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IJSSP 27,3/4

Cultures of consumption of car aficionados
Aesthetics and consumption communities
Paul Hewer
Department of Marketing, Strathclyde University, Glasgow, UK, and

106

Douglas Brownlie
Department of Marketing, Stirling University, Stirling, UK
Abstract
Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to explore the virtual consumption communities which cohere around the object of the car. Focusing upon the cultural practice of debadging, the paper intends to reveal forms of connectivity and resistance within communities of car customization. Design/methodology/approach – A netnography in the form of non-participant observation is used to explore the talk of car aficionados around issues of customization and affiliation. Findings – The paper discusses the importance of internet discussion boards as forums for the exchange of information and advice, but also as a site to express their passion for cars and their affiliation with like-minded others. The research reveals that the question of aesthetics is a significant one for car aficionados. This enables us to theorize such consumers as akin to designers for whom the discussion boards exist as key reference points. Research limitations/implications – This is an exploratory study and its primary limitation is one of scope and method. Netnography provides access to web-based communication. In this sense, a novel channel of access to new forms of expression and ways of doing social relations is employed. Clearly, the insights generated from this study are mediated by the character of the empirical site and the limits of non-participatory netnography. Originality/value – The originality of the paper resides in its attempt to theorize the significance of the cultural practice of debadging as a key constituent in community-formation. Keywords Consumption, Consumerism, Cars Paper type Research paper

International Journal of Sociology and Social Policy Vol. 27 No. 3/4, 2007 pp. 106-119 # Emerald Group Publishing Limited 0144-333X DOI 10.1108/01443330710741057

A recent television commercial aired in the UK proclaimed ‘‘a car is just is car, is just a car, is just a car’’. This strapline provides us with food for thought and in this paper we dare to ask when is a car, that most quintessential of mass-produced objects (Urry, 2004), more than a car? When is a car more than its material substance; when is a car more than its branded essence; when is a car more than its production value; when is a car more than its resale value? Such an approach seeks to overcome the problem of fetishizing the car as a research object (Dant, 1996). Instead the problem we set ourselves is to focus upon the car as a site of everyday practices by means of which consumers participate in displays of localized cultural capital through debadging their vehicles, or otherwise rework brand identity and marketer generated material, in pursuit of ways to ‘‘anchor’’ local identity projects (Bengtsson et al., 2005). By this reckoning the car is revealed in its ‘‘socialness’’ (Riggins, 1994). We argue that it is through its social value that consumption communities are reproduced: that is, where, through acts of bricolage and customization – namely by playing with brand signage and erasing such key signifiers – car aficionados are able to connect with like-minded others to produce a virtual, ephemeral and trans-local ‘‘feeling’’ of community (Maffesoli, 1996). For some people brands are consumed for their difference. For others cars are consumed simply with indifference. However, of interest to this study are those for

