Assignment 4

My original subject was connectors in design and after we done a brainstorming session about it and I made a mind map to discover it even further I started to focus on interactive customer research. I didn’t find articles which directly relate to my subject but I found two interesting ones. The first one by Debra Gimlin, it is based on field research in a hair salon and explores the stylists work as connectors between current beauty ideals and clients. They are the representatives of beauty industries and they are in the front line of dissemination of cultural ideals.
Gimlin spent more than 200 hours during a year period at Pamela’s Place in Long Island, New York. She chose this beauty salon because she found it unremarkable compared to an upscale salon in Manhattan, where a hairdresser would be an artist and compare to Harlem where they would be equals with their clients. In this case they are service workers so they need to construct professional identities to nullify status differences between them and their clients. The main purpose of this article is to explore their ways to create these identities and find out if it is successful or not.
They want to feel equal because their lower social status limits their influence on the customers and as they see themselves as naturally gifted people who always knew that they going to be hairdressers it is a very important thing for them. They don’t see their job as a job but as a lifestyle as they are talented and committed to beauty culture and hairstyling. They have three main ways to construct their professional identities. In their world hierarchy based on appearance so their look has to be fashionable, they wear makeup and of course their hair has to be perfect too. The next thing is being experts in style, contemporary fads and attractiveness put them above their clients in the hierarchy of beauty culture. The last and most important thing is called emotion work. They listen to their clients and remember their stories  to make them feel important and pampered. A faithful client is essential for a hairdresser because they will follow them when they move to another salon. It also makes them feel as friends of their customers so it makes them equal.
On the other side there are the clients. In this case they are white women because of the location of the salon. Their age are between 21 and 61, work in professional occupations, most of them married with at least one child, mainly coming from the middle class. For them hair displays feminity and an indicator of social class. But in their case it isn’t influenced by fashion standards but the environment they live in. It could be their husband, who doesn’t like short hair even if it’s trendy or they have small kids and it doesn’t allow them to spend too much time with their hair or a male-dominated occupation they work for so they have to look serious. They have different views about the perfect hairstyle but their opinion is very similar. It seems like they all want natural-looking hair, which indicates middle class lifestyle as a consequence of healthy living. It has to be feminine, simple, classy and about shoulder length which makes them look professional rather than fashionable or tacky. They connect longer hair with youth and overt sexuality so that would be very inappropriate for an over 40 woman. They don’t like unnatural colours or too dramatic style. If their hairstyle isn’t who they are, for example too dramatic, it means that it associates them with a group of people they don’t want to be identified with.
So the salon is the place where the negotiation starts between stylists, and as we found out, their perspectives are quite different. Due to the author’s exploration customers’ opinion is always  stronger for several reasons. The most important reason is coming from the emotional work what stylists do for their clients during the 3 or 4 hours what they spend there every month to achieve natural looking hair. Emotional work makes hairdressers feel that they are friends of their customers and equal with them but it’s based on a one way communication. Clients share personal information with their hairdressers but it seldom happens on the other way. It is part of the service what they sell rather than a friendship. It also makes stylist more concerned to satisfy their customers so they have to put their personal opinion and wishes above their own interests. They also depend on their clients’ money so their claims to professional identities remain unsuccessful.
This article was objective and because it based on field research the information must be reliable. For me the article’s argument about social statuses doesn’t matter that much but hairdressers are the best example for connectors in the beauty industry. It comes through from the article that the personal relationship between stylist and client is very important for both of them and although clients not always listen to their stylists they trust them and their opinion. Probably the best way to satisfy a customer is to listen to her point of view and solve the problem together. A customer’s taste or opinion on a product can be inspiring and  the technical skills of a stylist or a designer can make sure the final ‘product’ is professionally made. In my opinion this conversation should exist in a boutique as well but nowadays shopping happens in malls, in a very impersonal way.

My next article written by Sharon Zukin and Jennifer Smith Maguire and it is about Consumers and Consumption. It compares the early concepts of consumption with today’s sociological studies and researches the history of globalization. The point of this study is neither to praise nor to condemn consumers, but to understand how and why people learn to consume, over time, in different ways. It views consumption as an institutional field which means to consider it as a set of interconnected economic and cultural institutions centred on the production of commodities for individual demand.
