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Shaping the Consumer: A Century of Consumer Guidance
Stockholm University, Faculty of Social Sciences, Stockholm Centre for Organizational Research (SCORE).
2018 (English)In: Organizing and Reorganizing Markets / [ed] Nils Brunsson, Mats Jutterström, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018Chapter in book (Refereed)
Abstract [en]

Although market organization is typically directed at organizations, it is common to legitimize it with reference to individuals. Because clever and active consumers constitute an often-assumed precondition for well functioning markets, there is much ado about maintaining this ideal. Thus reorganization aimed at increased competition and a greater supply of goods is encouraged, because the consumer is assumed to have free choice—to be willing and able, when faced with a range of options, to decide what to buy and from whom tobuy it. To date, the hopes of maintaining the fragile pipe dream of the clever and active consumer, so fundamental to much of market organization, has taken little advice from scholars demonstrating that real individuals lack the capacity to anticipate all possible options and evaluate all available information (Simon 1982; March and Simon 1958). As this chapter demonstrates,however, the discrepancy between these highly held ideals and humbler human capacities is contributing to a broad range of organizations engaging in efforts to shape ‘proper consumers’. Through a chronological historical account of a century of these efforts (c.1900–2015), we provide insights into the development of consumer guidance in Sweden. Beginning in 1900, pioneering attempts at shaping proper consumers targeted members of established organizations and offered basic knowledge on ways to save money and make informed choices between product categories—not to spend one’s daily wages on alcohol, for example, but to save and invest in a new harrow. In the state-centred, post-WWII period, beginning in the mid-1940s, there were increased standards and monitoring aimed at guiding consumers to choose not only between but also within product categories—how to calculate the price/quality ratio of different kinds of hosiery, for example. This era also saw the establishment of many specialized organizations aimed at consumer guidance. The contemporary global era, beginning in the 1990s, has seen a sharp increase in standards, labels, and consumer guidance. In the late 1990s, a third and somewhat unexpected type of advice went a step beyond the choice among and within product categories to provide advice among consumer guides. We offer a wide range of empirical examples of consumer guidance, organizedby such diverse market organizers as agricultural societies, savings banks, cooperatives, municipalities, government agencies, businesses, and bloggers. The content of the advice is analysed and, most important for this volume, we exemplify the range of market elements and information and technology usedby those engaged in the task of upholding the fragile construction of the active and clever consumer. Our account is based on three sets of empirical data collected primarily in 2012: (a) relevant secondary data from historical research and (b) our qualitative content analyses of historical and contemporary materials related to Swedish consumer guidance, such as stakeholder documents and information made publicly available through archives and the media. In addition, (c) three key informant interviews contributed to our general understanding of the contemporary Swedish field of consumer guidance (Alexius and Löwenberg 2012). In all, we see an overwhelming number of attempts to shape consumers during a period of more than one hundred years.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018.
Keywords [en]
market organizations, consumers, consumer guidance, advice, market organizers
National Category
Business Administration
Research subject
Business Administration
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:su:diva-163032DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780198815761.003.0010ISBN: 9780198815761 (print)OAI: oai:DiVA.org:su-163032DiVA, id: diva2:1269879
Funder
Riksbankens JubileumsfondAvailable from: 2018-12-11 Created: 2018-12-11 Last updated: 2018-12-13Bibliographically approved

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