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The Ritual Dimension of Consumer Behavior Author(s): Dennis W. Rook Source: Journal of Consumer Research, Vol. 12, No. 3 (Dec., 1985), pp. 251-264 Published by: The University of Chicago Press Stable URL: . Accessed: 08/07/2011 00:55
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As he preparesfor bed. so the basketballgame is followed by the awkwardrituals of social disengagement. work. and his television set is still on.romantic. In about ten minutes he's throughwith the newspaperand into the shower.Harvey'sattention begins to wander:"Whatam I going to buy Motherfor Christmas? Will we stay in town or go someplace?"After an afternoon of formal personnel reviews. household.and slips into his 280-Z and onto the freeway. * *Dennis W. Lunch is a real snooze: a retirementluncheon for the head of 3 *This article received an honorable mention in the 1985 Robert Ferber Award for Consumer Research competition for the best interdisciplinary article based on a recent doctoral dissertation. Harvey begins to think about his blind date tonight. shake their pom-poms. Harvey does his 50 situps. Harvey shufflesinto the kitchen to start the coffee. people participate regularly in a variety of ritualized activities at home. En route to work Harvey attends an early mass at St. Vincent's. social researchhas largelyfailed to focus on postindustrial ritual phenomena. ROOK** Indaily living. becauseritualbehavioroften involves the extensiveexchangeof goodsand services. consumer research has largely failed to recognize this extensive behavioral domain. But despite individuals'extensive ritual involvements.athletic. the ceremony is. Rook is Assistant Professor of Marketing in the School of Business Administration. Consequently.whichareoften consumed at dramatic.and falls asleep with AgathaChristie.Susanhas decided that Harvey is a bore. The University of Southern California. like millions of other individuals.ceremonial. Acrosstown. He meets Susan dinat the Red Onion for an earlygetting-to-know-you ner.for example. CA 90089-1421. At 7:03 he turns on his phonemate. business. The highly formal and slow-pacedJapanese bargainingstyle is driving Harvey crazy. food preparation and consumptionis often associatedwith particular rit? JOURNAL OF CONSUMER RESEARCH* Vol. First. 12 . then they drive to the SportsArena to drink beer. eating. and consumes a bowl of cereal with Joan Rivers. Then he turns on the radio. and afterwardsmails a birthdaycard to his Aunt giving. shout "Defense! Defense!"for two hours. marriage. The author wishes to thank Sidney J. HarveyReeves fell asleep over two hours ago. In a few hours. and death. religious. Each of these hypotheticalactivities is associated with a distinctive ritual type: media.performsa personal ritual that transportshim from the land of Nod to the office. :29 A. exits his apartment.M. appliesa facialmask. This imaginaryscenariois presentedto illustratethe pervasivenessof ritual behavior in modern everyday life.The Ritual Dimension of Consumer Behavior* DENNIS W. grooming.This neglectis surprising. In addition. 251 the accounting department. and play.Gift giving. Despite these pervasive and meaningful ritual experiences. says herprayers. both as individuals and as members of some larger community. The present article introduces and elaborates the ritual construct as a vehicle for interpreting consumer behavior and presents the results of two exploratory studies that investigate the artifactual and psychosocial contents of young adults' personal grooming rituals.Although ritualis substantially the audiencefor this daily predawn a centralcomponentof numerous exchangerituals(Sherry1983). Los Angeles. The station is now signing off by playingthe Americannationalanthem. a prominentdimension of consumerexperienceremains virtuallyunchartedterritory. nonetheless. Levy for many helpful comments on early drafts of this paper. The award is cosponsored by the Association for Consumer Research and the Journalof ConsumerResearch. pumps some iron. Harvey awakesto the sound of an electronic household alarm and.or even solemn occasions. The average person also relies on various ritualevents to mark such significant life passages as graduation. December 1985 . patriotic. riteof passage.and watchthe Clipperslose again. the suggestions of three anonymous reviewers are gratefully Also. conducted with appropriatepatriotic dignity. during David Letterman'ssecond guest. Harvey is spending a little more time groomingthese days and hasjust recentlyaddeda skin moisturizerto his morning routine. At the office the morning is particularlytrying because of interminable negotiations with a Japanese businessteam. Even anthropologistsare far morelikelyto studythe consumptionritualsof a remote Amazonian Indian tribe than the marketrituals of an American suburban shopping mall.and bedtime. Susan sets her hair and alarmclock.