Classical theorists didn’t offer empirical demonstration of their ideas about consumption but relied on generalized, anthropological observation. Marx (1972) considered the desire to consume as a social need induced by capitalism: a “commodity fetish” and he describes these acts as animal “functions”. Veblen’s (1959) work signals a moral disapproval of “status consumption” and the preeminent role in consumption played by women. The authors support their opinion with many examples from early theorists that consumption has been viewed both amoral and gendered.
From the 1970s and early 1980s developed economies shifted from manufacturing to “postindustrial” production and consumption became more visible in both the destruction of the landscape and the conscious reshaping of the self. Benjamin’s (1999) research highlights the innovation of mass consumption, the display of piles of goods from distant regions which made novelty abundant and caused the gradual eclipse of small merchants and peddlers by well-capitalized firms. New retail stores, advertisements, popular magazines and daily newspapers tended to make the consumer a powerful role model and to surrender common sense and sobriety to individual dreams of self-enhancement. Leach’s (1993) study, unlike Veblen’s critique about “status consumption” refuses to blame consumers. It analyzes the department stores’ “strategies of enticement” by using new building materials like plate glass and electric lights. He argues these stores “democratized desire” while motivating men and women to buy. As another point of view feminist historians emphasize the ambiguity of department stores by providing a reason - shopping - for women to appear unescorted in public, they could gather or sit alone without fear of being molested by men or just leave the domestic space of the home.
Increasing capacity in mass production industries pressed companies to try any means – including advertisement – to sell their goods. Although advertisements had a big part in manipulation of consumers’ wills another important thing was the evolution of specific products. Schudson (1984) considers that the increasing availability of cigarettes in contrast with other forms of tobacco emerging pressure on the use of time during the workday; and changes in women’s public roles and social status. Mintz (1985) looks at how sugar became a key consumer good – along with alcohol and tea – in modern Britain. It would not have occurred without broad cultural changes in the use of time, women’s roles, as with cigarettes, and opportunity to use sugar in new social rituals as at teatime and during a separate course at meals called dessert. Sugar also links the two ends of the “commodity chain”: consuming regions of the northern hemisphere and producing regions of the southern hemisphere.
A group of sociologists in Britain studied the development of Sony Walkman and also Sony’s ability to learn from consumers’ behaviour. According to their model the production and consumption are not two poles of commodity chain, but continually interacting processes in a “cultural circuit”, where products both reflect and transform consumers’ behaviour. Their product design reflects to young people’s social practices of self expression, individuality and sociality.
Frank (1997) studies how men’s clothing industry succeeded in socializing consumers to the idea of emotional obsolescence during the 1960s by the growing desire for creative self-expression. Advertisements exaggerated fears of conformity, praised creativity and created the subculture model of “cool”. Clothing as well as soft drinks and cars were presented as a choice of the young, the wild and the creative. Slater (1997) links the rise of consumer culture with the modern creation of a “choosing self” which means identity shifts from a fixed set of characteristics determined by birth to a reflexive, ongoing, individual project shaped by appearance and performance. But without fixed rules the individual is constantly at risk of getting it wrong and this anxiety attend each choice which creates a modern mass crisis of identity. At this point advertising and magazines are becoming a new medium which helps coping with the dilemma of producing one’s identity. They combine advice, amusement and appeals to buy.
People who work in services and cultural industries have to deal with the pressure of creating an appropriate appearance, particularly for those in frontline service work, where they represent the image of the corporation. Their occupational success requires an appropriate “package” through various “body projects” such as dieting, working out, undergoing plastic surgery and developing a fashionable, personal style.
Another very effective way to increase sales, and even for winning elections, is consumer research. Survey questions are usually about customers’ self concepts and their preferences on different topics that have no direct connection with products. It allows developing more defined typologies of consumers than standard socioeconomic categories like age, gender and social class. Another strategy aims to determine consumers’ “relationships” with the brands they buy their loyalty to specific brands based on emotional attachments and behavioural ties.
