Indianness", will be passed on. This contagious magic is related metanymically to the producer, and is transferred to the consumer.

In the brochure provided by potter Mary Small, salient details of the production of her work were included. The following excerpt lists the sacred attributes a piece produced by this artist possesses and the benefits it will provide for the purchaser. (Nelson n.d.)

When they are finished, they are blessed. They have power. Whoever buys the pottery should have a nice home, a happy life and a sacred object, because there are a lot of prayers in my potteries. The designs mean something to me. They mean good weather, pretty raindrops. . .

Clearly, the words "blessed" and "power" signify the sacredness of the pots. The nice home and happy life are among the benefits the pot offers and perhaps also deserves. Additionally, the artist is quoted using the word "potteries". It is common in Indian-English dialects for speakers to use the plural "s" ending for words which are mass nouns (House 1986). The inclusion of this linguistic pattern gives the reader a greater sense of the authenticity of the artist and perhaps a renewed sense of intellectual superiority over the non-native English speaking Native American groups. Finally, the statement that the "designs mean something to me" assures consumers that the designs are symbols which are special and authentic to the people who produce them.

Consumers take delight in sharing stories about the products they have purchased.

it was a heavenly stone and as a stone it would bring good luck always. So, the thing to do is wear your Indian jewelry. I'm not superstitious but I've always worn it and I think I've always hit the duck!

Here, the power of the jewelry is conveyed through the words "heavenly stone" and the statement that the stone "would bring good luck." This consumer claimed to have found good fortune from wearing the jewelry through the use of the expression "hit the duck." Additionally, she attempted to give herself more credibility by inserting the phrase "I'm not superstitious". This notion that good fortune accompanies the consumption of a product is supported in relation to another type of art by another consumer who also attends to her credibility by a disclaimer about her decor.

the only reason I bought the sand painting is because I need something to bless my house. And my decor in my home is not southwestern or Indian or anything, so I bought the sandpainting for the blessing.


Individuals and groups are aware that it serves them well to present themselves in a socially acceptable way (Goffman 1963) and they find creative ways to do so. Bauman (1986) emphasizes that storytelling gives individuals a way to encode and present themselves to construct an image for themselves. Bauman illustrates that notions of truth and reality are negotiated through stories. American Indian artists are involved in similar processes. One of the most prominent techniques used in the co-construction and management of identity is the telling of stories.

The title of this paper, "Telling Stories", intentionally carries a double meaning. Storytelling is the most natural language form that emerges in the sales setting. Indians conserve their history and culture via the oral tradition of storytelling. Children from within the mainstream North American culture learn about Indians through stories. Hence, a romanticized vision of Indian life is closely connected to the telling of stories. The other meaning of the expression "Telling Stories" is that they are just "stories" which may or may not very closely resemble "the real truth." I propose that Indian artists and sellers, as well as Anglo traders and consumers, are involved in the telling of stories about the objects they are dealing. While some of these stories do have a basis in reality, many are fabricated to maintain the connection between the product and the stereotypical image of the producer in order to enhance the value of the arts and crafts.

Just as stories are central to the transaction for artists, sellers and traders, they are important to the consumer as well. The artist/seller below explains how he feels consumers value and use the stories they hear.

Because people, when they collect your art you know they're more interested in the artists. You know, not only the art but the artists. And when you have your piece, they want a story with it. So when they have the background of the artist, they know them and they know what he's all about, they appreciate his artwork. They have the story and when they show the collection to their friends when they visit their homes and gardens, they can just rattle on. (laughter)

This artist believes that consumers prefer to have a certain amount of background information on the artist. This increased knowledge gives them additional prestige when they are entertaining friends and showing off their art. The use of the word "rattle" suggests that the artist feels that what the consumers say when they are telling their stories is lengthy and not terribly profound. Nonetheless, the stories serve to preserve the constructed identity of the Indian artist.

Anglo retailers and traders capitalize on the fact that consumers enjoy learning about the Indian through the stories that accompany the arts and crafts. The following excerpts reflect the strategies such sellers use to make the most of the stories that are connected to the products. When asked about a particular piece, one retailer gave the following explanation:

...that is a dream catcher. Are you familiar with the little story on it? The small ones they used to put over the Indian baby's bed and the Indian baby would have good dreams because the bad dreams get caught in the webbing and the good dreams go through the center.