it is reasonable to ask whether it is either possible or useful to derive a single definition of ritual that encompasses such considerable diversity. and others depict rituals as only occurring in large-scale. a religious ritual might commence with a procession. Consumption in general has even been interpreted as the essential ritual of modern life (Wright and Snow 1980). a trickle of business-related studies of ritual behavior has emerged in organizational behavior research (Feldman 1977) and marketing research (Kehret-Ward. Another distinguishing feature of rituals is the linkage of the episodic event strings in an exact. A given ritual-behavior string may be relatively short and simple (greeting and parting rituals) or more elaborate (civic ceremonies). A ritual tends to be performed in the same way each time it is observed. or taking a vitamin pill in the morning. hymn singing.252 THE JOURNAL OF CONSUMER RESEARCH ual events (Farb and Armelagos 1980). This definition incorporates both the structural elements that characterize ritual behavior and the quali- tative components that distinguish ritual from similar behavior modes. And eating a chocolate donut may be a morning habit. While it might be considered profane to alter the event sequence of a religious ritual. varied. Typically. a sermon. Each disciplinary area relies on its own preferred set of constructs. plural experience. regressive behavior. Because individuals' ritual experiences are so extensive. nor do all rituals necessarily represent habitual activity. Thus. Rituals and behavioral habits represent overlapping sets: not all habits involve rituals. The following definition interprets ritual behavior as a positive and meaningful aspect of both everyday and extraordinary human experience: The term ritual refers to a type of expressive. an offering. Interpretations of ritual behavior as anachronistic (Ayer 1959) and deteriorating (Douglas 1974) are uncompelling. A MODEL OF RITUAL EXPERIENCE Ritual phenomena are highly varied types of expressive behavior that occur in quite diverse settings. Variation in content or sequence may arise. so ritual events function as mnemonic devices that elicit specific thoughts and sentiments from the individual (Mead 1956). Johnson. Are there structural and content elements common to all modes of ritual behavior? The following discussion will answer both questions affirmatively. Relative disinterest in the ritual phenomena of postindustrial cultures may be due to the persistent but erroneous notion that rituals are exclusively religious expressions or are primitive regressive behavior (Moore and Myeroff 1977). play party games. in fact. and inner intensity. followed by an invocation. Some interpretations misconstrue rituals as essentially primitive. but it tends to do so slowly and is often met with considerable resistance. there are common ideas about exactly when it is appropriate to open the gifts. In this respect. Ritual action is designed to conform to stereotyped scripts. some rituals are performed more or less habitually (a religious service. A third characteristic of ritual behavior is the repetition of the event sequence over time. Rook and Levy 1983. episodic sequence. Ritual behavior is dramatically scripted and acted out and is performed with formality. and acting in conformity with a prescribed script is considered to be intrinsically rewarding (Bird 1980). and ends (Leach 1958) that are acted out by participants who assume particular dramatic identities (Bird 1980). but it is not a habit. the order of events at a child's birthday party may be less rigidly specified. and meaningful. although some rituals are more casual than others in this respect. Ritual experience is built around an episodic string of events. too. Recently. middles. and dispense cake and ice cream. personal grooming). For example. appropriate feelings are generated each time a ritual is dramatized. fixed sequence. seriousness. Rituals are further differentiated from habits by their dramatic scripting. public settings. Published research about human ritual experience comes primarily and traditionally from cultural anthropology. history of religions. but to understand any particular ritual requires an appreciation of the multiple behavioral events that comprise it. Although some habits are complex and highly involving (addictions). while habits tend to be singular behaviors such as tying one's shoes. One action element is almost always followed or preceded by a series of events that does not vary. Solomon and Anand 1985). Ritual Definition Many current definitions of ritual are unsatisfactory because they myopically restrict ritual experience to religious or mystical contexts. rituals are similar to behavioral habits and customs. but not constitute ritualized consumption. Rituals share other common features with behavioral habits. they are often less personally meaningful than rituals. complex. and Louie 1985. which makes comparative interpretation difficult. because the average person participates in numerous ritualized behavior systems every day (Browne 1980). and it would depreciate a ritual to describe it as merely habitual (Erickson 1977). field sociology. a ritual is a larger. Edmund Leach (1968) observes that there is wide disagreement among those who have specialized in studying rituals even as to how the word ritual should be used. For example. twisting one's hair around an index finger. and dynamic psychology. and a recessional. Ritual scripts typically have beginnings. Yet here. symbolic activity constructed of multiple behaviors that occur in a fixed. Ritual experience may be per- . and that tend to be repeated over time. a wedding is a common social ritual.

They also serve more generally as ritual symbols in the form of mythological characters. which may include either extensive or relatively limited product usage. and common rituals such as retirement dinners can become melodramatic and tend to stimulate intense emotions among participants (Bird 1980. for example. as in holiday greeting cards and telephone calls. anxiety. In the United States even a handshake is significant. although nonwritten scripts such as those used in many etiquette rituals are not necessarily less formal. Bossard and Boll 1950). Levy (1978. Because rituals are dramatic enactments. Sometimes an individual's ritual role is explicitly scripted. a ritual may be aimed at a larger audience beyond those individuals who have a specified ritualperformance role. candles. Ritual artifacts may often take the shape of consumer products (Douglas and Isherwood 1979) that accompany or are consumed in a ritual setting-food and drink. For example. Finally. 20) points to a multidisciplinary framework for constructing a typology of ritual behavior by identifying five primary sources of behavior and meaning: 1. when a civic leader is inducted into office. Individual aims and emotions 3. a ritual script prescribes a consumption paradigm. In extreme cases such as religious and initiation ceremonies a ritual script is highly codified. Cultural values 5. When used in a ritual context. Cosmological beliefs. For example. or nonexistent. Other ritual scripts such as civic rituals and rites of passage are commonly more formally scripted and unvarying. almost everyone can point to a neighborhood that goes all out for Christmas. Ritual Elements Ritual experience relies on four tangible components: 1. and cultural rituals indirectly rather than as a direct participant. diplomas.RITUAL DIMENSION 253 formed ceremoniously. p. with massive festoons of electric lights and various secular (Santa and reindeer) and religious (creche) lawn displays. this analysis is similar to Goffman's (1959) use of dramaturgical metaphor to study human social intercourse. particularly when it is refused. as in wedding and graduation ceremonies. Ritual artifacts 2. such artifacts often communicate specific symbolic messages that are integral to the meaning of the total experience. rituals trigger an immediate behavioral response (Leach 1976). icons. It can also be either passive or active. logos. This is most accentuated in religious. An individual's ritual-role enactment can be extensive. it is still possible to classify rituals in terms of their behavioral origins and to observe common elements among very different ritual types. Human biology 2. and parades. pomp. or significant colors. and by whom they will be used. Even a small child's birthday party involves some serious concerns for involved participants-Who came? Who didn't? Are the child's gifts too lavish or trivial? Has reciprocity been observed? And rituals serve to include or exclude individuals from kinship and community membership. and circumstance. civic. . On the more mundane level. Sherry 1983) or used for interpersonal communication. where rituals are commonly quite solemn. Who. as in formal personnel evaluations. limited. Ritual performance role(s) 4. or embarrassment can arise when someone is called upon to participate in an unfamiliar ritual. A ritual script guides the use of the various artifactual materials. often they may choose with impunity to not participate in a particular ritual or they may opt for extensive involvement. or ceremonial garments. Today the mass media allows a person to participate in a wide variety of religious. invocations and commemorations. Finally. The script identifies not only those artifacts to be used. Group learning 4. One readily conjures up images of candles and trumpets. A ritual script 3. facilitating interpersonal interactions. with elaborate formality and numerous theatrical trappings. may involve intricate etiquette rituals. In many contexts individuals have a great deal of freedom in ritual-role enactment. while with other rituals the identity of the target audience may be more uncertain. the audience does not typically extend beyond the immediate family. It is easy to identify the target audience for many rituals. Artifacts are also commonly exchanged as gifts between ritual participants (Belk 1979. In certain household rituals. the audience is the larger polity. jewelry. A ritual audience. Much like a cognitive script (Abelson 1981). Social introductions. costumes and contests. Ritual is body language that functions like a natural symbol. is the target for the Columbus and Ground Hog Day rituals? RITUAL BEHAVIOR TYPOLOGY Despite the enormous variety of ritual experiences. Major rites of passage such as graduations and weddings mark important social status transitions and stimulate a great deal of psychological involvement and anxiety. Here the ritual script may appear in a written document. fraternal. and civic settings. A ritual script is performed by individuals who occupy various ritual roles. for example. rituals also display a dramatic dimension. Uncertainty. On other occasions a ritual role may be vaguely scripted. Some scripts may be relatively casual (family mealtime rituals) and allow for spontaneous variation. but their behavioral sequence.

