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Managing the 21st-century Consumer: Social Representations of Contemporary Consumers in the Business Media

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Title:Managing the 21st-century Consumer: Social Representations of Contemporary Consumers in the Business Media
Authors:Rocchio, Joahna C.
Contributors:Sociology (department)
Date Issued:May 2018
Publisher:University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa
Abstract:Guided by the social constructionist contention that “definitions of reality have selffulfilling
potency,” this dissertation takes an original approach to one of the most
enduring and contentious debates in the multidisciplinary field of consumer studies
(Berger & Luckmann, 1966, p. 145). For centuries, social theorists from economics,
political science, and sociology to cultural studies, psychology, and marketing have
wrestled with the question of whether capitalist consumers are sovereign powers or
manipulable dupes. Rather than examining the objective existence of consumer power,
as scholars traditionally have, this study investigates the business world’s beliefs
regarding consumer power via a content analysis of the prominent business management
magazine Harvard Business Review (HBR). Situated at the intersection of economic
sociology and cultural sociology, this research draws upon social representations theory,
consumer studies scholarship, theories of the business media, and research on
management knowledge diffusion to assert and then demonstrate that cultural
conceptions of consumer power have economic consequences for capitalist consumers.
Employing both qualitative and quantitative methods, the study first weaves together
illustrative quotes and evidentiary examples from HBR to produce two descriptively rich
qualitative portraits of the powerful and manipulable sides of the business media’s social
representation of 21st-century consumers. Following this, the study’s quantitative
findings demonstrate that Harvard Business Review predominantly represents
contemporary consumers as sovereign powers rather than manipulable dupes at the
beginning of the century. Finally, using binary logistic regression analysis to examine
the relationship between HBR’s consumer representation and its consumer-related
business strategy advice, the study concludes by showing that the business world,
speaking via the pages of Harvard Business Review, primarily subscribes to a belief in
consumer sovereignty and that this belief operates as a self-fulfilling prophecy rather than
an ideology in the economic realm by encouraging the promotion of consumerempowering
business practices. In addition to offering these empirical findings as an
original contribution to the discipline of sociology and the study of consumers and
consumption, the dissertation’s methodology chapter draws upon lessons learned during
an extensive coding frame development process to offer theoretical insight regarding the
question of how consumer power should be conceptualized.
Description:Ph.D. Thesis. University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa 2018.
URI:http://hdl.handle.net/10125/62800
Rights:All UHM dissertations and theses are protected by copyright. They may be viewed from this source for any purpose, but reproduction or distribution in any format is prohibited without written permission from the copyright owner.
Appears in Collections: Ph.D. - Sociology


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