We argue that these practices can be understood as forms of possession and divestment ritual. Marcoux. Research has thus focused upon the anti-brand movement (Fischer. This perspective is furthered through the work of Coupland et al. not merely as commercial constructs. They thereby serve to expand our understanding of the process of meaning transfer (McCracken.’s (2005. McCracken (1990. Ritson et al. Holt (2002. but also as an object of mediation whose meaning Cultures of consumption of car aficionados 107 . Murray (2002) draws our attention to how such consumers seek to construct their sense of who they are through their ‘‘salient negations’’ to commodity culture. which is said to be ‘‘used to erase the meaning associated with the previous owner’’. While Coupland et al. A rich stream of emergent consumer research has explored consumers’ resistance to commodity culture and brands (Arnould and Thompson. 87) highlights the rituals of possession (cleaning. branded food commodities into food dishes which can we referred to as ‘‘homemade’’. 1991. 2005. We suggest that central to such groups is the desire to construct a ‘‘feeling’’ of community amidst a world increasingly constructed through consumption. downshifters (Schor. p. 1990). 2002) or the burning man movement (Kozinets. 2001. but for the social practices. 2001). p.whom the mere presence of brand signs and symbols demands an act of agency – that of debadging which we believe signals. 2000) to produce consumption-based meanings which are inspired by the collective to produce their own signifiers of value. In this respect the work of Wallendorf and Arnould (1991) is useful. Fournier. Ritson et al. 2002. tactics and community performances that they make possible. (1996) reveal how consumer subcultures are engaged in forms of symbolic guerrilla warfare to affirm. The paper sees the importance of brands then. Holt. pp. lovers of the natural world (Dobscha. Schor. 1998. 2001) of its marketing-produced associations can also be understood as significant for community formation. To understand such practices we argue that such attempts to empty the brand (cf. p. 1996). 115-6) work reminds us that ‘‘consumers do have agency. but this agency lies not just in the ability to embrace or create new brand meanings. In a similar fashion. Indeed. but in their capacity to forget. A line of argument which is equally drawn by Muniz and O’Guinn (2001) and by McAlexander et al. 2006). showing off. The work of Kates (2003) suggests that if we are to understand consumer relations with brands it is toward an embracing of the collective consumer-brand relationship that we should turn. a distinctively postmodern mode of sociality in which consumers claim to be doing their own thing while doing it with thousands of like-minded others’’. Consumers it is argued through their additions and modifications of branded food products are thus able to affirm familial values in the face of the ‘‘powerful homogenizing influences of consumer culture’’ (Wallendorf and Arnould. (2002). 1998. maintain and consolidate their group identity through their appropriations of marketing brands. 2002b). An anti-consumption tactic through which embedded associations are ‘‘twisted’’ (Cova-Gamet and Cova. minimize and overlook brands that enter the home’’.. as it demonstrates how the consumption rituals of thanksgiving operate to decommodify and reclaim mass-produced. to the voluntary simplicity movement (Murray.. 28). 1998. not only a desire to ‘‘stand out from the crowd’’ (Brownlie et al. 83) writes that ‘‘consumers now form communities around brands. To explore this point further we turn to the literature on decommodification. Dobscha. but more importantly to affiliate with others. (2005). For example. who focus upon those instances where consumers express a lack of interest in the brand so much so that a process of deliberate and self-conscious brand invisibility results. 1999). etc) and divestment. Our focus upon debranding practices concurs with the notion of the brand as not only constitutive of social relations. 1998).

Jenks (2005) argues that the concept of subculture never really had much too offer by way of theorizing due to its love-affair with those living on the margins of society. turning to the literature on subcultures and their relations with particular modes of transport. the later work of Willis et al. In a similar way. 1978) is not without problem. p. orig. from clothes to music is transformed. . entailed customizing modifications as a means of creative self-expression. 1991) foregrounds a particular form of customizing practiced upon the car. a subcultural grouping in Sweden where the car became both ‘‘a forum for self expression’’ (p. interests. Similarly. 170) in his study of the ways of living of the motorbike boys which are read as a form of cultural politics expressed through their creative transformations to ‘‘the shit of capitalist production’’. ethics. So what is essential to such later accounts of car consumption is not the fetishism of the car-as-object but to understand how the car may serve to bring together individuals. Moorhouse (1991. The car is not (always) the star: car cultures as forms of solidarity Previous research on cars has tended to focus upon the more spectacular and extraordinary forms of cultural expression exhibited by particular car enthusiasts rather than provided a conceptual vocabulary through which to interrogate and understand practices of the everyday. 1979.IJSSP 27. rather than theorizing ‘‘what most of us mostly do’’. He investigates the thriving ‘‘hot-rod’’ culture of postwar America and was able to identify a specific subculture with its own values. this counters traditional Platonic notions of aesthetics as residing in the realm of art in judgements over taste and 108 . Resistance is here framed as style. a streamlined special’’ (Moorhouse.3/4 is not fixed but open. rather cultural politics is largely examined through styles of dress. 1991) or motorbike (Willis. to creating. appropriated and recontextualized. the explanations. (1996) identifies the problems of viewing such forms of creativity (or what he terms ‘‘cultural politics’’) as the exclusive reserve of subcultural groups. However. 1991. 114) and ‘‘a mobile family room or kitchen – a semi public sphere in which friends congregate and socialize’’ (p. For example. O’Dell (1991) documents how the car served to bring individuals together forming the Raggare. the work of Moorhouse (1983. . are regulated through involvement in such enthusiasms’’. p. especially. 104) on the magical transformation of the motorscooter from ‘‘an ultra-respectable means of transport . In contrast. scooter (Hebdige. magazines and rituals. little by the way of customizing seems to be practiced upon the bike in such studies. and ideologies which surround consumption. through one’s own labour over many years. rather he suggests that consumers should be thought of as cultural producers engaged in what he terms as acts of grounded aesthetics where the stuff of everyday life. The classic example is the work of Hebdige (1991. 18) writes that ‘‘through action and activity ‘commodities’ like the car become the basis for various fields of interests. 125). ways of riding and the ability to handle oneself. p. He argues that the most important practice. This generates we believe a space through which consumption communities achieve coherence and identity. capable of transformation through reappropriation practices. become the basis of various enthusiasms . such as the car. 17). I believe that a large amount of personal consumption and. However. relatedly. In describing the enthusiasm that bound the group. . into a menacing symbol of group solidarity’’. Much the same approach is adopted by Willis (1978. p. as an artefact. Lury (2004) reframes the brand as an interface of interactivity. Aesthetics is also reframed as a salient realm for such acts. even identities for individuals and. vocabulary. varying from ‘‘simply bolting a few shop-bought accessories onto your car. .

