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Darren Dahl (Editor in Chief)Eileen FischerGita JoharVicki Morwitz

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Subcultures of Consumption: An Ethnography of the New Bikers

John W. Schouten, James H. McAlexander
DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1086/209434 43-61 First published online: 1 June 1995


This article introduces the subculture of consumption as an analytic category through which to better understand consumers and the manner in which they organize their lives and identities. Recognizing that consumption activities, product categories, or even brands may serve as the basis for interaction and social cohesion, the concept of the subculture of consumption solves many problems inherent in the use of ascribed social categories as devices for understanding consumer behavior. This article is based on three years of ethnographic fieldwork with Harley-Davidson motorcycle owners. A key feature of the fieldwork was a process of progressive contextualization of the researchers from outsiders to insiders situated within the subculture. Analysis of the social structure, dominant values, and revealing symbolic behaviors of this distinct, consumption-oriented subculture have led to the advancement of a theoretical framework that situates subcultures of consumption in the context of modern consumer culture and discusses, among other implications, a symbiosis between such subcultures and marketing institutions. Transferability of the principal findings of this research to other subcultures of consumption is established through comparisons with ethnographies of other self-selecting, consumption-oriented subcultures.