. . p. 669): It is in ritual . Despite post-industrial cultures' secular and rational emphases. many individuals invest in lucky numbers (lotteries. and facilitating social or sexual bonding (Huxley 1966. Human ritualization is functionally quite similar. Super Bowl Memorial Day parade. In a more recent discussion. pointing to parallel forms of behavior among humans." gambling Performing arts Graduation. Ground Hog Day. p. citing hidden Satanic symbolism in the P and G logo as evidence. Bocock (1974) interprets aesthetic rituals as a secular displacement of religious impulses. One of the richest sources of human-ritual experience is a culture's cosmological belief system. Julian Huxley interprets animal-behavior ritualization as promoting nonambiguous communications. . interpreters sometimes too narrowly restrict ritual expression to religious settings. as Procter and Gam- ble recently discovered when a massive rumor linked them with Satan. individuals today still cling to superstitions and often appear highly motivated by them. This seemingly unbelievable superstitious gossip cost the company millions of dollars in lost sales. stimulating specific behavior patterns in others. Cultural values and processes are another primary source of ritual behavior. that somehow the conviction is generated that religious conceptions are veridical and that religious directives are sound. symphony. and logo redesign costs. litigation. Czepiel. 250). fraternity initiation. he regards rituals as primarily reenactments of sacred prototypes (1965. The association between ritual and religious purpose has been so strong that analysis of the two has almost invariably proceeded together (Moore and Myerhoff 1977. business negotiations. household rituals Greeting. mating Culturalvalues Group learning Civic Small group Family Individualaims and emotions Biology Personal Animal Historian of religions Mercia Eliade's (1965. trials Pancake Day. Valentine's Day. human ritualization is more varied and changing than that found within an animal-species group. office luncheons Mealtime. Ritual type Religious Magic Aesthetic Rites of passage Cultural Examples Baptism. sometimes ritualistically. Animal rituals are quite literally a body language whose vocabulary is essential for the function and survival of a species. Much human ritual is consciously created from the evolving dynamics of a particular culture. and invoke luck-encouraging procedures (craps-table incantations). . The dearth of persuasive empirical evidence notwithstanding. reducing aggression. One class of ritual phenomena has been labeled by anthropologists as rites of passage (Gennep 1908)." and Smith (1889) suggested that ritual performance is symbolically more important than the actual beliefs of a given theology. . This ritual type centers around the social observance of events that symbolically mark individuals' social status changes. Major classes of rites have been identified that mark pregnancy and childbirth. Tylor (1871) described ritual as the "gesture language of theology. While religious rituals are documented extensively. p. are extensively ritualized episodes. p. and their consumption is highly ritualized (Levy. The understanding of human ritual experience is enhanced by an appreciation of ritual activity among other animal species. mass "Healing. It is in some form of ceremonial form . Ethological studies commonly describe animal-kingdom ritual systems. elections. Consequently. birthday and holiday celebrations Grooming. racetrack betting). Table 1 summarizes the linkages between a primary behavior source and the types of ritual experience that flow from it. bedtime. several forms of aesthetic experience qualify as a separate class of ritual behavior. that the moods and motivations which sacred symbols induce in men . If transcendence is one characteristic of cosmologybased rituals. Various aesthetic products (opera. . such as a heavy metal concert. Clifford Geertz explains how ritual practices solidify religious doctrines (1968. Even less elevating aesthetic situations. but in human systems ritual behavior is culturally as well as genetically inherited. distinctive ritual types appear to cluster around one particular source. 1). theatre) are commonly considered to be spiritually elevating. 132). and Rook 1981). 1975) work is typical of the approach that emphasizes ritual's cosmological dimension. meditation. as part of a culture's oral tradition (Sherry 1984). Nonetheless. Much early discussion of human ritual behavior emphasized its relationship to formal religion. the "power suit"). A broader view of ritual recognizes that ritual activities function in nonreligious contexts and that mystical elements are present in nonreligious situations. meet and reinforce one another. favor good luck garments (lucky sports clothes. . Such arbitrary beliefs are often enacted in ritual performances. marriage Festivals.254 THE JOURNAL OF CONSUMER RESEARCH TABLE 1 A TYPOLOGYOF RITUALEXPERIENCE Primary behavior source Cosmology Any single behavior may be a product of many sources and is also likely to be stimulated by environmental and situational factors. Superstition also appears in modern folk tales that are passed along.

