Market Work and the Formation of the Omnivorous Consumer Subject

Anissa Pomiès, Zeynep Arsel

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Omnivorousness is the tendency of culturally and economically privileged individuals to consume both highbrow and lowbrow products. Prior research explores omnivorousness as a manifestation of status distinction in which consumers deploy the aesthetic disposition—a generic and transposable ability to appreciate cultural products through a formal gaze—to lowbrow options. Existing work emphasizes the acquisition of the aesthetic disposition, but it does not explain how consumers transpose their generic disposition to specific cultural contexts and develop omnivorous tastes. Therefore, we study the formation of omnivorous consumer subjects and highlight its enabling conditions. Building on a 7-year ethnography of coffee consumption in France, we find that omnivorous subjects develop a dual and flexible cultural competence. First, they acquire a common appreciation of coffee during their primary socialization and enjoy the energizing and socializing functions of lowbrow coffee. Then, they develop a formal appreciation of coffee later in life as a result of market work conducted by market professionals. Specifically, market professionals do three types of market work: qualification, captation, and activation. Consumers respond to market work by transposing their aesthetic disposition to highbrow coffee and, therefore, enjoy its formal characteristics. We extend prior research on taste, omnivorousness, and consumer subject formation.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)70-92
Number of pages22
JournalJournal of Consumer Research
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 9 Aug 2022

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