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Marketing Trends 2012 Doctoral Colloquium

Co-creating Meanings of Sustainability: A Discursive Study of the Fur Trade Industry

Elina Koivisto Aalto !niversity" elina#$oivisto%aalto#fi


In this in&uiry I a' studying ho( do 'eanings beco'e institutionali)ed (ithin a field and
further'ore* ho( are these 'eanings +roduction* disse'ination and rece+tion# ,reviously
this has been loo$ed on the conte-t of technology ado+tion but u+ until today* no research has
loo$ed it fro' a +ers+ective of consu'er +roducts and brands# To redress this research ga+* I
conduct longitudinal archival (or$ (ithin a controversial fashion industry# This (ill be
co'+li'ented by a 'ulti+licity of .sta$eholder/ intervie(s# In so doing* I (ill ado+t a critical
discourse analytic CDA" theoretical fra'e(or$ and 'ethodology to gain understanding of
the 'ulti+le strategies 'ar$eters engage (ith in co-+roducing ethically legiti'ate brands and
ho( consu'ers utili)e these brand-related 'eanings in their consu'+tion 0ustification
narratives# Fro' a 'anagerial +ers+ective* 'y thesis (ill she light on the issues of brand
'anage'ent (ithin controversial industries#

Keywords Controversial fashion* discourse analysis* discursive struggle* institutional
entre+reneurshi+* brand 'anage'ent


This doctoral research ai's at understanding the discursive activity different sta$eholders
such as 'ar$eters of fur +roducts as (ell as +ublic relations officers (ithin fur o++osing
123s (ithin a controversial high-fashion industry engage in (hen see$ing to ethically
legiti'ate and de-legiti'ate the co''ercial activities and +roducts involved in this
institutional field DiMaggio 4 ,o(ell 56789 Such'ann 566:"# ;ith social res+onsibility
beco'ing an increasingly i'+ortant attribute for organi)ations o+erating in controversial
industry fields* the fashion fur 'ar$et offers a rich conte-t for investigating ho( the notion of
sustainable consu'+tion is nor'atively co-constructed by 'ar$eters and o++osing social
'ove'ents ali$e e#g# Tarro( 566<"* and for e-a'ining the $inds of the discursive struggles
and strategies such de-"legiti'ating activities could involve e#g# =ardy and ,hili+s 5666"#
Moreover* as consu'+tion has been conce+tuali)ed as a co-constructive activity bet(een
consu'ers and +roducers* I ai' to understand ho( consu'ers utili)e these discursive
resources +rovided in order to rationali)e and 0ustify their consu'+tion#

Sustainability of consu'er society Slater 566>" a++ears to be one of the central 'antras of
the ne( 'illenniu'9 it is on the li+s of +roducers* consu'ers* +olicy'a$ers* activists and so
on* (ith a (ealth of to+ics covered across different 'edia al'ost daily# This develo+'ent has
not been sudden* ho(ever# Since the :?/s* 'anage'ent scholars have co''ented on
co'+anies needs to underta$e activities that 'ight be regarded as socially res+onsible
=eald* 56:>* cited in !ll'ann* 567:"# Mar$eters have follo(ed suit since the >?/s* (ith a
gro(ing body of research in the field of social 'ar$eting Anderson 4 Cunningha' 56>@*
;ebster 56>:* Antil and Aennett 56>6* A0)en and Fishbein 567?* Fuller 5666* see also
,rothero et al# @?5?"# ;ith the rise of discourses of socially res+onsible and +roactive
consu'er-citi)enshi+ Arnould and Tho'+son* @??:"" individuals and collectives have
beco'e increasingly a(are of their ability to have a +ositive i'+act on the (ell-being of
society through their consu'+tion +ractices Cherrier @??>"# Conse&uently* sustainability
as+ects of consu'er +roducts have beco'e an integral +art of value +ro+ositions of brands9
cor+orate social res+onsibility CSB" issues regarding +roduction +rocesses as (ell as
'ar$eting co''unications Sen 4 Ahattacharya* @??5* Sher(in* 5678" are attracting 'ore
and 'ore attention fro' co''ercial actors# Indeed* it has beco'e co''on +arlance for
'ar$eters to use such ter's as ecological* sustainable* ethical* fair trade* and such to describe
their +roducts#

