On gender, size and consumption

Digital culture, Gender, identity, Media, Research

Routledge recently (Dec 2016) published a book on gender in the field of consumption and marketing, edited by Z. Arsel, K. Eräranta and J. Moisander. The edited volume, Gendering Theory in Marketing and Consumer Research, brings together social sciences and consumer studies to examine gendered practices of consumer behaviour and marketplace activities, as well as the gendered nature of the current marketplace. The research featured in the book, originally published as a special issue on gender in the Journal of Marketing Management, draws on various theoretical approaches to gender from intersectional, material-discursive to practice-oriented theories to explore gender as a lived experience and a socially controlled performance in the realm of consumption.


Chapter three, Fashionably voluptuous: normative femininity and resistant performative tactics in fatshion blogs, features an empirical study on gender, size and identity in the context of plus-sized fashion blogging, co-authored by Annamari Huovinen and myself; you can read a short synopsis of the article on the Journal of Marketing Management blog.

Our article deals with issues of gender normativity, size and identity, and consumer resistance of marginalised consumers. The empirical material illustrates how normative understandings of gender identity work in complex ways in marginalized consumers’ identity construction, particularly as enabling resistance: while normativity is regularly considered to be constraining regarding identity performance, we show how normativity can also offer resources for resistance by providing an interpretative framework open to subversive performative acts.


However, such self-disciplining can be seen as part of a wider trend in the contemporary society where individuals are expected not only to manage their self and their body (e.g. the quantified self movement), but also, in the process, to attach exchange value to the managed self in the market where it is not okay “to come as you are” and where the self that is continuously undergoing improvement is a hotter commodity than a self that is ‘stagnant’.


Not only does blogging about plus-sized fashion and the everyday experiences as a plus-sized consumer allow the bloggers to actively contribute to the creation of alternative subject positions for themselves and thereby become empowered, but the collective and visible act of blogging also serves to widen the culturally predominant and traditionally constricting notion of femininity and thus promote size equality.

In addition, however, our findings show that resistant acts emerging from normative frameworks function rather like a double-edged sword: while increasing size awareness and promoting equality (in terms of ‘size neutrality’ or ‘fat acceptance’) and diversity, the performative acts of the plus-sized bloggers nevertheless draw heavily on mainstream representations of women as unflawed and stylish, beautifully packaged and pleasing to the eye, submissive and pleasing: that is, as controlled subjects who engage in self-management techniques and submit themselves (perhaps unwittingly) to a position where they become the object of somebody else’s gaze.

Such self-disciplining can be seen as part of a wider trend in the contemporary society where individuals are expected not only to manage their self and their body (e.g. the quantified self movement), but also, in the process, to attach exchange value to the managed self in the market where it is not okay “to come as you are” and where the self that is continuously undergoing improvement is a hotter commodity than a self that is ‘stagnant’. While this trend feeds dissatisfaction, fortunately counter-voices and counter-discourses are emerging, plus-sized fashion bloggers being one example of such counter-movement in the arena of consumption.


Keywords: gender, identity, size, consumption, consumer resistance

YouTube memorial videos and discursive (dis)alignment in the context of fandom

Digital culture, Fandom, Media, Research, YouTube



One of my research interests concerns fan practices of mourning in digital contexts. I have examined memorial video tributes dedicated to Steve Jobs on YouTube, which is the topic of this blog post, but also other celebrity memorials on other channels. Last year I presented my work in progress on digital memorials as mediators of a lived life that deals with memorialising celebrities on Twitter; I looked at #RIP tweets that commemorate the deaths of actors Robin Williams and Philip Seymour Hoffman, and singer Whitney Houston. The memorial tweets paint a picture of relational rupture, and at the same time they (re)construct a lived life from the perspective of the mourner. Digital memorials are one way of maintaining a relational bond after and beyond physical death, but as a social practice, digital memorialising also connects the mourner to a wider network of mourners; communal support thus garnered has the potential to alleviate the sense of loss as well as any possible feelings of disenfranchisement.

