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Issue 5: February 2006



>Programme News


>Research Focus







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Photograph of a staff briefing at a Japanese invested store in China

A staff briefing on customer service at a Japanese-invested store in China



photo: Jos Gamble

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Programme News: Research Findings

Multinational Retailers in China and Skills Development

Work in the retail sector tends to be characterised as low-skilled and deadend ‘McJobs’. British firms are often seen to have taken a low skill route. International research points to a more positive picture. Research in British and Japanese owned retail stores in Chinese cities found that these firms provided workers with opportunities to develop valuable skills. Prospects for rapid promotion offered the chance to move up the hierarchy and into managerial jobs.

A British firm provided at least as much opportunity in this respect as Japanese firms. The Chinese context appears to promote skill enhancement. An ample supply of well-educated labour allows firms to recruit employees who match their requirements. For foreign firms seeking to enter a fiercely competitive market, customer service staffed with enthusiastic, skilled workers is a valuable means of differentiation. Meanwhile, Chinese customers’ expectations bring pressure to upskill service workers: their demands on foreign firms are higher than those placed upon local firms.

For further information contact
Jos Gamble, Royal Holloway
University of London
telephone 01784 414094

Not Like Shopping

Providers and users consistently view public services as different from commercial transactions, new research shows. The idea that people expect to be treated as consumers has become a central idea in public service reform under New Labour. But in health, policing, and social care services researchers have found that more than half of staff and service users see themselves as members of the local community or the wider public. Fewer than one in five thought of service relationships in terms of consumers or customers. People are becoming more assertive in their relationships with public services, and less deferential. But they are also insisting that public services are about on-going personal relationships, and not like shopping. Users were more positive than providers about the potential benefits from greater choice. Police staff expressed the greatest concern about the impact of choice. At the same time, users also worried that choice would favour those who were best able to work the system.

For more information contact
John Clarke, The Open University
telephone 01908 654542
or see our web-page for research report

The Truncated Life of a Modern Industrialised Chicken

Food chains and industrialised food production raise important questions where academic research connects with public culture and debate. Food scares are the theme of Plat du Jour, Matt Herbert’s new album of dance tracks. Researchers on the project Manufacturing Meaning along the Food Chain helped with the research behind the album and with sourcing sound recordings, including the sounds of 30,000 broiler chickens, and a bass line derived from the cheep of 24,000 minute-old chicks. The album highlights the complex costs and choices available to contemporary consumers. For more information on the relationship between memory and food, and the politics and histories of food chains, contact:

Peter Jackson
University of Sheffield
telephone 0114 222 7908


Research Focus

Shopping Routes: Networks of Fashion Consumption in London's West End 1945-1979 investigates the changes that have taken place in the vibrant district of London's West End, including the retail trade, tourism, the representation of the West End in film, television and print journalism, and the back street energy of the 'rag trade'. The project provides a new history of the West End, a better understanding of the shopping experience, and an account of urban regeneration which acknowledges the important role played by fashion. A public exhibition ‘Sixties Fashion’ will run from 6 June 2006 until January 2007 at the Victoria and Albert Museum.

For more information:
Christopher Breward
Victoria and Albert Museum
Cromwell Road
South Kensington SW7 2RL
telephone: 020 7942 2000
David Gilbert
Royal Holloway
University of London
Egham TW20 0EX
telephone 01784 434455

Social Status, Lifestyle and Cultural Consumption is a comparative research project led by Tak Wing Chan and John H. Goldthorpe. It involves seven countries: the United Kingdom, Chile, France, Hungary, Israel, the Netherlands, and the United States. We ask whether a status order - a hierarchy of generalised superiority, equality and inferiority - still exists in these societies. How does this status order map onto class structure, and how does social status affect cultural consumption in these societies?

For more information:
Tak Wing Chan
University of Oxford
Manor Road
Oxford OX1 3UQ
telephone 01865 286176

Designing and Consuming: objects, practices and processes is a theoretical project run by Elizabeth Shove with Matt Watson and Jack Ingram. It seeks to enrich and extend our understanding of the dynamic relation between product design and consumption practices. Research on Do-It-Yourself projects and digital photography reveals new ways of conceptualising the objects, practices and processes of consumption. The project exploits the interface of science and technology studies, design theory and the sociology of consumption to advance a new theory of design and consumption practices.

For more information:
Elizabeth Shove
Lancaster University
Lancaster LA1 4YL
telephone 01524 594610

The Housewife in Early Modern Rural England is a research project led by Jane Whittle and examines patterns of consumption in the early seventeenth century. Based on the household accounts kept by a Norfolk gentlewoman, Lady Alice Le Strange, the project explores the role of consumption in the family life-cycle and gentry identity; the acquisition of goods and services; the material culture of furnishings and textiles; the production and consumption of food and drink; and the provision of servant labour. A detailed picture of earlier practices places modern consumption in a new perspective.

For more information:
Jane Whittle
History Department
Exeter University
Amory Building, Rennes Drive
Exeter EX4 4JR
telephone 01392 263292



Choice and Voice was the theme of a public seminar organised by the Cultures of Consumption programme at HM Treasury on 24 June 2005. Chaired by Malcolm Dean of The Guardian, the meeting brought together experts from government, academic, and consumer groups, including Claire Tyler from The Social Exclusion Unit, Mary Tetlow, from the Office of Public Services and Reform, and Graham Vidler, from Which? Richard Simmons and Johnston Birchall from the Cultures of Consumption programme stressed the importance of giving users more choice about voice, especially by promoting a more appropriate mix of voice mechanisms and responding to the causes of withdrawal. John Clarke reported on how users of social services employed relational reasoning rather than thinking in terms of competitive choice or a cash nexus.

