Part III Theoretical Framework
Chapter 4: The SSLCT Framework
4.1 The Specific State-form and Life-mode Consumption Theory
35 dimensions (Sestoft, 2010). Hence, Sestoft broadens the traditional concept of a political consumer, as the political dimension is argued to be intertwined with both business and society, meaning that political consumption can be about more than actual politics, thus making the framework appropriate in relation to the scope of our project, as companies’ CSR initiatives become about politics and society.
Figure 3: The SSLCT Framework
Source: Sestoft 2010
The framework tries to account for both the political and cultural dimension in relation to consumption, as the theory incorporates the interdependencies that are argued to exist between society, business, and consumer behaviour, while accounting for three perspectives on consumer culture theory:
Firstly, the Bottom-Up perspective is concerned with how different types of consumers create meaning out of products and consumption; hence it is about studying concrete consumption and values on the Individual Level i.e. how consumers create meaning when consuming
Globalisation, Emancipation, National identity, Tradition
E.g. Anti-globalism or religious fundamentalism
= Societal Level
Practices + Self-orientation + values
Objectification Discourses Interpellation
= Individual Level
Consumption Consumerism +
= Anti- Societal Level
36 specific products. Thus, this perspective focuses on consumer identity and lifestyle, as they inevitably have an effect on which products they consume.
Secondly, the Top-Down perspective is focused on the social and instrumental structures that affect how consumers determine the value of a product. This means that the external environment has an effect on how consumers come to value a specific product. The difference from the first perspective is that consumer identity results from the societal Discourse of political, economic, and ideological structures.
Thirdly, the All-Around perspective is concentrated on the paradigms of consumption where value is created from multiple sources such as Discourses, ideas, and culture, along with cultural differences etc. within the societal context. This view correlates with Pedersen’s argument (2011), as he states that the themes at the Societal Level will set the agenda for which topics are being discussed at the Individual Level.
Thereby the framework becomes a dialectic cultural theory that breaks with the traditional dualism by which many consumption theories have been constructed, e.g. the Meaning Transfer Model put forward by McCracken (McCracken 1986). Thus, the SSLCT has the ability to go beyond this dualism that traditionally exists when studying consumer behaviour and takes on a multiple perspective when trying to understand consumer identity, feelings, and preferences in relation to the market dimension, the community, norms, beliefs, politics etc. This indicates that we are not forced to choose between one of the three above-mentioned perspectives on consumer culture.
In addition, Sestoft argues that the framework is built on the assumption of “self-defense”, which is defined as the soft power of consumption, namely influence. Thus, comprehending consumption also becomes important from a societal perspective. Furthermore, values are presented as expressions of the leading consumption Discourse within a specific society (ibid). However, we argue that these expressions of values also take place in specific social contexts. As the framework is constructed on the notion of soft power, Sestoft argues that it can be used both ways; from the Individual Level (Consumer subjects2) and up or from the Societal Level (Consumer Subject3) and down. This, of course, depends on perspective, which in relation to the scope of our project is the Individual level and up, as the Danish consumers
2Consumer subjects will throughout our project be referred to at the Individual Level.
3Consumer Subject will throughout our project be referred to as the Societal Level.
37 are the focal point of our project. Moreover, the framework becomes dynamic, as Societal Level, Anti–Societal Level, and Individual Level have the ability to influence and transform one another.
4.1.1 Societal Level (Consumer Subject)
As we use the SSLCT from the Individual Level and up to the Societal Level, the Societal Level functions as a subjective reference regarding experience, culture, schemes, and scripts etc. for the consumers. The Societal Level entails all thinkable consumption-related concepts in relation to the leading Discourse within a societal context, e.g. obtaining social status, creating social links, gaining self-gratification, generating value and identity along with the expression of culture etc. This means that the Societal Level becomes subject to change as new Discourses emerge. Thus, according to Sestoft, consumption takes on a broader role in relation to her framework, than argued in the traditional views; e.g. achieving and maintaining a position within society as argued by Bourdieu (1995) and a modern and democratic way of redistributing resources as argued by McCracken (1988), since consumption becomes about consumer culture at various levels within a society.
4.1.2 Individual level (Consumer subjects)
As already touched upon, consumption equals power within a Western perspective;
consumption simply becomes a micro-political, social, and moral question rather than just an economic and macro-political issue at the Individual Level. Furthermore, consumers within a contemporary society are expected to create authentic selves though their consumption, because it has become a key driver in identity making. They are expected to create valid preferences and attitudes from a very complex context that includes both business and society.
However, all consumers are argued to be cultural expressions of the dominating Discourse within the Societal Level, thus the creation of preferences and attitudes become context specific e.g. Danish consumers become a cultural expression of the dominating Discourse within our society (Sestoft 2010), indicating that the Individual Level and the Societal Level are interdependent.