In a similar fashion, the fans of the late Steve Jobs engage in a process of reconstruction  of a lived life as they discursively entwine Jobs’ life narrative into their own. Doing this, they also reconstruct their fandom to ensure continuity, and also rearticulate their fan identity. Fans, generally, form a deep and affective relational bond with the object of fandom, be this an actual or a fictional character. Thus, upon the death of such an object, the loss is often equally deeply felt, even if regularly pathologised as deviant in the context of normative grief, where deep emotions relative to loss are reserved to family members.


The fans resort to allusional rhetoric to identify as members of the community but also to stake out their fandom; they recycle meanings poached from Steve Jobs’ speeches and keynotes and recontextualise these in digital contexts.


Often linked with popular culture and entertainment, fandom, however, is not restricted to these realms. Steve Jobs enjoyed a celebrity status and had a large following that can be called a fan base. His fame was largely due to his charismatic presentation skills, but also due to his life story that depicts the American rags-to-riches tale. Fandom, contrary to popular belief, is not free from ideological underpinnings, and nowhere is this more clear that when the fandom and its ideological basis is questioned or attacked from the outside. In my paper, I examine, first, the discursive construction of fandom and the resulting sense of belonging, as well as the processes of affiliation at the site of digital memorial, and second, how attitudinal alignment functions both to constuct the in-group but also the out-group, with both of these positionings being embedded in the digital artefact, one explicitly, the other implicitly.

The material comprises user commentary over a memorial video tribute dedictaed to Steve Jobs, the commentary pictured below in a .txt format. Commentaries like this are rich sources of insight into particular fandom(s) and what constitutes them and how boundaries are drawn, but also into the ideological positioning and criticism that stems from what the fandom is taken to represent (this, naturally, depending on whether you are a fan or a non-fan). Thus, memorial sites serve as a battle ground where fan community boundaries as well as ideological conflicts are negotiated.




The overt contestation present in the video commentary, where fans as in-group and non-fans as the out-group negotiate the worthiness and justification of the said fandom, serves to strenghten the alignment among the fans and help create the communal boundary. That is, disalignment with an out-group functions to align the fans more than the fan commentary as intra-group interaction. To identify as members of the community, but also to stake out their fandom, the fans frequently resort to allusional rhetoric; they recycle meanings poached from Steve Jobs’ speeches and keynotes and as these are recontextualised in new digital contexts, the life of Steve Jobs is, in the hands of his fans, also recontextualised and given new meanings that go beyond the original narrative (as narrated by Jobs himself, but also the media), reaching also beyond his physical death.

The fans write themselves into the narrative which constitutes the memorial, which in effect is a process of weaving the life of Steve Jobs into their own life narrative. As a discursive strategy, this serves to establish the continuation of the relational attachment with the fan object that is now physically lost, yet the significance of the relation contunues to be felt by the fans.

My paper, Imagined Community and Affective Alignment in Steve Jobs Memorial Tribute on YouTube, has now been published in an Equinox book titled Systemic Functional Linguistics in the Digital Age  –  check out Chapter four in the book if you are interested in a linguistic take on alignment and a systemic-functional linguistic analysis of affliation on YouTube in the context of fandom and digital mourning.


EGOS 2016 in Naples, Italy

Academic Endeavours, Conference, Digital culture, Media, Research


This summer’s first conference for me was EGOS 2016, European Group for Organizational Studies, held in Naples, Italy.