In this vein. Cultures of consumption of car aficionados 109 Delving deeper. 1996. 3). Buchanan (2000. but also there is a crucial coupling of power and resistance. Power in this formulation is everywhere. rather they are silent productions (‘‘making .). Willis et al. p. De Certeau’s approach is far removed from the previous notion of subcultural appropriation and resistance as a form of ‘‘winning space’’ by the working class from the dominant culture (cf. p. 2000. etc) are tactical in character. As Buchanan explains: Tactics are constantly in the swim of things and are as much in danger of being swept away or submerged by the flow of events as they are capable of bursting through the dykes strategy erects around itself and suffusing its protected place with its own brand of subversive and incalculable energy. 1999) to fan zines (McLaughlin. He reframes the tactics and strategies employed within consumer culture as a form of vernacular theorizing. xvii) charts the multiple ways in which consumers can resist power. However. more generally. joyful discoveries. 89). The work of De Certeau (1984. the revolutionary potential of vernacular practices of resistance must be tempered. pp. the work of McLaughlin (1996) shares many of the central preoccupations of De Certeau (1991) and Foucault (1980). . 1990. as he continues: Many everyday practices (talking. 1999). 1999). 104-5) suggests that ‘‘Tactics are not liberatory in the material sense of the word: the little victories of everyday life do no more than disrupt the fatality of the established order’’. knowing how to get away with things. p. reading. thus lend a political dimension to everyday practices’’. The work of De Certeau relies upon what we might term a Foucauldian view of cultural power and resistance. xx). that is: ‘‘The tactics of consumption. instead the notion of grounded aesthetics is much more about the common everyday uses of practices and the transformations enacted through such judgements (cf. xix). . For Willis et al. but they have a symbolic value which is not to be underestimated (Buchanan. 1984. The foregrounding of tactics as a way of rendering resistance apparent and explicit has been inspirational in a number of studies. Instead our attention is drawn to the sphere of the representation and the everyday as sites for all manner of consumption and anti-consumption practices. clever tricks. From this viewpoint a range of mundane everyday practices take on a different hue. polymorphic simulations. poetic as well as warlike (De Certeau. 1996). from the consumption of junk mail (Reynolds and Alferoff. Tactics refers to the set of practices that strategy has not been able to domesticate. xx) who theorizes consumers as ‘‘immigrants in a system too vast to be their own. 1980. This alternative approach to cultural practices and forms of expression borrows from the work of De Certeau (1984. [evoking] the urgency of resistance’’ (McLaughlin. And so are. it is also productive in the sense of being constitutive of the subject. p. cooking. p. 142). Clarke et al. to the walkman (Bull. maneuvers. we find that De Certeau sees ‘‘cunning’’ and ‘‘wiley’’ intelligence in the everyday practices and tactics of contemporary consumer society. moving about.. such everyday practices are never about taking control.. and even care homes (Thorpe. the ingenious ways in which the weak make use of the strong. shopping. 54). They are not in themselves subversive. etc. For example. p. ‘‘hunter’s cunning’’. as he suggests: ‘‘there are no relations of power without resistances’’ (Foucault. suggesting that ‘‘Zines are high-attitude productions . 17. orig. 1993). p. many ‘‘ways of operating’’: victories of the ‘‘weak’’ over the ‘‘strong’’ (whether the strength be that of powerful people or the violence of things or of an imposed order. too tightly woven for them to escape from it’’. But for De Certeau (1984. p.beauty. As an example of such resistant practice he considers the production of zines around such fan obsessions as Star Trek. 1996. p. 1988.