The modifier, "little," denotes a story that is not big, perhaps not too important. That is, it may be a bit contrived rather than absolutely true. The benefit of the product was to give the "Indian baby good dreams" which suggests that perhaps a baby needs to be Indian for it to work. Finally, the use of the modal-verb "would have" suggests that it was something that was true some time ago and perhaps is no longer valid. As these qualifying statements are not absolute, the possibility exists that even today a non-Indian baby would benefit from a dream catcher.

Sellers' stories also support the affinity between the objects and the stereotypic view of the creators. The same retailer discussed the importance of stories for her customers. In the excerpt below, she outlines how she shares these stories.

we have stories on all the kachinas because in Indian, everyone loves to relate to stories so everything they buy, they want a story on, so the burden baskets...I try and do up stories on ... Yeah here, I put stories on them. (points out card on burden basket)

The most salient language form here is the use of "on" to denote the relationship of the story to the object. The preposition "on" implies that the story does not emerge from within the object. It is instead something from without that is attached. The retailer also chooses to use an interesting verb form, "do up", to describe how she conveys the stories. This conjures up a sense of making something up rather than merely reporting something factual. It is interesting that the woman refers to the Native American cultures and/or languages with the generic term "in Indian." This implies that she is content to make generalizations about literally hundreds of tribes, cultures and languages.

The act of telling the story, that is, the performance, serves to express the connection between the products and the Indian image and provide consumers with the perception that they have had a role in the performance. Bauman (1986) suggests that performances have the power to rearrange the structure of social relations within the event. A Flathead Indian trader/auctioneer elaborates on this theme:

The first thing I try to accomplish to relax the peopleC say something funny and get people in light spirits. I often tell auction anecdotes concerning a particular artist whose work will go on the block.. I want to put a smile on people's faces. I want them to feel we are one big happy family. I want them in a buying mood so that when the time comes, they'll go a couple of bids past what they thought they really wanted to. I keep reminding the people C it's only money. (Epstein 1991: 14)

The power of humor is used a great deal in the entertaining auction monologue. The anecdotes about the specific artists foster the buyer's illusion of knowing the artist. To accompany the bidding of a painting, the auctioneer told a story about the artist before he had achieved recognition. The phrase "one big happy family" suggests a positive relationship between the customers' sense of solidarity with the artists and the amount of the bids. Later during the same auction, the auctioneer told a story about the way things are done up at his trading post in Montana.

We sell a lot of beadwork and rawhide items and a lot of things like were seen in Dances with Wolves so we have a joke. It's a joke with us it isn't really with the people I guess. Someone will come in and ask ... hanging on the wall and they say "how much is that?" Well, the clerk, who are either all my children or grandchildren and about as smart as I am which ain't too smart, but we're good at certain things and selling things is one of them. One yells across the room, "Auntie, how much is this... that they used in Dances with Wolves?" It don't make any difference what the price is, the guy says "I'll take it!" We got jewelry that Kevin Costner wore behind the scenes! "Auntie, how much is this turquoise bolo tie?", "Is that the one Kevin Costner wore down in Billings when they were making the movie?" "$300", "I'll take it!" We don't really do that with the jewelry, but we do it with the other things. And any of you who bought stuff from me, we ain't giving you your money back!

In addressing a supposedly sophisticated group of prospective buyers in an elegant hotel suite, the auctioneer pokes fun at less sophisticated consumers who are on the pro-Indian bandwagon which was spurred by the film Dances With Wolves. Here he demonstrates to the group that Indian entrepreneurs are clever enough to capitalize on this if they want to.

Sometimes the piece of art itself represents a story. Tom Nez describes a ring and bracelet set he made.

This is the San Xavier Mission, the first church building in Arizona, that's Father Kino walking, there's eagle flying over his head, there a saguaro cactus, there's a road runner, this is the Monument Valley where the rocks stickin in it, there's a bird, a jackrabbit, coyotes, and these little dots represents the water table. See that thing sticking out of the ground? That's called mesquite wood. It has my name inside too Nez. There you go.

