Brands and Continuous Economies

Gerlitz, Carolin. 2012. Brands and Continuous Economies. Doctoral thesis, Goldsmiths, University of London [Thesis]

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This thesis provides a sociological investigation of contemporary branding practices and their increasing investment in consumer involvement, participation and co-creation. Revisiting the role of brands in contemporary capitalism, it shows that brands are not discrete, purely economic entities, but emerge in relations to multiple actors and are distributed across a series of spaces, societal issues and temporalities. The key objective of this thesis is to explore how brands are involved in (re)organising the boundaries between economy and society, allowing for a multiplication and continuation of value production.

In an empirical exploration featuring two case studies on Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty and American Apparel, this thesis brings together social and digital research methods in order to trace and map the distributed becoming of both brands. Attention is directed to three key intersections: the embeddedness of brands in relations, the distributed spatialisation of brands, and the role of bodies and sexuality as issue deployed in branding practices. What a brand stands for, I argue, cannot be limited to its strategic ‘making’, but is tied to its emergent and distributed ‘happening’.

Informed by my the fieldwork, I develop the claim that contemporary brands are increasingly partible, as they are reliant on their constant re-appropriation by a variety of actors and are therefore entangled in a ‘becoming topological’, as they are defined through relations which can only be accounted for from the inside. Brands emerge as a specific socio-economic form involved in what I call ‘continuous economies’, in which economic value production increasingly arises from non-economic activities and becomes inherently partible in social activities. Such continuous economies are being animated by the brands’ capacity to create multi-valence, in which consumer activities are at the same time social, cultural and economic acts. Continuity, in this context, addresses a specific mode of boundary making, one that brings together brands and consumers without dissolving them into each other but that maintains a specific imbalance and asymmetry between them. Brands do not, as suggested by some sociological critique, merely subsume social activities into exploitative labour, but enable the organisation of continuity and discontinuity between the social and the economic in immanent ways, while at the same time displacing value production temporally and pre-structuring its potential futures.

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Thesis (Doctoral)

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Date Deposited:

06 Nov 2013 10:52

Last Modified:

29 Apr 2020 15:54


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