This year’s theme at EGOS was ‘Organizing in the Shadow of power’ and  we attended the sub-theme ‘Marxist Organization Studies: Institutional Forms of Power and their Legitimacy‘. My colleague and co-author, Dr. Ella Lillqvist and I presented our paper ‘Insights from Relevance Theory on the Marxist critique of social media‘. Mainly, we wanted to get insights on the applicabilitiy and suitability of Marxist concepts on the context of social media and digital labour. We did get useful feedback and our paper sparked a discussion of the use of Marxist concepts in new contexts, for example, social media, and how much and how far theory can be applied. It was also interesting to receive comments so different we have previously received from, for example, critical media scholars. In this paper, we are combining a cognitive-pragmatic perspective, Relevance Theory, with the Marxist critique of social media and digital labour, and aim to shed light on the discursive mechanisms at work in the Facebook communication aimed at the users by drawing on pragmatics and how utterances are interpreted in a given context. The paper is still in progress.

Naples was very hot, very hot indeed, and most of the time at the university we had no air conditioning, which made concentrating, or indeed any activity, very difficult. The temperature was mostly +35, but towards the end of the week it was +40 C.


Conference dinner was held on the beach somewhere outside the city, and while the venue was great and the food nice, we had such trouble getting home and getting a taxi. The overall feeling we were left with from the conference was that everything was a little labourious and difficult, but with bigger conferences this is often the problem. You feel like you queue half the time and the days are long and packed (too) full of both academic and recreational activities.


As we had a few extra days over the weekend, we walked around Naples and visited St. Elmo’s Castle or, Castel Sant’Elmo, where you have a gorgeous view over Naples and over Vesuvius. You can also see the Island of Capri on the horizon. It is easily reachable by one of the many funiculars in Naples, but there is no shade whatsoever up there so we were really struggling with the heat. Perhaps best to visit outside the hot summer months…

Digitaalinen viestintä ja media -kurssi

Digital culture, Education, Media, Teaching

On taas aika valmistella kuun lopussa alkavaa kurssia Digitaalinen viestintä ja media, jota minä ja kollegani Ella Lillqvist yhdessä pidämme Aalto-yliopiston kauppakorkeakoulussa. Kursilla perehdymme digitaalisen median mukanaan tuomiin haasteisiin ja ilmiöihin organisaatioviestinnän näkökulmasta. Yksittäisten luentojen aiheina mm. median murros, työn muutos ja monikanavainen viestintä, yrityskulttuurin merkitys työnantajakuvaan ja kuinka siitä viestitään sosiaalisessa mediassa, some-kriisit ja kohut ja niihin reagointi, kuluttajavastarinta netissä, ja paljon muuuta.

Käytämme kurssilla erilaisia digitaalisia välineitä ja hyödynnämme eri medioita. Harjoittelemme myös Twitterin käyttöä ja ‘livetviittaamista’ kurssin aiheista: kurssimme hashtag on #AaltoDigiComms jota seuraamalla näet mitä kurssillamme tapahtuu. Näin opiskelijat oppivat myös käytännön tasolla ja saavat tuntumaa eri kanavien käyttöön ja niitä koskeviin käytäntöihin. Kurssimme keskustelee ajankohtaisista viestintään liittyvistä aiheista myös verkossa suljetussa ryhmässä, jossa kurssilaiset voivat jakaa linkkejä kiinnostaviin ajankohtaisiin aiheisiin. Opetus ei siis rajoitu luentoihin, vaan oppimisen tukena käytämme paljon tosielämän esimerkkejä ja käytännön tasolla toimimista. Viime vuonna käytimme apuna myös videopuhelua luennolla, alla Ella luentosalissa ja minä osallistuin kotoa käsin Google Hangoutin kautta.

Ella_DIVI_2015_conf-call copy


Opiskelijat pitävät kurssin aikana kurssiblogia luennoilla käsitellyistä aiheista, sieltä voit lukea lisää. Kursseillamme käy myös paljon vierailevia puhujia eri alojen yrityksistä, joten opiskelijat saavat tuntumaa digitaaliseen viestintään myös työelämän esimerkkien kautta. Kurssillamme vierailevat puhujat tulevat mm. seuraavista yrityksistä: YLE, Nokia, Universum, Smarp, Dodreams, Dingle, Someco, Tekniikan Akateemiset TEK, Itim International & the Hofstede Centre.