This artist/seller is also an actor and a singer. I was directed to him by the producer of an Indian arts and crafts show because he was an "expert" at talking about his work. What is interesting about this story is that it has a beginning and an end indicated by "This is San Xavier Mission" and "There you go" respectively, yet it does not have any plot or depth. It is merely a list of discrete objects and places that are used to stereotype the Southwest. This is created by an artist who makes a lucrative living from playing the stereo-typical Indian in television shows and films, as well as in the sales setting. He is well known among the other sellers as one who exploits his Indianness. I asked a seller at the next booth if I could record some of the stories he tells about the sand paintings he sells and he adamantly refused, exclaiming "I'm no Tom Nez!" Although this seller refused to be recorded, his selling strategy was not unlike that of Nez, that is, spinning stories to increase marketability of his products.

Consumers may be mistaken if they perceive that they have learned all about an Indian artist and his or her culture. Nez illuminated other suspicions regarding the credibility of these stories.

I don't really tell the whole whole story you know, especially in Navajo culture. It takes uh almost a week to just to explain something you know, what it means. In general detail, you can do it you know, just like that...Everything I say here is just in general, but people like it.

Nez explains that the thumb-nail sketches serve to appease consumers without requiring him to expose too much of his own culture. The reduplication of the word "whole" may emphasize the fact that the entire story is bigger than one would expect. Finally, Tom prefaces the phrase "in general" with the word "just" to minimize the importance of the detail he omits from the stories. He stresses that people do enjoy his abbreviated stories.

Another selling technique involving stories was employed at a gallery run by a jeweler who creates designs based on Aleut stories and legends passed down through her grandmother. During Indian Market week, a Yup'ik storyteller performed in the back room of the gallery. He was quoted (Podany 1991) as saying:

What I do is because of my grandmother. Most of the songs I initially learned were from her. So, it's her singing through me. We're all in this together.

Here, we see reference to an elder, a grandparent. Stories seem to have greater power, greater authenticity, if they are passed down through the generations. The phrase "her singing through me" also indicates a special, perhaps supernatural, transference of the stories. Finally, in stating "We're all in this together", the storyteller is implying a solidarity which is shared by native peoples. In this, he suggests that it is important to retain the old traditions and he is pleased to be able to share these. What is not said is that consumers associate the power and authenticity of the stories with the products and the gallery.

Throughout this discussion of the language used to promote these products, the following metaphors have been presented:

The Indian is a spiritual being. The Indian lives a traditional lifestyle. Indians are connected to stories that are passed on through the generations. Indians are associated with symbols that bring luck, blessings, rain, etc.

Also we have seen one example of the metaphor of the Southwest in Tom Nez' design description. As Lakoff and Johnson (1980) point out, metaphors have power to create reality as well as merely describe what exists. This is demonstrated here as the consumers who are purchasing products are also purchasing the metaphors to fulfill certain needs and desires. Indian producers are romanticized beings who cannot be purchased, but their products, which convey the metaphors do provide meaning for consumers.


An outcome of the use of stories to convey the meaning of these arts and crafts is the creation and maintenance of stereotypes. While some of the artists thrive on allowing themselves to be stereotyped and even collude in this stereotyping, there are some successful artists striving to reject stereotypes. One artist featured in an Indian Market publication (Kress 1991) is reportedly interested in educating Anglos with the hope of overcoming the stereotypes.

Namingha will only reveal a gleaning of his work's meaning realizing that he must be careful with his tribe's heritage. Still he hopes that people will intuitively grasp his work's message. With luck, he seeks to "bridge the gap" between the Anglo world which collects his work and the Indian world, so that "they become more interested and respectful of other cultures, not only my tribe but other tribes also."

Namingha, a Hopi, aspires to reach Anglos through art, so that they will better understand and appreciate all Indian culture. This Pan Indian sentiment is also evident in a published excerpt from an interview with Larry Yazzie, a Navajo.

There are a lot of people now like I was, who don't know anything about our own way. And I don't want to leave those people out. I want to make them feel important...A lot of my work depict the serenity in Native American people. A lot of people need to be educated, to break the stereotypes about Indian people. It's a religious responsibility for me, I believe the Creator has given me this gift to leave something for the younger people, and I approach my art that way. (Faunteleroy 1991)

This artist believes he has made a transformation for the better from "like I was", and he is hoping to help other Indians. His words "to make them feel important" suggest that he believes that he is now empowered to have an impact on their lives. The statement "people need to be educated" shows that Yazzie now sees himself in the position of one who has learned from experience and is prepared to transmit the information to others. He then explicitly states that stereotypes need to be broken. Yazzie also articulates the driving force behind his objectives and expresses that his mission is to teach others.