Begardless of these develo+'ents and and literatures* ho(ever* there re'ains a need to
attain 'ore e'+irical understanding of ho( sustainability is actually constructed in different
industry fields and by 'ulti+le sta$eholders# In +articular (ith res+ect to controversial
'ar$ets9 fields that are naturally laden (ith conflicting sub0ect +ositions and infla'ed
0u-ta+ositions of 'eanings* and that are also difficult to access due to fear of negative +ress
and activist res+onses# To e-e'+lify such conflicting voices and 0u-ta+ositions (ithin the field
of high-fashion fur trade* (e 'ay observe ho( activists generally see$ to fra'e furs as
unethical by +ortraying the' as sy'bols of vanity and e-travagance* (hile 'ar$eters
e'+hasi)e the 'aterial su+eriority and traditionality of furs in their 'ar$eting
co''unications# In li$e vein* but fro' a co-+roductive +ers+ective* (e 'ay observe ho(
discourses advocated by social 'ove'ents feed into and are re-a++ro+riated by 'ar$eters9
during ti'es that furs have been seen as o+ulent and overly e-travagant* the +ortrayal of furs
in advertising and ,B has 'ainly revolved around the sustainable and traditional as+ects of
using furs# These are* of course* 0ust a fe( and very si'+le e-a'+les of ho( both social
'ove'ents and 'ar$eters contribute to field-s+ecific as (ell as societal level discourses
through their legiti'ating and de-legiti'ating activity# The ai' and i'+ortance of this
research (ould lie* then* in 'a++ing out and analy)ing in de+th the dyna'ics of discursive
'eaning-'a$ing (ithin this +articular industry field* and in doing so* +roducing actionable
+oints for both industry sta$eholders as (ell as +olicy 'a$ers#

Researc# questions

In light of the above C the ai' of this research is to investigate the Finnish fur industry and its
discourses* in +articular the +rocesses of their +roduction* disse'ination and rece+tion# Thus*
the t(o +ri'ary research interests are a" to build an understanding of change in discourses
over ti'e in relation to broader societal discourses b" to e'+irically uncover and theori)e on
the strategies that are e'+loyed in transfor'ing and shifting the 'eanings around
consu'+tion ob0ects# Moreover* this (ill enable 'e to further understand the co-creative
nature of 'eaning-'a$ing (ithin this consu'+tion +heno'enon# Begarding this latter +oint*
I (ill be loo$ing at the 0ustificationDrationali)ation narratives consu'ers tell in order to
rationali)e their controversial consu'+tion habits#

Researc# $ro%lem &and R'(s)
Accordingly* a tentative research +roble' could be as follo(s: How are discourses within an
institutional field crafted, maintained and disseminated over time?

As I a' trying to 'a+ out the change in this conte-t and also understand the strategies
underta$en to influence the'* the belo( research &uestions +artially antici+ate (hat is to
e'erge fro' this study in due course: an account of discursive change (ithin an institutional
field =ardy and ,hili+s 5666"#

Follo(ing this logic*
5# =o( have the discourses (ithin the field of fur-related high-fashion industry changed
over ti'eE
@# =o( have different sta$eholders such as 'ar$eters and activists contributed to(ards
this changeE
8# =o( have consu'ers ado+ted and a++ro+riated these discourses in their 0ustification

Met#od and data collection

This doctoral research (ill involve studying the controversial field of high-fashion fur trade
using a critical discourse analysis CDA" fra'e(or$# This is an a++roach that focuses on the
role of discourses in constituting and sustaining +o(er relations* and hence* on ho( actors
are both enabled and constrained by discursive +rocesses Fairclough 566@"#

The case sa'+le (ill include individuals fro' the Finnish fur sales sector the o(ner of Saga
fur brand"* activist individuals and grou+s* as (ell as consu'ers of fur +roducts# This (ill add
u+ to a++ro-i'ately F? intervie(s C 8? intervie(s (ith consu'ers and altotogether 8?
intervie(s (ith activist grou+s and 'ar$eters# To gain a holistic and dyna'ic gras+ of the
field under study* these intervie( data (ill be e'bedded and analy)ed (ithin a socio-historic
fra'e(or$ that reflects the evolution of broader societal discourses surrounding the issue of
fur +roduction and consu'+tion (ithin the international high fashion industry# This data (ill
be ac&uired through syste'atic archival (or$ (ithin the archives of Finnish Fur sales and
largest (o'en 'aga)ines in Finland# This fra'ing (ill aid in identifying the
interte-tualDinterdiscursive relations bet(een relevant social 'ove'ents* discourses and
'ar$eting atte'+ts and sho( ho( such interactions 'ight transfor' the institutional field#