as Geertz (1993. the task of untangling consumers talk around cars to explore their forms of everyday or local knowledge expressed through such cultural practices. Methodologically.com. as Miller (1991. consuming them in there mass-produced form but also a passion and restlessness in seeing things differently. 212) suggests ‘‘the feeling is one of insignificance within a vast sea’’. One such ‘‘small section’’ is those who exhibit an extraordinary passion for their cars. 2004) and the sociologist Paccagnella (1997). focused on virtual communities of car consumption at a number of sites where consumers would display their enthusiasms towards their cars. 209-10). sports. ballroom dancing. like a rented apartment. . The building of social networks and leisure activities around these highly particular pursuits is one of the strangest and most exotic features of contemporary industrial society. pp. . It is towards an understanding of the talk around such practices that the analysis now turns. VWvortex forum. and one which is forever increasing (Miller. 2002). the city) and texts (reading) so as to make them ‘‘habitable’’: . This approach to consumption and objects sees it as much more than a game of social distinction. and knowledge of. 56) so eloquently expresses. Instead we see such cultural practices as the stuff of sociability.com. fringe activities.3/4 do’’). and the nationwide organizations devoted to interests as diverse as medieval music. steel bands and fan clubs. to figure out what the devil they think they are up to’’ when debadging their cars.IJSSP 27. swimming. Renters make comparable changes in an apartment they furnish with their acts and memories . pp. 1984. the paper is curious about the potential of exploring virtual communities as a site for community-formation. Kozinets (1999. 2002a. a specific consumption activity or related group of activities’’.. Adrift in such an inhospitable environment. p. A passion to not only adore their cars. 207-8) suggests that we should think of cultural practices as akin to praxis: ‘‘that is. 1991. The news groups we began our investigation with included: MBWorld Discussion forum. xxi-xxii). p. It transforms another person’s property into a space borrowed for a moment by a transient. 254) defines virtual communities of consumption as ‘‘affiliative groups whose online interactions are based upon shared enthusiasm for. . Miller proposes: Small sections of the population become immersed to an extraordinary degree in the enormous profusion of hobbies. all of whom have studied community and consumption in the virtual world. otherwise known as ‘‘lurking’’ in the context of internet communication (Maclaren and Catterall. carried out between January 2006 and August 2006. 1999. Our job became. p. Hondacivicforum. Maclaren et al. Our decision to opt . living amidst the alienating currents and tides of consumer culture. For example. Mini2. but also about the analysis of primarily text-based talk on discussion boards as a lens through which to understand cultural practices. clubs. This endeavour is inspired by the work of previous consumer research netnographers (Kozinets. Our analysis was primarily conducted through non-participant observation. . a working out of philosophical conundrums by other means’’. Methodology The problem we set ourselves in this research was a simple one. their significance is apparent in the ways that they enable consumers to reappropriate spaces (the streets. . pp. that is playing with the look and appearance of such vehicles. the stuff of belonging as without them. . the stuff of community. practices which ‘‘produce without capitalizing’’. a la Bourdieu (1984). ‘‘ . In this sense. Our investigation. in the streets they fill with the forests of their desires and goals (De Certeau. as do pedestrians. 1998. 110 Miller (1991.