Political messages are expressed in the art forms of some of the more outspoken artists. A few have not only created art which conveys political and controversial points, but also have been involved in massive protests. Adam Fortunate Eagle, who has found fame in sculpting and pipe making, was the leader of the 1969 takeover of Alcatraz Island. He creates sculptures that communicate serious messages about the history of his people.

Death Song at Wounded Knee depicts eight faces of Indians either singing their death song or speaking of the deaths of others, When an Indian knew death was near he would sing his death song preparing himself to make the journey to the spirit world. Every person has their own death song. You prepare yourself for another journey and that's what this alabaster sculpture represents. I will have a number of bronzes, including Prelude to the Trail of Tears that relates to the Cherokee long walk and a small one titled Tide of History that tells the story of life.

The titles Fortunate Eagle has given to his art work bring to mind the injustices that the Native American people have faced. He weaves the sacred traditions of his people into the description of the pieces. His discussion of the journey to the spirit world evokes a feeling of the inevitability of death, and for the Indian, a suffering brought on by injustice. Like Yazzie, he is involved in conveying a Pan-Indian message, using historic incidents from the experience of quite dissimilar tribes from different parts of the continent.

David Bradley, a successful painter and an instructor at the Institute of American Indian Art, uses his art to attack stereotypes. The most visible piece is a take-off on the "Land O' Lakes" butter label. In this piece, the same charming and beautiful Indian maiden is depicted, but the label above her head reads "Land O Bucks." In a published interview (Tarchinski 1991: 39), he said he is "showing a mirror to the non-Indians hoping they will realize the consequences of their actions," although it is not clear whether the people to whom he shows the mirror actually see themselves in it.

While the artists discussed here have actively challenged stereotypes and have been successful, the majority of producers feel they must create products that meet the demand of the market. Numerous informants have indicated that they refrain from producing contemporary items because consumers show preferences for the more "traditional" pieces. It appears that artists will only feel confident about challenging stereotypes after they have achieved recognition and stability in the industry.

Perhaps the dedication of the challengers of the stereotypes and the consciousness raising that many of them seem prepared to do will interact with the power of the performance (Bauman 1986) and the power of the metaphor (Lakoff and Johnson 1980) to allow Native American artisans and craftspeople to attain a truly "authentic" contemporary artistic achievement. Until then, they will be constrained by the demand of mainstream Anglos for what is considered "typical" or "traditional" Indian arts and crafts and accompanying stories.


It is indeed a paradox that American Indians must continue to support and perpetuate the stereotypes of themselves in order to market their products. Until a producer receives recognition, it is very risky to attempt to thwart stereotypes and/or create very innovative and contemporary designs. This brings to mind the dilemma posed by new product development. The most successful producers are the ones who innovate. Nonetheless, the costs and risks involved in new product development tend to be discouraging. The more successful producers take these risks via the creation of market niches. For example, the above mentioned challengers of the stereotypes and the producers of the more contemporary designs are placing their work above the level of the mass marketed products. The stories they tell tend to be more descriptive and profound than those related by the sellers of the lower end products. It suggests that the consumers of these differentiated products demand more specialized and carefully constructed stories.

Other questions concerning the symbiotic relationship between the production of Indian arts and crafts and the recent development of the Anglo consumers' sense of New Age spirituality suggest a very intriguing area for future research. One issue that has been recently examined in the popular press is how "sacred" objects are sold to consumers (Romancito 1992). Public policy issues are raised concerning the authenticity of sellers' claims and of the ethical issues that are raised by the commercialization of the religions of the American Indian.

An analysis of language use in a sales setting allows us to examine the interactional skills and processes involved in selling and consumption. Many consumers agreed that the purchase experience and the product are made more meaningful through meeting the producer and hearing the stories. Hence, this research provides us with examples of deeper meanings of consumption such as the role of possessions in the definition of self and others.


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Elisabeth Gilster, University of Arizona


NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 20 | 1993

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