Antici*ated results

Fro' a 'anagerial +oint of vie(* I see$ to understand ho( controversial brands 'ay gain
ethical legiti'acy by +roviding consu'ers (ith discursive resources for their negotiation of
ethicality# Fro' this vantage +oint* then* 'y research (ill also +roduce i'+lications for
'anagerial +ractices of GbrandingH* Gre+utation 'anage'entH and Gstrategic co''unication#

Re+erence list

A0)en* I# and Fishbein* M# 567?"# Understanding attitudes and predicting social behavior* 1e(
Iersey: ,rentice-=all#

Anderson* T#;# and Cunningha'* ;#=# 56>@"# The socially conscious consu'er# Journal of
Marketing* Jol# 8F* ++# @8-85#

Antil* I#=# and Aennett* ,#D# 56>6"# Construction and validation of a scale to 'easure socially
res+onsible consu'+tion behavior In =enion* K#=# 4 Kinnear* T#C# Eds#" The conserver societ*
Chicago: A'erican Mar$eting Association* ++# :5-F7#

Arnould* E# I#* Tho'+son* C# I# @??:"* GConsu'er Culture Theory CCT": T(enty Kears of
BesearchH* Journal of !onsumer "esearch, Jol# 85* March* ++# 7F7-77@#
Cherrier* =# @??>"* GEthical consu'+tion +ractices: Co-+roduction of self-e-+ression
and social recognitionH* Journal of !onsumer #ehavior* Jol# F* 1o# :* ++# 8@5-88:#
DiMaggio* ,#I# and ,o(ell* ;#;# 5678"# The Iron Cage revisited: Institutional iso'or+his'
and collective rationality in organi)ational fields# $merican %ociological "eview* Jol# <7* ++#

Fairclough* 1or'an 566@"# &iscourse and social change# Ca'bridge* ,olity ,ress#

Fuller* D#A# 5666"# %ustainable marketing' Managerial(ecological issues) Thousand 3a$s* CA:

=ardy* C# and ,hili+s* 1# 5666"# 1o Io$ing Matter: Discursive Struggle in the Canadian
Befugee Syste'# *rgani+ation %tudies* Jol# @?5"* ++# 5-@<#

,rothero* A#* McDonagh* ,# and Dobscha* S# @?5?"# Is green the ne( blac$E Beflections on a
green co''odity discourse# Journal of Macromarketing,, Jol# 8?@"* ++# 5<>-5:6#

Sen* S#* Ahattacharya* C#A# @??5"* GDoes Doing 2ood Al(ays Lead to Doing AetterE Consu'er
Beactions to Cor+orate Social Bes+onsibilityH* Journal of Marketing "esearch* Jol# 87* May* ++#

Sher(in* D#S# 5678"* GThe ethical roots of the business syste'H* Harvard #usiness "eview*
1ov-Dec* ++# 578-56@#

Slater* D# 566>"# !onsumer culture and modernit* Ca'bridge* !K: ,olity#
Such'ann* M#C# 566:"# Managing legiti'acy: Strategic and institutional a++roaches# $cadem
of Management "eview* Jol# @?* ++# :>5CF5?#

Tarro(* S# 566<"# -ower in Movement' %ocial Movements, collective action and politics)
Ca'bridge: Ca'bridge !niversity ,ress#

!ll'ann* A#A# 567:"* GData in Search of a Theory: A Critical E-a'ination of the Belationshi+s
A'ong Social ,erfor'ance* Social Disclosure* and Econo'ic ,erfor'ance of !#S# Fir'sH*
$cadem of Management "eview, Jol# 5?* 1o# 8* ++# :<?-::>#

;ebster* F#E# 56>:"# Deter'ining the Characteristics of the Socially Conscious Consu'er#
Journal of !onsumer "esearch* Jol# @* ++# 577-56F#