and in much the same way the web forums can be theorized as bringing together particular forms of sociability. Due to the quantity and quality of traffic on this site. not simply an open room or outside the house. Here we attend to such social spaces as bringing forth particular forms of human relations. . latest models etc. The strength of consumers’ enthusiasm can be gleaned from the statistics which reveal that the forum receives over 800 posts per day. Our research revealed that the car lounge currently has 282. offering support and fostering a sense of community. Also this virtual consumption community appears global. 2003). Austria. . Finland.323. but also as a site to express their passion for cars and their affiliation with like-minded others.com) using the term ‘‘debadging’’ yielded a total of 175 results or threads. 253)? Cultures of consumption of car aficionados 111 His answer is to suggest the importance of ‘‘interconnection’’. In the interview ‘‘Space. each of these prompted between 1 and 117 subsequent postings. or more accurately 34. at a certain moment it was possible to build a chimney inside the house – a chimney with a hearth. Mercedes and Volvo drivers. especially the message board known as the car lounge.960 users (as of 19 September 2006) with a total of 2. acknowledge the ethical dilemmas involved in such research and therefore to protect the anonymity of our respondents have deleted any personal details. it is necessary to place it within the broader context. that is to say there is more to aesthetics than meets the eye as aesthetics is the territory upon which it is feasible to speak and theorize car aficionados as akin to everyday designers for whom the discussion boards exist as key reference points.for non-participant observation was made on the basis of the undesirable influence of the outsider to the group (Elliott and Jankel-Elliott. In terms of the quantity of data revealed through such a method. a search of the car lounge forum (vwvortex. this included 602 postings made between 11 October 2001 and 7 August 2006 by over 200 car aficionados (with distinct e-mail addresses and user names). but also the suggestion that such incursions or requests for help are often unwelcome (Maclaren and Catterall. p. sharing experiences. 1986. however. swapping views. BMW. Why did people struggle to find the way to put a chimney inside the house (Foucault. Message boards and community-formation If we are to understand the cultural practice of debadging. We do. with the participants coming from a host of countries including Australia. Canada. that at that moment all sorts of things changed and relations between individuals became possible . knowledge and power’’ Foucault (1986) discusses the significance of the problem of the chimney: . For example.000 pages of downloaded text relating to the topic of debadging.35 posts per hour on general topics relating to the car industry. .com car lounge forum. producing exchanges between like-minded enthusiasts. secondly the significance of the question of aesthetics. This decision was also prompted by the finding that this message board was attractive to not only Volkswagen drivers but also to Audi. . Through such non-participant observation we were able to collect over 1.449 posts being made from its inception in early January 1999. UK and USA. The findings of our nonparticipant observation reveal a number of key insights: namely the importance of the forums for the exchange of information and advice. some of the internet threads appeared to be designed to foster support and . 2002). That is to question in Foucauldian terms the significance of the space of web forums such as those used by car enthusiasts. we decided to focus our enquiry on the exchanges on the vwvortex.

