It has already been a couple of weeks since the Consumer Culture Theory conference in Ann Arbor Michigan, but I’ve been meaning to write a little bit about it, and just haven’t had the chance until now.
The conference was held at the Stephen M. Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan and was preceded by a Qualitative Data Analysis workshop that was organized a team led by Eric Arnould of the University of Wyoming (Eric has put on every one of these QDA Workshops).
The workshop gives students and other scholars who are still learning qualitative research techniques a chance to run their research projects by more senior scholars and also to hear the scholars speak about techniques, theories, and their own research. It is an intense experience because there’s a lot of one-on-one contact between new researchers and more established ones. I greatly enjoyed meeting students from around the world and hearing about the fantastic variety of projects that they are investigating.
My presentation concerned the specifics of qualitative data analysis when using a netnographic approach.I talked a bit about the fundamentals of qualitative data analysis, coding, categorization, abstraction, and theorization, and then bridged that into a discussion of computer-assisted data analysis software programs. finally, I finished with a discussion of the particularities and peculiarities of the kinds of qualitative data that one encounters when researching online communities and cultures, providing strategies for dealing with these important idiosyncrasies. All of this material was adapted from the data analysis chapter in my upcoming book from Sage, Netnography: Doing Ethnographic Research in the Age of the Internet.
What struck me about the qualitative data analysis workshop this year was that there is still room for us to teach actual, hands-on qualitative data analysis, rather than hear scholars talk about ‘doing it’ in the abstract.
I am very interested in hearing whether there is interest among marketing research practitioners, academics, and students in a workshop where we would bring in significant amounts of text (netnographic text would be perfect, but so would fieldnotes, journals, or transcribed interviews) and then we would walk together through the process of coding, categorizing, abstracting, and building relevant theory or implications from our analyzed data sets. As well, I think scholars and practitioners might benefit from some practical guidance and mentorship around conducting interviews and doing observational work. Increasingly, I am finding that this is an area of great interest to practitioners and managers as well as to students and academics.
Are any of you interested in this idea?
Now, on to the conference. The Ann Arbor-based Consumer Culture Theory conference was the fourth one ever held. Originally, the CCT conference was conceived as an event that would be held every other year, but due to popular demand it seems to be on track as an annual conference. It gives scholars who are working in areas related to anthropology, sociology, and cultural studies theories a chance to get together an share their orientation on consumer culture.
One of the refreshing things about this year’s conference was we had a wide variety of methodologies being used to investigate consumer culture kinds of questions. For example, there were several presentations that used experimental methodologies, some that the causal equation modeling, and even one (by Andrew Feldstein) that brought in structural network analysis. I found the diversity refreshing and the discussions between the different scholars to be stimulating.
There were some terrific sessions. I greatly enjoyed the continuing voyages of Diego Rinallo, Pauline Maclaran, Linda Scott, and Derek Turley as they investigated mythical places of origin, pilgrimage destinations, notions of promised lands bringing a consumer research lands to the way that sacred places such as Glastonbury and Avalon in England and St. Brigid’s holy well in Ireland are consumed. As I wrote last year, I think this is fascinating work, and I was pleased to be a discussant in the session (even though I only had a few minutes to gush on about the research).
The two keynote addresses were also stimulating. The first, by Ulf Hannerz of Stockholm University in Sweden, talked about global punditry and futuristic prediction, analyzing the market for “big thinking/big picture” books such as Samuel Huntington’s “The Clash of Civilizations” or Thomas Friedman’s “The World is Flat” and how these books and their ideas relate to politics, academia, and the marketplace.
The next day we heard from Eva Illouz of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in Israel. Prof. Illouz spoke eloquently about the ramifications drawing from some of the ideas about emotional commodification in her influential book “Consuming the Romantic Utopia.” It was kind of shocking to see both professors read their presentations. In marketing and consumer research, we are so driven byPowerPoint, we just throw our slides up there and discuss them in our academese banter. Seeing these two profs present like that is a reminder that conventions outside our field are very different: some fields have conferences where entire papers are written beforehand, then read to the waiting audience.
Unfortunately, Donna Haraway didn’t show. As the sort of “Elvis” (maybe the Lady Gaga would be more timely and apropos) of cultural theorists, she had been touted as the academic headliner of the conference this year. My friend and colleague Markus Giesler, who co-chaired this conference so ably with his equally-able and devoted co-chairs David Wooten and John Branch (these three, along with their U of M admin assistants, did a stellar job with the conference), did his utmost to set up the conditions for Donna to appear. He is a master conjurer and exerted himself mightily. But, as the saying goes, ‘You never can tell with cyborgs.’ Professor Haraway was MIA and her Keynote had to be filled with a panel discussion.
Aside from Prof. Haraway’s missing face (and the conference’s saved face), there were a lot of new, young faces this year doing exciting, fresh work. Maybe it was because the Qualitative Data Analysis workshop was held right before the conference, drawing in a younger crowd.
I’ll talk about some of the presentations, but I can’t cover all of them. CCT is already getting to be a pretty major conference with lots of content. I enjoyed Joonas Rookas and Joel Hietanen’s ethnographic presentation of the tribes of paintballers (they are from the Helsinki School of Economics, and are undertaking the research with Kristine de Valck of HEC, Paris, France). Tonya Williams and John Sherry of the University of Notre Dame presented some very interesting work on wedding registries that sought to integrated expand some of the current thinking about gifts and gift giving.
In the same session, Northeastern University’s Fleura Bardhi presented some very interesting research she did with the United States Army about how family relationships interact with consumption needs to create family situations that either foster or discourage continued involvement in the US military. Rita Denny and Patty Sunderland of the Practica Group (a marketing research and strategic consulting agency) then made a delightful and informative about some work that they did for the Detroit Institute of Arts. Their presentation was multimedia and multimodal, and also presented an inside look at the applied use of ethnography to solve a non-profit’s strategic marketing problems. Their work really generated insight into the kinds of experiences that people (particularly mothers of younger children) were seeking from Art Museum, which weren’t lofty aesthetic experiences so much as momentary escapes for chances to exercise their imaginations and creativity-themes that were picked up on and realized beautifully by the advertising agency they were working with in its “Let yourself go” campaign.
Wow, there was so much good stuff. I have to mention Ekant Veer’s horrifying, stimulating, fascinating netnographic study of YouTube vloggers with anorexia nervosa (undertaken with Mai Barakat, who is also at the University of Bath with Ekant). These video bloggers share their weight loss obsessions with eager audiences, many of whom encourage them to continue losing weight and video blogging about it.
Leeds University’s Caterina Presi did a great job of presenting netnographic research that she is doing with Ingeborg Kleppe (from NHH in Bergen Norway) and myself on the visual community of Flickr and its implications for our understanding of community and communication online.
I also liked Toni Eagar’s work (Toni is from Australian National University in Canberra) on brand heros, where she used the community of fans and followers of Terry Pratchett’s DiscWorld works as her ethnographic fieldsite. Her work starts to sort out some interesting conceptual differences between heroes, myths, and legends as it looks to the community for insights about the mythic underpinnings of collective brand loyalty.
There was a ton of great stuff at the conference–I wish I could have seen and could mention all of it. Next year’s conference is apparently planned for Madison, Wisconsin, a city very near and dear to my heart (as I once lived, worked, and taught there), and will be hosted by consumer research superstar Craig Thompson (who is also, apparently, a very successful cartoonist and graphic novel author).
If you are interested, please stay tuned to web and email list postings on the conference and consider attending it next year. I think you will find it to be an excellent, inspirational gathering of a community of scholars doing relevant, high quality work.