38 4.1.3 Objectification
Sestoft argues that values have become virtuous expressions of the Societal Level, where they are connected to specific products or services. Objectification is when consumers relate themselves to a product or service. It becomes a process where consumers evaluate the product or service through the perspective of the dominating Discourse within our society.
This process takes place before consumers determine whether or not to incorporate its value into their identity. Thus, personal identity is formed and developed within these processes, suggesting that the products or services are made meaningful to the consumers by the consumers (ibid), which affects the Societal Level, as consuming products can alter the virtuous expressions by which the products were initially valued. Hence, Objectification is a continuous circle within our society.
Research and knowledge play a crucial role when it comes to consumption. They facilitate important Discourses that tend to grow in numbers and complexity, as well as consumers’
awareness about their own behaviour. Therefore, the consumerist Discourse makes consumers more aware of how to consume responsibly (ibid). This awareness is reflected in the above-mentioned paragraph about Objectification, where products and services turn out to be meaningful objects that help create identity through value expressions (ibid). Moreover, new emerging Discourses have the ability to change the dynamic proportions within the framework as the perspectives of the consumers might change. However, consuming products can also influence the emerging Discourses, meaning that Discourses become an intertwined part of the framework, as they form and drive consumer attitudes, intentions, preferences, feelings, values etc. (ibid).
It is essential for the consumers to learn how to consume value in an increasing complex context, so they come to understand what is “right” and “wrong” consumption (ibid). Sestoft argues that “right” vs. “wrong” is situation-specific as well as dependent on individual preferences and Reference Groups (ibid). Thus, the basic idea of Interpellation is the production of knowledge based on both information (consumer generated) and research (professionally generated), which becomes a mean for consumers to assess whether or not a
39 particular consumption choice is viewed as “right” or “wrong. In short, Interpellation becomes a way for people to benchmark their abilities as consumers according to the external context. Hence, Interpellation becomes dependent on the Societal Level i.e. the dominating Discourse, showing that the Interpellation is one-way directed from the Societal Level to the Individual Level (ibid). Thus, Interpellation is assumed only to come into play when consumers evaluate a product or service for the first time, placing it as an either “right” or
“wrong” consumption choose. However, we argue that the Anti-Societal Level within the framework also acts as Interpellation, as it will tell consumers what is viewed as anti-consumption.
4.1.6 Anti–Societal Level (Anti-Consumer Subject)
As already mentioned, the Societal Level is argued to entail all thinkable consumption-related concepts in relation to the dominating Discourse. However, consumers can be subjected to another Societal Level that basically represents the opposite Discourse or culture of the dominating Societal Level, namely the Anti-Societal Level. This could, among other things, explain concepts such as cultural confusion, existential crises, and clash of values etc.
Nevertheless, according to Sestoft the dialectic perspective which the framework is based on calls for a counter reference in order for the Individual Level to reflect itself, meaning that consumers need an opposite in order to create their identity. Thus, what is considered “right”
and “wrong” consumption becomes subjective, as it is up to the individual consumer to figure out how to prioritize their consumption (ibid). Therefore, we argue that the influence of the Anti-Societal Level will increase along with the growing number of Discourses and complexity, as it would create multiple dimensions within society, which consumers would have to evaluate.
4.1.7 Consumeristic Episteme
The transformation of a specific Discourse within the Societal Level and consumer behaviour at the Individual Level, takes place without anyone taking notice, meaning that cultural changes most often occur rather invisibly and silently. Hence, Discourses form and drive consumer attitude, intentions, preferences, values etc. However, we argue that this constant transformation is an inherent nature of the framework due to the interdependency that exists between the Levels.
40 In sum, consuming products and services has become a way to create and re-create value, meaning that consumption not only has the ability to create and transform value, but also to a certain extent, Objectification and Discourses. Hence, the dimensions of the framework have the ability to transform as consumption occurs, leaving us with a dynamic context, where the only constant is change.
As the scope of our project is to investigate how the Danish consumers relate to a product that contains both fashion and CSR and how such a product can be successfully branded, we argue that the SSLCT fits the facetted topic, as it allows for a more dynamic approach than the traditional dualistic models. It incorporates both the meaning and the transformation of values in relation to consumption, while taking into account the interdependency that exists between consumers and society. However, applying this framework calls for some clarification in relation to certain concepts that will be employed throughout our project, as there are some differences in relation to the Societal and Individual Level, although they are found intertwined. This will be explained in 4.2.
The theory, however, omits specific theories in relation to our research questions that would allow for further investigation while staying within the overall dialectic perspective of the framework. We thereby wish to add additional theories in relation to the scope of our project, which will be elaborated on in chapter 5-9. The result is presented in our revised theoretical framework at page 89.