Viscosity of stigma: media experiences, intersectionality, and the life-course of LGBTQ+ consumers
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For six decades, consumer researchers have relied heavily on Goffman’s (1963) seminal work on stigma, often limiting themselves to a one-dimensional treatment of it as a static variable that determines the behaviour of homogenous groups. Such views, however, stand at odds with wider paradigm shifts away from modernity, and with feminist considerations about intersectionality. Most importantly, the dearth of studies examining the interplay between structural macro-dynamics and micro-level experiences has meant that rapid changes in societal attitudes have received insufficient attention. Considering the rise of minority portrayals in the past few years and importance of the media in dispersing and ameliorating stigma, there is a need to understand how media experiences differ across generations, sociocultural categories, and individual life-courses. Focusing on lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer, and other (LGBTQ+) individuals, and building on Bauman’s (2000) concept of liquid modernity as well as Bourdieu’s (1994) theory of practice, this thesis explores how stigma experiences of two generations of LGBTQ+ consumers have changed, how this relates to their experiences of LGBTQ+ media portrayals, as well as what this tells us about how (marginalised) consumers navigate their lives and particularly the fragmentation of identity politics through (media) consumption. I followed an intersectional phenomenological enquiry, employing a meaning-based model of media experience that contributes to the literature by extending Mick and Buhl’s (1992) work to account for considerations of intersectionality and intertextuality. Life story- and subsequent media experience interviews were analysed individually and across cases. The sample consisted of eight LGBTQ+ members of the Boomer- and ten of the Millennial generation. This study develops a theoretical framework of stigma as viscous instead of static: in constant flux due to the dynamic interplay between the doxic attitudes in social fields, as well as individual embodied dispositions, the stigma habitus. This provides a richer understanding of how it is enacted in consumer culture, enabling a critical analysis of the dialectic relationship between individuals and their environment. Through this framework, my study challenges generational accounts of difference, which are found to be too simplistic to account for diverging (media) experiences. Instead, it is the dialectic between context and (stigma) habitus that shapes dynamic experiences. For participants facing high levels of stigma viscosity, for example, LGBTQ+ portrayals seemed particularly important and experiences revolved around social acceptance. Moreover, lived experiences, as well as doxic beliefs about media, advertising, and a text’s ‘author’ formed an intertextual frame of reference used to evaluate portrayals’ authenticity and harmfulness. Importantly, participants’ preference for or rejection of ‘radical’ vs heteronormative portrayals was shaped by tastes that have become naturalised in their habitus, with disparate doxic beliefs generating reflexive guilt and ambivalence. My findings suggest that stigma amelioration may ultimately lead to symbolic violence within the LGBTQ+ community against those who do not adhere to accepted consumption standards. This study also has implications for consumers more broadly as changes in viscosity affect consumption practices. Adhering to a critical approach, I describe a range of recommendations for practitioners and reflexive practices I engaged in following this study.