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Almost equal, but not quite yet: The consumption of historically stigmatised social groups under conditions of fragmented stigma.

Eichert, C. (2021). Almost equal, but not quite yet: The consumption of historically stigmatised social groups under conditions of fragmented stigma.. (Unpublished Doctoral thesis, City, University of London)


How do the consumption strategies of historically stigmatised social groups change when they have achieved greater recognition, status, and respectability in society? I answer this timely and relevant question based on a seven-year interpretive study of gay men’s consumption in contemporary Germany.

Prior consumer culture research has theorised how members of historically stigmatised social groups use consumption strategically to avoid, cope with, or resist their widespread, pervasive, and persistent stigmatisation across life contexts — a condition which I call dominant stigma. Different from these studies, gay consumers in
Germany neither face such a dominant stigmatisation any longer due to the social progress achieved over the past three decades. Nor, however, have gay consumers simply become uniformly destigmatised and respected all across German society. This begs the question how their post-dominant stigmatisation bears on contemporary gay men’s consumption and identities?

I draw on Social Representations Theory from Social Psychology as an analytical lens to uncover that gay men’s once dominant stigma has fragmented into coexisting oppressive, enabling, and normalised societal representations that gay men encounter to different degrees in their everyday lives. Faced with these societal changes, gay men no longer exclusively consume and identify as a subculture, as earlier consumer research has found. Instead, the social group of gay men has fanned out into five ideal-typical subgroups, which I refer to as underground, discrete, hybrid, antistigma, and post-stigma social groups. Each subgroup uses consumption for distinct strategic purposes, including hiding and denial, collective resistance, reformation, deconstruction of differences, and expression of individuality.

I synthesise these findings into a conceptual model of consumption under fragmented stigma that extends prior research on consumption under dominant and hegemonic stigma configurations, contributes to the literature on consumption and morality, and suggests ways in which consumption may ameliorate but also reinforce stigma. I show how these theory insights are relevant for future research on historically stigmatised social groups such as immigrants, racial, religious, or ethnic minorities, or consumers stigmatised for their appearance or (in-)abilities. In doing so, I also shed light on the complex lived experiences of gay men as a still-vulnerable social group that
has become almost equal, but not quite yet.

Publication Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HM Sociology
Departments: Bayes Business School > Bayes Business School Doctoral Theses
Bayes Business School > Management
Doctoral Theses
[thumbnail of Eichert thesis 2021 PDF-A.pdf]
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