Opetuksessa painotammekin dialogista oppimistapaa ja yhdessäoppimisen tärkeyttä; keskustelemme ajankohtaisista viestintään liittyvistä uutisista, ilmiöistä ja kohuista. Opiskelijat toimivat ‘tiimeissä’ ja oppivat näin toisiltaan, mutta samalla opitaan myös toimimaan virtuaalitiimeissä: myös kurssityöt tehdään virtuaalityökaluja käyttäen. Olemme havainneet käytännön kautta tapahtuvan oppimisen hyväksi ja opiskelijoita innostavaksi. Samalla se tuo kurssitöihin vapautta, ei vain ajan ja paikan suhteen mutta myös sisällöllisesti: kurssitöinä opiskelijat ovat tehneet mm. työnhakuun liittyviä videoita ja blogeja sekä suunnitelleet viestintä- ja markkinointikampanjoita ja sosiaalisen median strategioita.

Digitalisaation vaikutuksista tulisi puhua enemmänkin myös muilla kuin viestinnän kursseilla, sillä se on tämän hetken yksi suurimmista työelämää ja organisaatioita muuttava tekijä.



Our article featured in the Journal of Marketing Management blog

Blogs, Digital culture, Gender, identity, Media

The Journal of Marketing Management has set up a new blog where they aim to disseminate information on new research and inform their readership of current research topics.  My co-author Annamari Huovinen and I were happy to be featured in the JMM blog regarding our article published the Special Issue of Journal of Marketing Management ‘Theorising Gender and Gendering Theory‘ on normativity, consumer resistance and performative gender identity of fathion bloggers.

Have a look the JMM blog post on our article ‘Fashionably Voluptuos: normative femininity and resistant performative tactics in fatshion blogs’


In terms of gender identity, and normativity as social and cultural capital in performing gender, there is still a lot to research in the area of consumption.


This research project proved very interesting and I thoroughly enjoyed the collaboration. Hopefully, we will be able to continue this line of research in the future. You can read the full article here. Thank you for reading!




Article in print feels like a materialisation of sweat, tears and great collaboration

Blogs, Digital culture, Gender, identity, Media, Research

There’s nothing quite like paper when it comes to the reading experience!

Yesterday, I received my hard copy of the Journal of Marketing Management Special Issue on gender in marketing and consumer research, guest edited by Zeynep Arsel, Kirsi Eräranta and Johanna Moisander.

Journal of Marketing Management, Special Issue on gender in marketing theory

Journal of Marketing Management, Special Issue on gender in marketing theory

Our article 'Fashionably voluptuous: normative femininity and resistant performative tactics in fatshion blogs' in one of the Special Issue articles

Our article ‘Fashionably voluptuous: normative femininity and resistant performative tactics in fatshion blogs’ in one of the Special Issue articles

Our paper ‘Fashionably voluptuous: normative femininity and resistant performative tactice in fatshion blogs‘,written by my colleague Annamari Huovinen and myself, was published in this issue. This was a great and rewarding project, and our first collaboration in terms of academic research. It feels satisfying to see the words and sentiments in print that we worked so hard for. To feel the paper, to turn the pages, is such a different experience from staring at pixels which much of academic work amounts to nowadays.

In this article, we examine fatshion blogs (that is, ‘fat fashion’, or plus-size fashion blogs) as a site of subversive identity work, but also as an instance of consumer resistance. Fatshion blogging, with its image sharing, constitutes a performative act that draws on the normative notions of beauty, gender identity and femininity to contruct identities that seek to subvert the prevailing ideals while working to create a space for alternative female subjectivities. However, largely mediated by the media as much as the market, cultural ideals of what the female body ought to look like, the norms governing what is acceptable, sit tight and pervade even the most active resistance.

