This paper explores the construction of meaning in consumer culture through a synthesis of two scholarly streams within the Consumer Culture Theory (CCT) body of knowledge: semiology and phenomenology. Semiology represents consumer culture as a web of meanings—studying cultural meanings as socially agreed-upon structures. By contrast, phenomenology represents the interpretation and personalization of cultural meanings by consumers—focusing on meanings that emerge from individual lived experience. Combining these two approaches results in a framework that excavates meanings at both the cultural level and the individual level, inviting them into a figure-ground relationship. This relationship between levels of analysis illuminates how meaning in consumer culture is constructed, and how cultural meanings come to constitute a sense of normalcy in modern societies. As all marketing activity is culturally situated, understanding meaning in consumer culture provides an alternative way to understand value in marketing.
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There are two streams of thought in semiology; one that stems from the work of Swiss linguist Ferdinand de Saussure and one that stems from American physicist Charles Pierce. Each have offered useful applications to the marketing discipline; however it is important to note that these separate streams rely upon differing philosophical assumptions and are thus incommensurable (Mick et al., 2004). This paper refers to semiology in the Saussurean tradition, which employs a phenomenological interpretation of reality (Mick & Oswald, 2006) and emphasizes the culture-based properties of sign value.
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Grace, S.C. The intermingling of meanings in marketing: semiology and phenomenology in consumer culture theory. AMS Rev (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13162-021-00192-1
- Consumer culture theory
- Marketing meanings