IJSSP 27. Such negative views of the tactic do not go.0 is a chipped 1. But also through such disagreements an affirmation of the community is reproduced. drives 2003 VW GTI). For example.com discussion board (12 December 2005): Member 1: Why would you not want people to know your driving a VW?! Member 2: That’s not the idea.com: member since 2 January 2005. drives 2001 Volkswagon GTI). 1994.125 posts. However. 153 posts. Others spoke of the practice as ‘‘stupid and immature’’. 1. p. primarily from the advertising industry’’ (Warde. the letters Range Rover are rearranged as ‘‘Ran Over’’. as in the following exchange on the question of anonymity and brands taken from the VWVortex. with discussants asking questions for guidance (‘‘Which do you like?’’) and others reciprocating by sending their own photographs of the debadging jobs they had performed on their own cars. others use the forums to offer practical advice on how to undertake the task of debadging one’s car. but also examples of producing jokes through rearranging the lettering. their ability to encompass a broad range of apparently incompatible views. that is. the numbers and letters referring to the make and model of car are removed. The next question becomes . In this way. 63). This is especially so when we come to the question of aesthetics. some of the discussants spoke of how the act of debadging led to the car looking ‘‘retarded’’ or ‘‘naked’’ and ‘‘bald’’ without such brand badges. to express this they spoke of how it was ‘‘something 16-25 year olds would do’’ (vwvortex. that is providing step-by-step guidance on the tools that are needed to undertake such a practice. Exploring the everyday aesthetics of debadging The tactic of debadging refers to the removal of brand-related signs from the exterior of the car. with negative sentiments becoming the order of the day. creating a world in which a WRX can be rebadged as a Porsche Turbo. In this fashion. illustrated and authenticated by pictures of how to remove the badges for different makes of car. It is thus possible to see the spaces of such car forums as the places to which car enthusiasts turn to assuage their doubts and garnish support from others when the stuff of advertising is perceived as no longer valid. that is. This opens up the extent to which such car enthusiasts express what Baudrillard might term ‘‘a playing with the pieces’’. Such instances enable us to witness the extent to which the forums serve as spaces for the exercise of judgements of taste (Bourdieu. or ‘‘Hang Over’’ or even ‘‘Mange Rover’’. without a response.org posted 29 April 2005). In a similar fashion.3/4 112 encouragement. debadging just cleans the car up Such disagreements reveal for us the significance of car forums. Yet others suggest that the logic was to simply fool others: ‘‘People debadge their car mainly to make other people think their 2. Warde discusses the notion of consumer freedom expressed in the works of Bauman: ‘‘Any insecurities they might have (regarding confirmation of the self-identity that they have constructed) are assuaged by expert advice.com: member since 13 December 2005. in the majority of cases to the rear of the car. For example.8t Drag Monster’’ (vwvortex. The web forums thus have lots of discussions over the games of distinctions over lettering and numbers. a number of threads provide other discussants with what is termed a ‘‘recipe for debadging’’ (mbworld. supported. however. such harmony or joviality is not always apparent on such web forums and sometimes the members’ enthusiasms spill into discord. For example. 1992).

1985. The Italian for design is progretto. 88). These expressions clearly convey how design gives physical shape to ideas that will affect people’s lives’’ (cited by Lury. to the idea that their removal produced a look that was ‘‘less busy and more appealing to my eyes’’. just as the airships of science-fiction are made of unbroken metal (Barthes. The answers to this somewhat loaded question were many. here is what Barthes had to say about such a design aesthetic: It is well known that smoothness is always an attribute of perfection because its opposite reveals a technical and typically human operation of assembling: Christ’s robe was seamless. as popular or bourgeois) according to their probable distribution between groups that are themselves classified’’. where the object is cherished for its almost magical qualities. I don’t care to tell ya’’ response. Or as Bourdieu (1992. But it is also a form of cultural capital in itself in which such practices were engineered to speak to those who understand. For many the changes focus upon the achievement of a particular look. ranging from the suggestion that such badges ‘‘clutter things up’’. On a number of web forums a common question was posed. where the reclamation of de-signing is intended to achieve a degree of anonymity. discussants spoke of how the desired look and appearance of one’s car should be one of ‘‘clean looks’’ to achieve an appearance that was ‘‘fresh’’. Some of the car enthusiasts thus appear caught in games of social distinction.com: member since 12 August 2005.205 posts. or architetturra – project. 2004. I’ve been wondering about this for a while now: What exactly is the appeal in debadging your car? I’ve never understood why people do it’’ (vwvortex. and exclude others for their lack of aesthetic appreciation and technical know-how: ‘‘If you can’t figure it out. high or low. Or as another discussant suggested: ‘‘People around don’t need to know WTF I am driving’’ (vwvortex. overcoming cultural contradictions through bricolage. Design at this everyday level is about finding solutions. – in others words. Cultures of consumption of car aficionados 113 For Barthes. as Marzono considers: ‘‘To design is to shape the future. 39). 5. or their classifiable objects which classify themselves (in the eyes of others) by appropriating practices and properties that are already classified (as vulgar or distinguished.to explore the reasons why consumers may be adopting such tactics. 482) suggests: ‘‘The classifying subjects who classify the properties and practices of others. it is also about forging a sense of community and belonging with fellow aficionados. But perhaps more importantly. In this way. 148 posts. orig. other discussants spoke of how the act was motivated by desiring to fool others into thinking that their cars were of a better specification than they actually were: ‘‘People don’t know it’s a shitty poverty spec car any more’’. The focus upon design aesthetics is significant.com: member since 26 May 2000. The ability in other words to de-sign through the tactic of debadging their cars thus reveals it importance. p. but also some of the discussants on car forums. it is necessary to refer to the meaning of the term design. heavy or light etc. In this way. To understand the importance of such styling changes. the desired look was one of ‘‘smooooothness’’. ‘‘why do people debadge?’’ This question perplexes not only us. or archictecture. drives 2001 Saab 9-5 Aero). as it was generally thought that such ‘‘badges date the car’’. a salient if sometimes loaded question which is central to this paper. the streamlining of the Citroen Deesse marked a transformation in the mythology of the car. 1957. in the last analysis. p. p. as one suggested: ‘‘Alright. what some discussants referred to as the ‘‘sleeper’’ or ‘‘stealth’’ look. For others. Debadging from . Writing in 1957. drives 1998 Honda Civic EX Sedan).