religious confirmation. These practices provide structure and meaning to the most mundane of activities. Family rituals also serve to instruct younger family members in appropriate behavior and may do so almost invisibly (Caplow 1984). ASSESSING RITUAL VITALITY Among the dozens of public ritual occasions that span the calendar. Finally. Rites of passage are symbolic devices that accentuate the permanent quality of a status change (Mol 1976. This type of collective. The place of formal rites of passage in today's post-industrial world is controversial. new rituals have emerged to take their place. p. kinship rituals serve to validate the authority roles of senior members (Bossard and Boll 1950). Such events also commonly involve the extensive social use of ritual artifacts-e. and funerals. some observers see the presence or absence of family ritual systems as a reliable index of a family's social health (Bossard and Boll 1950). by "keeping back the dangers of the unconscious" (Jung 1959. Also. parades. such as compulsive hand-washing rituals. Within a family unit. The family is the source of numerous and highly variable rituals that animate mealtime. ritual practices cement relationships and foster joint participation in household activities. they may represent neuroses. paper streamers. p. and participation in the more venerable St.RITUAL DIMENSION 255 adolescent initiation into adulthood. Almost any household activity has the capacity to become ritualized. also a rich primary source of ritual behavior. marriage(s). The relatively new Super Bowl Sunday is one of the largest ritualized celebrations on the planet. and birthday and holiday celebrations. On the other hand. rituals are also subject to life cycle forces. it is useful to recognize how segmentation forces give rise to rituals that appeal to increasingly smaller audiences-for example. yet the developmental stages in the average person's life are still linked by a fairly predictable series of ritual experiences: circumcision. Ritual is a social language (Levi-Strauss 1962) that defines the right way to do things (Bossard and Boll 1950) and provides a social coding of experiences (Firth 1973). rituals provide positive benefits by contributing to a person's individuation (Jung 1958. p. all climaxing in the familiar "count down" ceremony. symbolic behavior is a primary focus of much of the anthropological research of premodern cultures (Turner 1969). 239). baptism. Daniel Boorstin's (1973) historical analysis of American culture provides numerous examples of how various rituals emerged on the frontier and in the cities to bind a new nation with a common set of symbolic practices. In addition to the external forces that give rise to various ritual phenomena.. and commemoration ceremonies. Christmas is celebrated today with a set of important ri-tualsthat not only affects the family unit internally. from the Elks' Pancake Day to formal office luncheons to business negotiation rituals. there is considerable variation in the vigor of their observance. flags. On the other hand. Warner's (1959) analysis of the American Memorial Day parade exemplifies anthropological study of a prominent civic ritual. observation of several . At the smaller group level. Ritual is also interpreted as an effective means for regulating social conflict (Levy and Zaltman 1975). but also relates it to the larger culture (Barnett 1954). and many more suffer from an uncertain status. divorce(s). Some choose not to participate in New Year's Eve festivities. if not replace them. costumes. 273) and fostering healthy ego development (Erikson 1982. the re-emergence of ethnic rituals out of the American melting pot. military induction. bedtime. 1962) and. food. but opt for the following day's marathon of football bowl games. On the other hand. Certainly some social rituals have become relatively empty and meaningless and are now merely ritualistic (Erikson 1977). Some contemporary observers detect a decline in common cultural rituals and interpret this as a grave social problem (Douglas 1974). People often express some confusion over whether the New Year should be welcomed in at home or in a public venue. like most marketplace products. Some rituals continue to enjoy extensive notice. many diverse ritual practices pervade daily living. disengagement (retirement). Acting as more than a preventative. betrothal and marriage. there is the individual psyche. more generally. Rituals make symbolic statements about the social order by dramatizing cultural myths (Campbell 1972. champagne. pledges of allegiance. party hats. The extensive buying and consuming that characterize many contemporary family rituals are major forces that bind a household together (Daun 1983). and funeral. 22). graduation. Munn 1973).g. floral arrangements. while others are relatively ignored. Yet even this popular ritual event is characterized by a degree of script and role uncertainty. if these practices become excessively restrictive. The New Year ritual can be celebrated with an array of artifactual paraphernalia: noise makers. Even a visit to a McDonald's is interpreted as a contemporary social ritual (Curry and Jibou 1980. 73). Dynamic psychological interpretations tend to depict ritual behavior as providing a defense against impulsiveness by demanding the renunciation of socially harmful instincts (Freud 1959. Harrison 1912) and link the present with the past (Durkheim 1912). Individual ritual practices are common in everyday grooming and in various household activities. Civic rituals invoke themes of community and social inclusion (or exclusion) and rely on symbolic vehicles such as national songs. p. Kottak 1978). while some ritual occasions have declined in popularity. Many public rituals are widely viewed as contributing to social cohesion (Leach 1968. Patrick's Day bacchanalia seems to be increasing each year. in fact. Because some rituals have faded or are fading from the scene does not mean that all rituals are declining. and/or calling on close friends and family.

or perhapsMay Day's demise represents case of deficient a marketing.role. mix of participants. Yet if there is little social consensus about a . Trick-or-treat activity has been under siege for some years now.despitethe creativityand enjoyment that this clandestine activity provides. The nature and extensiveness of artifactual consumption 2. Perhapsthe presentnonagrarian Americanculture no longer finds meaning in this older fertility rite. and parents have adopted a cautious attitude. Christmas is assessed as a vigorous ritual occasion. the material superstructuredominates the spiritualelements. The presenceor absence of a well-definedtargetaudience beyond the immediate participants. and gift-exchange norms. vigorous.= Poorly defined. One of three possible scores is assigned to each dimension: + connotes that a particular dimension is clearly defined and vigorous.they mighteven streamers be thought strangeif they did. Ultimately.roles.g. (Both Halloween and Christmas represent rituals that have moved from a May Day Graduation ? ? + + + ? - + Note: + = Well-defined. since serious Halloween rituals can be both scary and debauched. Nonchurch goers are prone to experience anxiety about the prescribed annual church visit. it is not really clear whether Halloween is primarily intended for an adult or a children's audience (Stone 1959). with particularly intense involvement by millions of American households. His resultssuggest that consumers share common ideas about giftexchange situations. Using these criteria. Halloween's status as a ritual is more ambiguous. Table 2 summarizes the assessments of four illustrative ritual occasions in terms of these criteria: 1. May Day.Belk (1979) providessome evidence to show how gift price categoriesare affectedby the type of occasion and gift recipientinvolved. mistletoe. Super Bowl Sunday. And new rituals emerge regularly: Tupperware parties. Also. ghost and goblin characters. . Patrick's Day. and Christmas. peopletodaydancewith