Public Release: 

Retail utopia

Marketplaces and their cultural meanings

University of Chicago Press Journals

Shopping malls and center are ubiquitous in today's consumer culture. Consequently, a new study published in the September 2005 issue of the Journal of Consumer Research seeks to further examine how consumers construct cultural meanings via the marketplace. The article explores the importance of retail environments in a larger societal context.

"Our study demonstrates how the inherently utopian character of retailing environments, noted in passing by many commentators, is more multifaceted than previously imagined," write Pauline Maclaran (De Montfort University) and Stephen Brown (University of Ulster). "Through this utopian theorization we have been able to understand more about the dynamic qualities that pervade a retail space and the potential tensions that exist between those who orchestrate the shopping experience and those who experience it."

Using a three-story "festival marketplace," a transformed 18th century home, the researchers uncover how utopian meanings--the ideal of a perfect place--are constructed and attributed to a retail environment.

"The study reveals that the festival marketplace is a site where utopian meanings are created and negotiated, and shows how a major refurbishment program subverted consumers' utopian meaning creation. It demonstrates how commercial space can both serve as an escape from crass commercialization and act as a crucible of consumer resistance," explain Maclaran and Brown.

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The Center Cannot Hold: Consuming the Utopian Marketplace. Pualine Maclaran and Stephen Brown. Journal of Consumer Research. September 2005.

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