com: member since 28 August 2001. drives VW Golf). I know that car the next time I see it without the need to be reminded. In this sense. Here the act of debadging is an outward manifestation of a form of cultural questioning of the existing culture of consumption. a form of critique which is reflexive enough to see that things can be different. drives 1996 Audi Passat). . 9. they are there because it’s a low cost way of advertising the vehicle to other people on the road (vwvortex: member since 9 December 2004.com: member since 15 December 2000. 2002b). drives 2003 BMW M3). so why does it need to be on the car at all? And once I see 1 sample of any given car. or as one of the discussants so eloquently stated: ‘‘I think the main reason is because what the factory thinks looks good.023 posts. or merely avoid being ‘‘labelled and branded’’ as a particular type of consumer (Poster.IJSSP 27. Moreover. despite their attempts to render their acts as beyond the logic of the market. especially when they define their acts as ‘‘badge-engineering’’ (vwvortex. . . well then we’ve got somethin [sic] . However. Or as another asserts: Instead of wondering why people rip their badges off. Kozinets. So maybe it’s just for stupid people?’’ (vwvortex.3/4 114 this perspective serves to classify the debadgers. In this manner.844 posts. it is what it is. the practice of debadging needs to be understood as a political act. a cultural practice which has at its root the desire to strip the car of what they perceive as its ‘‘free advertising’’. I question why are they there in the first place. and its . 3. 8.391 posts. 4. drives 2005 BMW M3). You know what you drive. 110 posts. The discussants at this level appear quite sophisticated in terms of their understanding and appreciation of the state of things and restless in their pursuit to change the things that matter in their lives. This forceful statement of consumer empowerment is supported by those other discussants who justified their actions as a particular form of cultural politics in itself. they appropriate the language of the marketers and advertisers themselves. and if you don’t know what i’m driving – you don’t need to know . expressing their antipathy to the practice of advertising itself: I feel no need to advertize. 2004): ‘‘There are soooo many logos and badges on cars nowadays it kills me. Or as another suggested. and if someone comes up to me and spouts off factual information about my vehicle. For example.vortex: member since 22 October 2001. car not declared). a way in the words of Firat and Venkatesh (1995) to ‘‘register rebellion’’. the strategy of ‘‘keeping people guessing’’ can be understood as an attack on the brand as a source of cultural and consumer value. I paid my money.152 posts) is how one discussant spoke of this desire. (vw.com: member since 16 November 2003. is not always what the consumer thinks’’ (vwvortex.272 posts. a way of retaking control of the representational space that is the car to escape the logic of market (cf. This act of reclaiming the car. I don’t have any VW logos on the exterior of my car now’’ (vwvortex: member since 9 December 2004. for whom ‘‘making do’’ in the De Certeauian sense (1984) is achieved through their attention to aesthetic considerations. For example. a divestment ritual which serves to personalize the car but also to erase and empty out the brand meanings attached to the object-car through advertising. . 4. one discussant suggested: ‘‘I don’t really understand the reasoning behind badges in the first place. drives VW Golf). This everyday act of agency appears motivated by the desire to reappropriate the car through a cultural practice. 110 posts. another more positive reading of such practices would theorize the car enthusiasts as akin to designers. ‘‘I don’t like advertising for free’’ (vwvortex.com: member since 17 October 2002.