colored Few arounda maypoleon May 1. aerobic sessions. The clarity of participants'ritual role perceptions 4. Nor do many children secretly deliver baskets of flowers and candy to their friends'doorsteps. Students'graduationceremonies representthe type of situationwherethe ritualscript. but their respective roles and the artifactualexchangerequisitesare not explicitly defined. orange and black colors-yet the Halloween script is not well-defined. no single gift has preeminent status as a graduation marker. Several industries rely on consumers' extensive gift-exchange rituals and on the widespread deployment of ritual symbols (colored lights. the artifactual but dimensionis less explicitly prescribed. they are not governedby the explicit scriptingof such ritualsas a weddingreception or a retirementdinner. wreaths. This situation is similar to the status of married couples' anniversaryoccasions: the participantsare clearly identified. While the diploma certifies a change in status. formal weddings. showing some signs of script and role uncertainty. weak. Santa Claus representations) for the bulk of their annual sales. wine tastings. and . but adult masquerades are less pervasive. but that there is still much variation when it comes to script. Also. Children still enjoy costume parties at school and home. candy. Christmas rituals also prescribe the consumption of special food and drink at ceremonious occasions.This might not alwaysbe the case. Most individuals are familiar with its prescribed ritual artifacts-costumes.a ritual'svitality may be diminished. Other traditional rituals show signs of increasing popularity: St.For many participants. and artifactual detail.Communistritual. Although its celebration was once forbidden in Puritan New England (Barnett 1946). and audience arewell-articulated.256 THE JOURNAL OF CONSUMER RESEARCH TABLE 2 ASSESSMENT OF RITUALVITALITY Ritual occasion Evaluative dimension Ritual artifacts Ritual script Ritual role Ritual audience Christmas + + + + Halloween + v traditional American rituals has declined sharply over a few generations-e. The increasing numbers of both single-person households and multiple-marriage families give rise to uncertainty and conflict about prescribed ritual location. It is possible to evaluate any ritual's vitality using the structural elements identified previously. Labor Day. script elements such as door-to-door carolling appear to be fading from the modern urban scene. while post-graduation celebrationsare common. and Lincoln's Birthday.indicates a relatively deteriorated condition. strictlyreligioustowarda seculararena. ? represents a generally uncertain status. Christmas is observed publicly across much of Western culture. Whensuch variationbecomesextreme. Ritual observance of May Day in the United States has largelydisappeared. ? = Uncertain status. becausean idiosyncraticanniversary celebrationcould representa vital ritual experience for the persons involved. But even the Christmas ritual is experiencing changes. The presenceor absenceof a well-definedritualscript 3.) The American May Day representsa ritual that has quitedeteriorated. Elvis's Birthday.its celebrity ironically displaced by the aggressivemilitarysymbolsof a different. April Fools' Day..

Erikson interprets this developmentalstage as the source of the judicious elements in adult ritualbehaviorand as the psychological foundation of society's legal and moral structures and the correspondingrituals of the judicial system. proms. it is through daily ritual activities that the changeis symbolicallyreinforced. RITUAL SIGNIFICANCE Any ritual'svitality is likely to decreasewhen participants no longer find the ritual meaningful. public rituals is often quite obvious. a girl's sweet sixteen partytraditionallysymbolizesher social transitionfrom childhoodto young womanhood. and his analysis builds upon his psychosocial theoriesof human development. but this ritual event per se does not accomplish an instantaneous transformation. Normal acceptance and internalization of these standardsgenerateself-perceptions of independence and legitimacy. More than Freud. it is in such everyday rituals as those centering around personal groomingor courtshiproutinesthat the new social status is functionallyenacted.Rather. Healthypersonalitydevelopmentresultsin an infant trustingsome primal "other"(Erikson 1982. are motivated by the samepsychosocialforcesthatgeneratethe cotillions. ritual expression with individuals' development of everyday ritualized behaviors. and who later assumes a cosmologicalidentity (god.public. The child's toilet trainingperiod symbolizesthe basic crisis of autonomy versus shame and doubt.He argues that althoughsuch a majorritualevent as a rite of passagerepresentsa public announcement of an individual's new status. while failure often produces compulsive pathologies. The rituals of this period are aimed at instructing the child in elemental "yeses"and "nos" and how to differentiate between right and wrong.For example.these perspectivesare translatedto the public arena. Rituals with numinous (mystical) themes originate in infancy's crisis of trust. Erikson's theory dynamically connects large-scale. the force) in the individual's life. PsychologistErikErikson's (1977. the meaning of individuals' personal ritualsmay be more elusive.Erikson emphasizesthe press of externalsocial forces on the development of the human psyche.and formaldebutsthat socially "introduce"her and mark her transitionto a sexually availablestatus. He sees all human development as proceedingsequentiallythrough eight basic stages (1951). Eriksoninterpretsritualas essentiallyintegrativebehavior. 1982)explanationis distinctivelyuniversalwhen he suggeststhat all ritual behavioris rooted in the human psyche. Developmental stage Infancy Psychosocial crisis Trust vs Mistrust Autonomy vs Shame Initiative vs Guilt Industry vs Ritual thematic elements Numinous Marketplace arena Religion Superstition Luck/chance Law and order Early childhood Play age Judicious Dramatic Theater Play Technology School age Performing Inferiority Adolescence Identity vs Ideological Ideology Diffusion Young adulthood Adulthood Intimacy vs Isolation Generativity vs Stagnation Integrity vs Despair Affiliative Partnership Career Organizations Education Tradition Wisdom Philosophy Generational Old age Philosophical 45). and community life (Warner 1959).Finally. Each stage presentsthe individualwith specificbehavioraltasks. (2) the psychosocial crises and ritual themes that distinguisheach stage. who is initially the mother. Erikson links early childhood's crisis to an entirely differentarea of ritual experience:law and order." The degree of success an individual experiencesin resolvingthese developmentalcrises is ultimately reflectedin the relative health or pathology of the adult personality. or even the modern beautyparlor(Ewen 1979).ritesof passage(Gennep 1908). for example. Unsuccessful crisis resolution produces a mistrustful personality and accompanying negative views about the cosmos and life in general. A young woman's daily grooming rituals.which in turngive rise to a distinctive psychosocial "crisis.this lack may threatenits longterm vitality.RITUAL DIMENSION 257 TABLE 3 RITUALSIGNIFICANCE: ERIKSONIANMODEL AN ritual'sobservance.While the symbolic significance of many large. and (3) the marketplace arenaswherethese themes are most prominently acted out are summarizedin Table 3. The relationships between(1) the stagesof individual development. where there is considerablevariation in the degreeto which differentmystical ritualsexpresshope and trust. they explain how ritualsfunctionin specificsettings-within families (Bossard Boll 1950). It is not necessary to elaborate each element of Erikson'sframeworkto identify the severaltheoretical . p. Most interpretations of ritualbehaviorare quite particularistic. each crisis is characterizedby a distinctive thematic element that energizesboth everydayritualized behavior and larger public rituals.According to Erikson.