In our time media and manufacturers created holiday shopping seasons like Christmas by structural changes, including changing conceptions of, and values associated with domesticity. Christmas gift giving is a complex process of resolving the conflicts between the family and economy. The gift transforms the abstract commodity into an expression of love and a means of maintaining kin relationships, while Christmas shopping is the process of wresting significant gifts from the impersonal world of the mall. Also receiving gifts „from Santa” allow adults to fulfil their desires for luxurious goods without feeling guilty about being acquisitive. Christmas brochures and advertising educate consumers in how to celebrate the event. In general consumer culture uses a symbolic, global language to reduce interest, especially among young people, in traditional forms of culture.
Consumers around the world aspire to an ”American” model of consumer society as a basis of their needs and desires. Global brands as Coca Cola, Heineken or Pempers sold exactly the same way worldwide. Marketing strategies try to provide uniform value to customers across the globe and form collective identities to eliminate national, cultural and ethnic differences. This is the path to globalization.
In former socialist societies like China or Eastern Europe advertisements and articles in new lifestyle magazines socialized people to be consumers even before the goods were widely available. Ideological and legal changes encouraged self-expression, allowed visible signs of luxury and comfort and shifted the goods and services from collective provision by the work unit to individual provision on the open and often unregulated market. Advertising in these countries represent goods as symbols of a country’s growth and modernization. Ethnographies in China document how the social space of McDonald’s provides young people with a gathering place, as well as with tables where they can do homework assignments. Both are welcome in a society where apartments are usually small and bedrooms are often shared.
But there’s still a conflict in consumers’ soul between shopping by necessity, as our parents have thought us, and shopping for status, as encouraged by the media. This research suggests that shopping is both an enormously controlled and a potentially creative activity, which indicates why many consumers feel strongly about it.
This article gives a very complex sociological analysis of history of consumption.  It helps us to understand the different tools of manufacturers and the media to change our thinking and our social behaviour. In the last couple decades they managed to achieve their goals and get hold of an enormous power to control us. Unfortunately it’s not just about corporate profitability but about the “political project” of globalization. Consumerism had a huge effect on why America and China are the biggest economies today and also have the biggest political power. It is scary to realise how complex and powerful consumption is but if we get to know the enemy it might make it easier to fight against it. Although this review doesn’t condemn consumerism but I definitely do. I don’t think they have the right to control people’s mind and get hold of power by making a fool of us. It also has a negative effect on families, social relationships and on our planet. Unfortunately this review also made it obvious that we designers might have the power to change small things around us and maybe in our society but the biggest power is in the governments’ hand.
Finally as a comparison of the two articles I realised a similarity between hairdressers who try to create a professional identity to have more influence on their clients and manufacturers who try to do exactly the same. They created the shiny malls and adverts to give us the impression of luxury, style and comfort what made us believe that’s what we want, we can trust them and they know what good for us. The only problem is that one thing is missing, the personal contact and the conversation between two people. They tell us something what we have to accept because there’s no one to talk about it. It is similar than in the salon where hairdressers listen to their clients but in this case we have to pay to listen to their ideas and more or less, depends on our personality, we have to accept what they say.
Their services are also very comfortable for us because it is much easier to go to a shopping mall than walk around the city and find the small shops which might have exactly what we’re looking for, something personal and unique. According to this review that was the original message of consumption as well to create the “choosing self” and arouse the desire for creative self-expression. But manufacturers symbolise mass production not uniqueness. They can’t provide what they meant to. Also their prices will always be lower because of the nature of mass production: the cheap labour they use and the industrialised factories they produce their goods in. So they make use of third world people, their factories ruining our planet and they still can’t provide what they meant to. Why we still trust them?


Gimlin, D 1996, ‘Pamela's Place: Power and Negotiation in the Hair Salon’, Gender and Society, Vol. 10, No. 5 pp. 505-526

Zukin, S, Smith Maguire, J 2004, ‘Consumers and Consumption’, Annual Review of Sociology, Vol. 30 pp. 173-197