In Sign Wars: The Cluttered Landscape of Advertising Goldman and Papson (1996) discuss advertising in an age of hypersignification. the ‘‘Why would you not want someone to know you were driving a VW’’ response). 1989. rather we come to Cultures of consumption of car aficionados 115 . It appears that many of the car enthusiasts operate with a similar logic. Marcoux. 871) discuss the constitutive and productive aspects of consumption. It won’t make you handsome or prettier. p. Debadging thus appears as one such tactic which marks an attempt to resist the logic of consumer capitalism and its obsession with sign-value. . albeit of a very different order and magnitude. 871). having spent most of the piece illustrating how postmodernism serves to merely reinforce the logic of consumer capitalism. through their talk of such enthusiasms and practices they engender a sense of belonging and community in an ever-changing and brand-saturated world. The web forums in this sense enable us to witness the confrontations between opposing stances to brand consumption. p. which can be understood as matter out of place. he leaves the reader with the following rhetorical remark: ‘‘ . and if it improves your standing with your neighbours. in particular through the strategy of selling Subaru as an anti-sign: ‘‘A car is just a car. in this case cars. Such enthusiasms must not then be understood as the gravediggers of brands. the more significant question is whether there is also a way in which it resists that logic’’ (Jameson. Debadging is at this level revealed as not only a political act but first and foremost as an affiliative act. The car in this sense is rendered as an all-too-public ‘‘canvas’’. With some committed to the brand (i. But such talk of anti-signs and signs we believe misses the more important comment that this is not about the car as object to be appropriated and recontextulized. 47). its signs and lettering akin not to value but a form of pollution. 125). or in the words of Douglas (1999). They remind us that not only do ‘‘consumers actively rework and transform symbolic meanings’’ (Arnould and Thompson.e. with the accoutrements of the brand. in erasing the brand they are implicitly criticizing the system of signs which operates within consumer capitalism. But more importantly. while others appear to adopt a strategy of debranding as a tactic to produce a car which is an anti-sign. we would suggest that central to such acts of creative appropriation is the attempt to forge a sense of community and belonging in a world increasingly defined through the world of consumption. Discussion Arnould and Thompson (2005. to Klein’s (2000) examples of countercultural groups who attempt to reclaim the streets through their attack on public advertising. More importantly. 1996.representational space is akin we would suggest. In this paper. the brand insignia as a form of dirt. p. then you live among snobs’’ (Goldman and Papson. as it appears somewhat paradoxical that what their enthusiasms produce is an affirmation of brand aesthetics. we have sought to demonstrate the value of looking at theories of consumption which foreground such practices and tactics to explore the identity work that is done by consumers through modifying cherished possessions. but that through a variety of everyday practices they also use ‘‘marketplace cultures [to] define their symbolic boundaries through an ongoing opposition to dominant lifestyle norms and mainstream consumer sensibilities’’ (p. that is. noting that the ‘‘marketplace has become a pre-eminent source of mythic and symbolic resources through which [people] construct narratives of identity’’. Such a tactic brings to mind Jameson’s (1989) suggestion in the essay ‘‘Postmodernism and consumer society’’. p. 874). 2005. 2001). So it is through the practices of emptying out the brand that such car enthusiasts are able to construct and maintain a sense of self (cf. .

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