Adults and childrenare not separatespecies. respondents were paid five dollars for their participation. Much consumer researchfails to acknowledge dimensionsof conflict the and ambivalence that characterizevarious aspects of market behavior (Levy and Zaltman 1975).79).involve deep-seated emotions and aspirations. shaping. sd = 3. This was done to control for the fact that college students' social status backgrounds are often poorly measured by income. First. and upper class (n = 34) populations. ritualized experiences and links them to the larger. Human grooming has been extensively interpreted as a form of ritual behavior (Ewen 1979.public ritualevents. aspirations. cutting. Erikson's model is more realisticsince it depictshuman behavior with more dynamism than most extant behaviormodels. "grown-up"living is built on childhood experiences. and if ritual behavior is as intensely motivating as Eriksonand many others suggest.rather. In some situations.the realsymbolicworkmay actuallybe done on a smallerscale throughthe daily ritualizationof individual experience. apparent size.His crisismodel recognizes the difficulties individuals experience in coping with the demandsof externalsocial forces. and student housing. While these grander occasions provide dramatic public expression. shopping mall locations. although a handful of responses were obtained through personal interviews. Toys and Reason.258 THE JOURNAL OF CONSUMER RESEARCH strengthsthat distinguishhis interpretation ritualbeof havior. Respondents were selected in roughly equal proportion from working class (n = 24). and occupation characteristics. The respondents' ages ranged from 18 to 25 (m = 22. and inferiority. Yet. Erikson's theory relates adult ritual behaviorto the individual'schildhood experiences. and shape (Holman 1981). respondents' verbatim protocols are identified in parentheses by sex and age immediately following each quotation. This failuregeneratessuch feelingsas mistrust.shame. The results presented are not intended as generalizations about the young adult population. The following discussion presentsselective results from two exploratorystudies designedto probethe artifactualand psychosocialcontent of young adults' morning grooming rituals. it also functions parasomatically to modify the body's color. A third strengthof Erikson'stheory is the degreeto which it is basedon conflict. communicating specific messages about an individual's social status. The threefold purpose of this first study is: (1) to describe selectively the artifactual content of the respondents' overall morning grooming rituals.then many common household and marketrituals are more than mindless habits. Second. Slightly over one . attitudes. In discussing some of the research results. maturity. isolation.they are offered as illustrationsof the nature and depth of sentiment that distinguishritual behavior. residence.and as suggested methodologicalalternativesfor investigatingsuch phenomena.3. At the core of most grooming rituals are various cleansing. conformity. Results Hair care activities occupy center stage in the grooming scripts of the young adults sampled. The sample totalled 91 individuals (44 males and 47 females) selected from college classrooms and several field settings: a public assistance office. In targetingindividuals'grooming behavior. AN EXPLORATORY STUDY OF CONSUMERS' GROOMING RITUALS Researcherstoday rarelydepict consumer behavior with the rich and dynamic complexity that Erikson does.guilt. Study 1: Grooming Ritual Activity Human grooming activity is not only hygienic. almost half of the respondents indicated that they usually or always condition their hair as part of their morning grooming routine. it both illuminates the dynamic significance of an individual's daily. specificattention was focused on hair care and maintenance ratherthan the overall groomingprocess. grooming behavior is a form of body language. and (3) to identify their frustrations with their hair-care routines. many who didn't shampoo in the morning (women especially) said that they shampoo at night to get a head start on the next morning.The majorityof contemporary consumerresearch payslittle attentionto these negative feelings and does not fully appreciatehow they affect consumers'behavior. Erikson appreciatesthat many individuals do not resolve their developmental crises successfully. lowermiddle class (n = 29). Erikson'slogic and the title of his book. (2) to measure their hair-satisfaction levels. Methodology Respondents completed a lengthy questionnaire designed to investigate broadly the activities. Literally. even morality.which is preciselywhy ritualsare meaningful and involving: they symbolicallylink the presentwith the past. if much buying and consumption is in fact ritualized. and annointing processes directed toward one's head of hair (Vlahos 1979). and numerous artifacts are employed in daily ritual performances. reflectthe popularcolloquialism that the only differencebetween men and boys is the price of theirtoys. Also. and preoccupations that energize their grooming rituals. such as those associatedwith personalgrooming. Wax 1959). smell. Miner 1956. The questionnaire was largely self-administered. Social status was measured by using Warner's (1949) Index of Status Characteristics in combination with respondents' levels of education and parental occupation information. ideas. Even everyday rituals. Hope 1980. Almost two thirds reported that they usually or always shampoo their hair every morning.

