Consumer culture theory

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Consumer culture theory (CCT) is the study of consumption choices and behaviors from a social and cultural point of view, as opposed to an economic or psychological one.

CCT does not offer a grand unifying theory but "refers to a family of theoretical perspectives that address the dynamic relationships between consumer actions, the marketplace, and cultural meanings".[1] Reflective of a post-modernist society, CCT views cultural meanings as being numerous and fragmented[2] and hence views culture as an amalgamation of different groups and shared meanings, rather than a homogeneous construct (such as the American culture).

Consumer culture is viewed as "social arrangement in which the relations between lived culture and social resources, between meaningful ways of life and the symbolic and material resources on which they depend, are mediated through markets"[3] and consumers as part of an interconnected system of commercially produced products and images which they use to construct their identity and orient their relationships with others.[4]


There is a widely held misperception by people outside CCT researchers that this field is oriented toward the study of consumption contexts.[1] Memorable study contexts, such as the Harley-Davidson subculture[5] or the Burning Man festival[6] probably fueled this perspective, which is far from the theory development aim of this school of thought.

While CCT is often associated with qualitative methodologies, such as interviews, case studies, ethnographic, as well as 'netnographic' methods[7] which are well adapted to study the experiential, sociological and cultural aspects of consumption, these are not a prerequisite to CCT contribution (Arnould & Thompson 2005).

Fields of study[edit]

Arnould & Thompson[1] identifies four research programs in CCT:

  • Consumer identity projects, such as Schau & Gilly[8] study on personal web space, which studied how consumers create a coherent self through marketer-produced materials
  • Marketplace culture, such as Schouten & McAlexander[5] study on the Harley-Davidson subculture, which looked at consumers as culture producers. This research program builds particularly on Maffesoli's concept of neo-tribes[9] Studies of consumer tribes have focused, for example, on clubbing culture and surf culture.[10]
  • Mass-mediated marketplace ideologies and consumers' interpretive strategies, such as Kozinets[6] study of the Burning Man Festival, which looked at consumer ideologies and identities are influenced by economic and cultural globalisation and how cultural product systems orient consumers toward certain ideologies or identity projects.
  • Sociohistoric patterning of consumption, such as Holt[11] study which looked at the influence of social capital on consumption choices.


  1. ^ a b c Arnould, E. J.; Thompson, C. J. (2005). "Consumer culture theory (CCT): Twenty Years of Research". Journal of Consumer Research. 31 (4): 868–882. doi:10.1086/426626.
  2. ^ Firat, A. F.; Venkatesh, A. (1995). "Liberatory Postmodernism and the Reenchantment of Consumption". Journal of Consumer Research. 22 (3): 239–267. doi:10.1086/209448. JSTOR 2489612.
  3. ^ Arnould, E. J. (2006). "Consumer culture theory: retrospect and prospect" (PDF). European Advances in Consumer Research. 7 (1): 605–607. Retrieved 14 August 2010.
  4. ^ Kozinets, R. V. (2001). "Utopian Enterprise: Articulating the Meanings of Star Trek's Culture of Consumption". Journal of Consumer Research. 28 (3): 67–88. doi:10.1086/321948. JSTOR 254324.
  5. ^ a b Schouten, J.; McAlexander, J. H. (1995). "Subcultures of Consumption: An Ethnography of the New Bikers" (PDF). Journal of Consumer Research. 22 (3): 43–., ./61. doi:10.1086/209434. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2010-08-03. Retrieved 2010-08-14.
  6. ^ a b Kozinets, Robert V (2002). "Can Consumers Escape the Market? Emancipatory Illuminations from Burning Man". Journal of Consumer Research. 29 (1): 20–38. CiteSeerX doi:10.1086/339919. Retrieved 7 August 2010.
  7. ^ Kozinets, Robert V. (February 1, 2002). "The Field Behind the Screen: Using Netnography for Marketing Research in Online Communities". Journal of Marketing Research. 39 (1): 61–72. CiteSeerX doi:10.1509/jmkr. ISSN 0022-2437.
  8. ^ Schau, H. J.; Gilly, M. C. (2003). "We Are What We Post? Self-Presentation in Personal Web Space". Journal of Consumer Research. 30 (4): 384–404. CiteSeerX doi:10.1086/378616. JSTOR 3132017.
  9. ^ Maffesoli, Michel (1995-12-05). The Time of the Tribes: The Decline of Individualism in Mass Society. SAGE. ISBN 9781848609532.
  10. ^ Goulding, Christina; Shankar, Avi; Canniford, Robin (May 24, 2013). "Learning to be tribal: facilitating the formation of consumer tribes". European Journal of Marketing. 47 (5/6): 813–832. doi:10.1108/03090561311306886. ISSN 0309-0566.
  11. ^ Holt, D. B. (1998). "Does Cultural Capital Structure American Consumption". Journal of Consumer Research. 25 (1): 1–25. doi:10.1086/209523.