Consuming manhood : consumer culture and the identity projects of black and white millennial males




Thomas, Kevin Devon

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This study qualitatively examines the synergetic relationship between marketing communication, identity formation, and consumer behavior within the context of black and white males of the Millennial Generation. The sample consisted of 20 males between the ages of 18-29; ten self-identified as black and 10 self-identified as white. This project expands the knowledge base of consumption/identity research by incorporating intersectionality into the present body of consumer behavior work. A consumer’s identity project is far more complex than what is represented by current consumer behavior scholarship. Consumers must navigate multiple sites of identification that constantly shift in importance and involvement. To more closely reflect consumers in the flesh, this study incorporated multiple sites of identity projects into the analysis. By taking a more “true-to-life” approach to consumption/identity research, this project unearths new knowledge that is proximate to the lived experience of consumers. Consumer culture theory (CCT), a division of consumer research that moves the discussion of consumption behavior deep into the realm of cultural impact was used as the conceptual focus of this project. Autodriving was utilized to collect data. This form of photo elicitation involves the use of informants taking photos of a particular phenomenon and then “driving” the interview by discussing the photos they have taken. In the context of this study, informants were furnished a disposal camera and asked to photographically document representations of the following: achievement & success, morality, humanitarianism, nationalism, and freedom. Informants were strongly encouraged to also visually document anything that did not fit into the abovementioned categories but represented something they found particularly interesting or offensive. To examine the impact of marketing communication on the informants’ identity projects, print advertisements featuring different configurations of masculinity and manhood were explored. Three key themes emerged from the data. All informants used the marketplace to express values. The concept of identity elasticity was developed to explain the significant difference in identity potentiality between white and black informants. Many white and black informants shared the perception that they live in a post-racial society. However, the experience of a post-racial society was highly divergent based on racial formation.




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