The students completed a 26-item Body Cathexis Scale (Secord and Jourard 1953) that asked them to indicate how satisfied they were with their various body features. and (2) a young man blow drying his hair. The survey next sought to discover how young adults actually feel about their hair. complaints about time were more common among female respondents. and having it sometimes look like shit when I'm through. (female-2 1) These frustrations seem entirely plausible. Obviously. respondents indicated that they felt absolutely and relatively quite happy with their hair. a uniquely designed Thematic Apperception Test (TAT) instrument was administered. there are other artifacts that can assist in hair-grooming rituals. This idea was voiced strongly by both the young men and women in the sample. 28 males) recruited from classroom and field settings participated Perhaps due to the contemporary difference in betweensex hair lengths and also to rigorous personal appearance norms. will reveal unconscious and other hidden aspects of their grooming ritual behavior. they used a fivepoint Likert type scale to rank the features. followed closely by knees and toe nails. respectively. and the vocational pressure to look just right. Young adults' grooming behavior involves more than getting cleaned up because it is motivated by powerful converging forces: the psychosocial crises of individual identity and interpersonal intimacy (Erikson 1951. The projective hypothesis (Rappaport 1942) suggests that respondents' imaginative stories. individuals may not really be aware of their grooming motives and emotions. In order to understand more thoroughly the psychosocial content of the young adults' grooming rituals studied here. Study 2: Grooming Ritual Fantasy Themes Although ritual is a form of body language. When asked directly. IT DRIVES ME CRAZY! (female-20) I really hate blow drying my hair. as these modal protocols illustrate: Fixing my hair is the most difficult. This research approach assumes that some ritual agenda items may be relatively hidden. I hate setting my hair. Fifty-nine young adults (31 females. This is largely due to the inherent limitations of direct selfreport survey research designs. Of the 26 items measured. hair care was the most commonly cited. Many complaints focused on how long it takes to do one's hair. but the present analysis does not focus on idiosyncratic product usage or on products that are (relatively) unambiguous in gender. As Erikson's (1977) interpretation would predict. they may be reluctant to discuss freely topics that are commonly considered private and sensitive. Caplow 1984). Methodology Two Grooming Thematic Apperception Test (GTAT) stimulus pictures were selected based upon evaluative criteria suggested by 1Ienry (1956) and Murstein (1963). By a substantial margin. The two GTAT stimuli included pictures of: (1) a young to middle-aged woman in curlers applying make-up. A projective approach has the potential to break through these communication barriers. there is not much depth of content in the findings. Respondents were asked to consider all of their typical daily grooming procedures and then select the single activity that causes them the most frustration. These symbols were presumed to be of near universal familiarity among the young adult population. and their explanations may be simple rationalizations. while waist was the least positively perceived (only 44 percent positive or very positive). Eye and sex-organ appearance ranked second and third. It takes so long because of the length. its vocabulary may be relatively unconscious. When asked directly. One hair care product-hairspray-is out of fashion with the sample group (at least in the morning). Yet grooming frustration often goes deeper than simple disappointment with a procedure gone awry. hair ranked highest in overall satisfaction: 82 percent of the sample reported that they felt either positive or very positive about their hair. and discursive speech about it is likely to be misleading (Bird 1980. However. grooming ritual behavior involves negative and ambivalent as well as positive feelings. articulated in response to the pictorial stimuli. the rigid appearance norms of peergroup narcissism. Murray 1938). expressive technique such as the TAT will encourage respondents to relax their defenses and project their own psychological material onto imaginary characters and situations (Levy 1986. Also. Two other grooming products-hair oil and dandruff shampoo-are used regularly by only 4 percent of the sample. I spend hours-actually HOURS-doing my hair. anyone might become agitated when something doesn't materialize as planned. in satisfaction.RITUAL DIMENSION 259 third of the sample said that they are likely to use a blow dryer on their hair. These results suggest that the young adults surveyed should energize their hair-grooming rituals with upbeat enthusiasm. (male-20) . yet such an interpretation is clouded by the findings from another survey question designed to probe hair affect less directly. A creative. While the results of this study provide some evidence for these elements. 1977). only 8 percent reported regular hairspray usage. and grievances were frequently aired with some emotion. The GTAT stimulus pictures encouraged respondents to focus on haircare issues. and then it never comes out the same. blow drying it for 20 minutes. the core frustration with hair grooming is not so much with the time factor per se as with the disappointing results achieved despite prodigious efforts. (female-24) I really hate going through the trouble of washing and drying my hair.

(male-20) Whether a young man is blowing his hair into a conservative preppie look or trying to achieve a renegade punk effect. The stories also reveal how grooming artifacts are invested with ritual significance. Paralleling these variations in identity. prostitutes. Even more extreme are the depictions of the stimulus characters as derelicts (alcoholics or drug abusers). s. homosexuals. the stories' dramatic content ranges from socially conventional plots (dating or work preparation. junior executive. and upper class (n = 20) populations. occupation. The young man lives at home and is the family goat. The man with the blow dryer is generally seen as young-somewhere between 16 and 25 years old. These diverse perceptions graphically illuminate the internal conflicts that accompany young adults' strivings for personal autonomy and illustrate how respondents project their preoccupations onto grooming ritual themes. Respondents' stories varied in length from 175 to 250 words. Respondents were selected in roughly equal proportion from working class (n = 20). except for a few from respondents with inadequate writing skills. so it is not surprising that respondents' grooming fantasies reflect their awareness of both positive and negative identification possibilities. He might try to escape his tormenters by running away from home or his job. sexual behavior. a professional sports superstar. Most subjects gave their characters at least first names and often supplied minute demographic and psychographic detail.260 THE JOURNAL OF CONSUMER RESEARCH in the study. transexuals). when confronted with the stimulus picture. quite a few stories depict the main characters as hopeless losers and total nerds who are vocationally unaccomplished and consistently romantic failures. there was considerable consensus about the grooming agenda's important psychosocial issues.36). She could also be a domineering co-ed who calls the shots in her interpersonal relationships. It empowers the young man to mimic peer group appearance norms and assert himself confidently in the social scene. or bikers). these were gathered verbatim. Symbolically the blow dryer is phallic and aggressive. an average fellow cleaning up after work or exercise. fighting for independence and respect. Sometimes he hides out in his room or withdraws into liquor or drugs.5. Few rituals are as closely linked to the psychosocial identity crisis as daily grooming rituals. post-athletic grooming) to unusual. They were presented with the set of GTAT pictures and instructed to write creative and dramatically complete stories about the pictures. although some probably do. In the developmental battle for independence. punkers. In contrast to the extensive variation in each stimulus character's imagined identity. personal aspiration.but he's getting ready to go out anyway. and with identified characters. and requiring from 35 to 60 minutes to write. or winning football games with last-minute passes. Some stories elevate his character to rolemodel status: a manager or other professional. economic status. Breaking Away. almost as frequently the characters were imagined to be less independent. Identity Projections. lower-middle class (n = 19). Beyond this there is little agreement as to what type of individual he is. She is described as being between 20 and early middle age. On the other hand." or a sophisticated bachelor. their thematic constructions reflect intense preoccupations. The man with the blow dryer is busy closing business deals. The woman was sometimes imagined to be an executive dynamo or the perfect housewife. delinquents (school drop-outs. and various lifestyle information. using the measurement criteria described in the first study. He's hoping to meet some hot chicks and he wants his hair to look just right. no one tells him what to do. seeking to distance himself from parental regulation. his teachers have it in for him at school. The latest fashion may aggravate a parent's more traditional orientation. highly fantastic themes (hallucinations. the blow dryer is a symbolic weapon. or deviants (psychotics. each with a beginning. but even conventional grooming may be linked with some rejection of parental or other authority: Jim is supposedto stay home and studytonight. To some he is just one of the guys. In contrast. and a sexual athlete.d. Rather. These are generally positive images. This guy makes things happen. outlining age. The imagery pattern for the woman in curlers is structurally similar. space travel). middle. generally satisfying the widely used 200word criterion for respondent involvement (Murstein 1963). and end. or college student. Results To guide the construction of their imaginary stories. The woman was sometimes described as being under a boss's or husband's thumb. Respondents sometimes described an individual who is an active and in-charge personality. respondents were asked to provide each stimulus picture's only visible character with an identity. They ranged in age from 19 to 26 (m = 21. a "jock. . but every so often he strikes out against his enemies. She is frequently imagined to be either a housewife. simply trying to stay out of trouble. = 3. These results do not necessarily imply that the young adults surveyed identify directly with or aspire to the characters and situations they describe. Young adults apparently need little stimulation to involve themselves in the fantasy realm of experience. murder. Still other stories inflate these roles to heroic proportions: an international tycoon. and in these stories the woman's grooming is associated with desirable outcomes. he is preparing to become an independent social actor. All stories were collected through self-administration.

