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Session Overview
RN05_02a: Conspicuous consumption
Wednesday, 21/Aug/2019:
2:00pm - 3:30pm

Session Chair: A Warde, University of Manchester
Location: BS.G.34
Manchester Metropolitan University Building: Business School, Ground Floor Oxford Road

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Change in the Consumption of the Rich in the UK, 1967-2018

Alan Warde1, Irmak Karademir Hazir2

1University of Manchester; 2Oxford Brookes University, United Kingdom

The Financial Times is a British daily newspaper with a readership among the business community and especially the City of London. For just over 50 years it has included a section called ‘How to Spend It’, initially a single page, now a magazine supplement, which reflects upon possibilities for personal and household consumption for the exceptionally rich. Primarily concerned with purchases of goods and services, it offers insight into how the wealthy engage with the culture of consumption. We examine changes in patterns and justifications of primarily conspicuous consumption by sampling the newspaper at strategic intervals. This gives a preliminary account of how, as inequalities accelerated rapidly during the period, the very richest minority has adjusted its behaviour in relation to globalised consumer culture. We address themes of conspicuous consumption, trickle down effects, cosmopolitanism, omnivorousness, luxury and justifications of privilege.

The Changing Consumption of Luxury among Different Consumer Generations

Terhi-Anna Wilska

University of Jyväskylä, Finland

This paper focuses on the consumption of luxury products and service in Finland during the past 30 years. The perceptions of luxury and necessity have changed, as the standard of living has been rising. The environmental concern and demands for sustainability have also changed the perception of socially desirable consumption.

Traditionally, products and services that go beyond necessity, are expensive and generally desired for the comfort and enjoyment they bring, are regarded as luxury. The perceptions of luxury varies with age, gender, income and social class, in particular.

This paper presents the trends of luxury consumption in Finland between the years 1985 and 2016 in different age groups. The data analysed in this study are the Statistics Finland's Household Budget Surveys that produce data on changes in the consumption expenditure of households and on differences in consumption by population group. The luxury products and services in the focus are products such as cars and boats, antique and arts, jewellery, as well as travel and some new technology items.

The preliminary results reveal that macro-economic conditions cause notable differences in luxury consumption in all age groups. With regard to age, young people spend relatively less than older people on vehicles, arts and antique, for instance. Travelling and technology seem to be typical young people’s luxury consumption. However, spending on “traditional” luxury has generally decreased in all age groups.

It is not just Class and Status: Network Correlates of Consumption Tastes and Practices in Poland

Michał Cebula1, Przemysław Sadura2

1University of Wrocław, Poland; 2University of Warsaw

According to popular proverbs such as: “birds of a feather flock together” or “who keeps company with the wolves will learn to howl”, what we think, like or do depends on or affects with whom we keep in touch or where we belong to. It is widely accepted in the sociology of consumption that our interests, tastes and practices are not socially neutral but fulfil socializing and communicative functions. Nevertheless, most researchers have rather focused on the class variety in consumption, leaving social connections beyond the scope of their attention. To fill this void we refer to the state-of-the-art theorizing on the mutual links between social network characteristics (e.g. size, diversity, resources) and cultural preferences, knowledge and activities and present them in the context of Polish society.

We draw on data from a large – scale survey carried out on a random sample of the large city adult population (N = 1010), complimented by qualitative in-depth interviews with its representatives (a research project financed by the National Science Centre in Poland - UMO-2016/21/D/HS6/02424). We hypothesize that consumption variety is a function of networks of larger size, more diversified, rich with cultural incentives and spanning larger distances in social space (especially through weak and non-family ties). Additionally we investigate whether there is a systematic connection between strength of preferences (intensity of engagement) and a type of network correlates (e.g. density, closure, strength of ties)?

Disclosures, Cover-up, Mocking: Comparing What Individual vs. Focus Groups Interviews Do Best When Studying Cultural Consumption

Riie Heikkilä1, Anu Katainen2

1Tampere University, Finland; 2University of Helsinki, Finland

Interviewing still stands at the heart of qualitative research methods, with individual interviews and focus group interviews as their most well-known and oft-used practical applications. Yet, few empirical studies consciously argue and debate on exactly why a specific kind of type of interview is chosen above many other possibilities. While individual interviews are associated with a potentially strong confidentiality and a high level of disclosure between the interviewer and interviewee, focus groups are usually understood to uncover group understandings, social and cultural contexts and interactive dynamics about the topic in question.

In this paper our aim is to shed systematic light on what are the pros and cons of individual versus focus groups interviews when studying cultural consumption, understood here as the manifestations of cultural taste, knowledge and participation. We will draw empirical evidence from a large Finnish research project and the interviews collected in it in 2018. The data includes 10 groups interviews and 40 individual interviews, all conducted with an identical set of open-ended questions touching upon life course, leisure, taste, highbrow and lowbrow participation and different pieces of art used as vignettes to evoke conversation. Our analysis shows that interviewees mobilize radically different cultural competences and exhibit different modes of cultural capital depending on whether they face the interviewer alone or in a group, both types of interviews being essential for understanding the studied phenomenon in depth.

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