For more information:
Stefanie Nixon
telephone 020 7079 0601

The Politics of Necessity was the focus of discussion at an international workshop held on 9-10 September 2005 at St Hilda’s College, Oxford University. Focusing on the politics and regulation of water and energy, participants discussed the role of needs in the formation of modern social movements and democratic politics in modern Britain, Africa, India, and in global governance. ‘The Politics of Necessity’ will be the theme of a special issue for the Journal of Consumer Policy edited by Bronwen Morgan and Frank Trentmann.

Further details can be found at

The dynamics of consumption in the domestic sphere were discussed at an exploratory workshop RESTLESS INTERIORS, Victoria & Albert Museum, 2 November 2005. The meeting brought together researchers from the AHRC Centre for the Study of the Domestic Interior, the Cultures of Consumption programme, and a Swedish project on The Forgotten Consumption, Uppsala University. Discussion explored the ways in which homes are valued, how interiors are arranged, and how objects move into the home, around it, and out of it.

For more information:
Stefanie Nixon
telephone 020 7079 0601

Segmenting the over 50s market was the first of a series of workshops by academic researchers and market research practitioners on consumption in later life, at Birkbeck College Sept 28 2005.

For more information:
Paul Higgs
telephone 0207 679 9466

At a workshop on ‘The Diffusion of Cultures of Consumption’ at Manchester, 17-18 November 2005, experts compared and discussed consumption patterns in the United Kingdom, the United States, the Soviet Union, post-communist Estonia, India and the Netherlands.

For more information:
Alan Warde
telephone 0161 275 7363

‘Italian Coffee: History, Quality and Culture’ was the theme of a public event at the University of Hertfordshire on 4th November that brought together experts from the coffee trade, academics, and members of the public. Professor Jonathan Morris explored the changing cultures of consumption surrounding Italian coffee. Dr Carlo Odello of the Italian Espresso National Institute explained how to prepare the perfect espresso, and participants were treated to a tasting of four Italian espresso blends.

For further information



Frank Trentmann (ed.), The Making of the Consumer: Knowledge, Power and Identity in the Modern World (Oxford and New York: Berg, 2006).

Alan Warde, ‘Consumption and the Theory of Practice’, Journal of Consumer Culture, 5(2)(2005), pp. 131-54.

Chris Gilleard and Paul Higgs, Contexts of Ageing: Class, Cohort and Community (Cambridge: Polity, 2005).

Clive Barnett, Nick Clarke, Paul Cloke and Alice Malpass, ‘The Political Ethics of Consumerism’, Consumer Policy Review 15(2)(2005), pp. 45-51.

Stephen Peckham, Mark Exworthy, Ian Greener and Martin Powell, ‘Decentralisation in the NHS: We’ve been here before, haven’t we?’, Public Money and Management, 25(4) (2005), pp. 221-228.

Kate Soper, ‘The Enchantments and Disenchantments of Nature: Implications for Consumption in a Globalised World’ in J. Paavola,& I. Lowe,(eds.), Environmental Values in a Globalising World (London & New York: Routledge, 2005), pp. 51-65.

Dale Southerton & Mark Tomlinson, ‘Pressed for Time: The Differential Impacts of a Time Squeeze’, Sociological Review, 53(2)(2005), pp. 215-39.

New Working Papers:

Tak-Wing Chan and John H. Goldthorpe, Social Stratification and Cultural Consumption Music in England

Lewis Holloway, Moya Kneafsey, Laura Venn, Rosie Cox, Elizabeth Dowler and Helena Tuomainen, Possible food economies: food production-consumption arrangements and the meaning of ‘alternative’.




The Cultures of Consumption research programme seeks to facilitate dialogue between research in academic and public bodies. On this page we will provide you with updates and links to work done elsewhere.

1. Shopping Generation is the first national survey of how children experience consumer life. The report by the National Consumer Council looks at what young people think about their place in consumer life. As a result of the NCC’s research, young people have set out a ‘Children’s agenda for consumer life’. The report looks at how that agenda can be put into action, including how parents can help, along with recommendations for government.

2. Over 60 public, private and voluntary sector bodies are represented in the Consumer Education Alliance, a new body set up in November 2005 for delivering the consumer education strategy of the Organisation of Fair Trading, devised in consultation with major UK companies, academics, government departments, enforcement bodies and consumer organisations. The OFT strategy aims to increase consumers' confidence by providing them with the skills they need to analyse information effectively, manage resources and assess risk when buying goods and services. The work includes: an OFT-led campaign to inform 18 to 24 year olds about the relative costs of different types of credit when choosing how to finance particular purchases; an initiative bringing together internet service providers and other industry stakeholders to give consumers the skills to resist internet scam; and a credit industry-led project
to develop coordinated messages on credit products and services.

3. ESRC Research Seminar Series ‘Identities and Consumption’, January 2006 – July 2007
A new ESRC seminar series provides a forum for debating crucial themes of contemporary consumption: branding and marketing, child and youth consumption; participation and citizenship; health, identities and consumption.

For further information contact:
Christine Griffin
telephone 01225 385293
Department of Psychology
University of Bath

4. What influences the choices we make, and how much choice do we really have?
On the face of it, we have never had so much food choice. But in reality how meaningful and informed are the choices we make? A new report by Which? looks at the nature and consequences of food choices?


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