but who cares? When I finish using my Mighty Mite I just look so good. (female-2 1) Joe Hearngets up every morningat 6:30.RITUAL DIMENSION 261 respondents' stories were sometimes quite agitated. . (male-25) Respondents' stories reveal their images of grooming crime and punishment. Nothing permanent. while females placed greater emphasis on dating relationships and marriage. Vocational Placement and Performance. an elixir makes Plain Jane look glamorous. He really didn't want to go to the party anyway. the "blind" date becomes a steady girl. Respondents' preoccupation with vocational concerns represents the convergence of fantasy and socioeconomic reality. there were observable between-sex variations. Young adults appear quite willing to suspend their disbeliefs about the miraculous properties of grooming products and procedures. the young Discussion Even everyday rituals such as those associated with personal grooming are psychologically complex and intense. A projective research approach appears useful in assessing respondents' ritual preoccupations. (male-26) Still other scenarios highlight the resistance and ambivalence that young adults experience about dating pressures: Bob can't understandwhy he did such a stupid thing as askingLindato this party. . . Notably and not surprisingly. wherehe'll pick up one.and blow dries his hair . or the loss of employment. promotions). Males tended to focus on meeting girls and having sex. the subjects described various grooming effects that can be characterized as ritual magic. Imaginary scripts depicted extraordinary before-and-after changes achieved because of some specific grooming activity: a tired drone is transformed into an energetic dynamo.and it's only 7 AM. These internal exhortations focus like a mantra on confidence-building sentiments and whip up the requisite energy for the situation at hand. It feels like it's blowing 150 degrees of heat into my face . professional humiliation. Ritual Magic. maybe her boss will help with a downpaymenton a new car. Today's young adults are very career oriented. . the grooming role is often described as instrumental to success. and then take them home and show them what they've been missing. to look sharp in his sunglasses or he'll lose his job. . More than any other script element. Sometimes they are resented because of the social control they imply. . Not infrequently. All the girls in the officewill want to play in my hair. Work and success themes are prominent in their grooming fantasies. To think of this type of highly involving behavior as merely habitual is to miss the point. such stories closely parallel the plots of many grooming product commercials. They sneered at this puny. but they are valued for their transformational properties. . such stories are often told with an ironic and humorous tone: humor is a common mechanism for deflecting anxiety. and some stories resonate like tribal war chants with themes of off-to-social-battle. (male-22) Quite a few stories describe grooming behavior as leading directly to positive romantic outcomes: the coworker confesses she's had an eye on him for a long time. recognition. showers. . (male-2 1) While romantic themes were generally quite common. Respondents may not actually believe in grooming's mystical powers. Now she's plotting on this new guy. maybe two or three girls. or even intelligent. Intimacy Aspirations. Curiously. He is an FBI agent and has man satisfies his sexual desires. one of the guys becomes a Romeo. The young adults in this study appreciated grooming's practical payoffs. (female-22) Susanis gettingreadyfor her firstpresentationand she's very nervous. Some stories highlight individuals' romantic eagerness: Rhonda was amazed that the cutest guy on the beach had walkedover to her and asked her for a date. as these exploratory data suggest. bonuses. Another magical effect ascribed to grooming flows from its role as a psychic energizer.but each one got her a raise. Hair curlers do not seem so symbolically potent. (female-20) Sam's getting readyto go out and look for some heavyduty action. As she was applying her makeup. (female-22) It must alreadybe 80 degrees. but they see no harm if grooming somehow encourages Lady Luck. If it goes well. but quite a few puzzles remain to be solved. she wondered if this was a dream. . Laterthat day his boss told him he was putting him up for promotion. Tonight he's going to the disco.He didn'teven findher that attractive . many of the subjects used in this study were just beginning their professional lives. When a vocational script is constructed. By the time I finish blow dryingmy hair I'll probablyneed anothershower. inadequate runt or harassed him with interpersonal confrontations and sometimes abused him with drunken brawls. as the following scenario excerpts illustrate: Ron was getting ready for work. young adults project grooming rituals as preparation for dating and sexual interactions.She reallywasn'tall that nice. taking his usual care with his appearance. others associate deficient grooming with a failed job interview. . While some stories link grooming to vocational rewards (sales contracts. Grooming is valued as a mechanism for overcoming introversion. . Sometimes respondents' stories involve the risky combination of work and sex: Renee has workedher way throughfour vice presidents.

Ideas about what is right and wrong are reiterated through ritual practices that highlight the normative aspects of buying and consuming. and Mayer 1982). (1981). Mayer (1982). The study of ritual promises to illuminate some of the specific research blind spots that have been identified. Greenwich.] REFERENCES Abelson. The American Christmas: A Study in National Culture. and isolation (1977. or a sweet sixteen party. extraordinary life events." Journal of Consumer Research. "Christmas in American Culture. Althoughit is widely recognizedthat many products and services are symbolic stimuli (Holman 1981. To extract the meanings imbedded in ritualizedbehaviormay requireintensive and openendedinterviewing. 1982). Ritual behavioris a symbolic language. graduation ceremonies. Psychologist Erik Erikson interprets ritual behavior as drawing from superstition and belief in magic and. 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