The fatshionista project is a complex and multi-layered endeavour that highlights the complicated and intertwined nature of identity at the intersection of social and cultural norms, consumer culture and the market. By actively promoting fat acceptance and rejecting social demands as these pertain to the ideal female body, the fatshionista project seeks to widen the subject positions available for women; however, the collective undertaking nevertheless (re)constructs and maintains some other forms of gender oppression by way of upholding certain norms governing the female body while resisting others. This highlights not only the difficulty of consumer resistance, but also the conflicted nature of identity performance under the influence of the market, the media and social and cultural expectations.

The article outlines two performative tactics employed by fatshionista bloggers as they construct and negotiate their identities online, one of which higlights diversity and difference relative to the mainstream representations, while the other underlines similarity by way of subverting the normalised mainstream fashion discourses.

My publications

Digital culture, Media, Research

Harju, A. A. (forthcoming) Imagined Community and Affective Alignment in Steve jobs Memorial Tributes on YouTube. In Gardner, S. & Alsop, S. (2016) Systemic Functional Linguistics in the Digital Age. London: Equinox.

Harju, A. A. & Huovinen, A. (2015) Fashionably Voluptuous: Normative femininity and resistant performative tactics in fatshion blogs. Journal of Marketing ManagementDOI 10.1080/0267257X.2015.1066837 Published online 24 Jul 2015

Döveling, K., Harju, A.A., & V. Shavit (2015) Researching Digital Memorial Culture and Death Online: Current Analysis and Future Perspectives. Medien & Altern 6/2015

Harju, A. (2015) Socially Shared Mourning: Construction and Consumption of Collective Memory. New Review of Hypermedia and Multimedia. Vol 21, Issue 1-2, 123-145. DOI:10.1080/13614568.2014.983562 Published online 6 Dec 2014.

Harju, A.  & Moisander, J. (2014) Fans on the Threshold: Steve Jobs, the sacred in memorialisation and the hero within. In Campbell, N., Desmond, J., Fitchett, J., Kavanagh, D., McDonagh, P. O’Driscoll, A. & Prothero, A. (Eds.) (2014) Myth and the Market (pp. 51 – 64) University of Dublin. ISBN: 9781905254859

Encourage discussion and debate in class

Education, Teaching

I’m currently taking some teacher training courses and we were asked to think about and evaluate different teaching methods.

I thought I would think back and compare the different teaching methods I have come across as a student, so I started thinking about my experiences; they cover three different universities and two countries, and so many years I don’t care to mention.

I gained my first degree, a BA degree, in UCL (University College London), and spent three years in London studying linguistics. We had large lecture groups, but these were then divided up into smaller groups of 6 to 8 students that would meet up with a teacher once a week in addition to the lecture. The smaller group meetings were discussion groups, and I found them very useful. We would go over the assignment and discuss any issues: this facilitated understanding and learning. There was no sense of urgency; rather, I felt that learning was at the heart of it. In addition to this, the teachers were also easily available, even offered you a cup of tea when you went to see them (a nice little touch, I think, makes the student feel welcome). They took the time to get to know you; the interaction was casual and supportive. I know this is partly a wider cultural issue, but there is something here the teachers in Finland could learn from…Course work was based on essays, for which we read academic articles (not books) and learned analytical thinking. We learned to write and argue. I small groups, we learned to discuss things.

This having been said, the culture shock I experienced when I took up my MA studies at the Helsinki University in Finland is easy to understand: there was far, far less teacher-student interaction, personal guidance or one-on-one instruction. Instead, we had huge mass lectures and a book exam at the end of it. Not facilitating learning, but knowing by heart, only to be forgotten once the exam is over. I got the sense of efficiency (not good!), that the students were hurried along and pushed out of the university. There seemed (and still seems) to be no interest in the time spent while at university, from the teaching point of view, or from the government point of view, or judging from the general discourse. It was all about calculating study points and hurrying up to get a job. The time at uni was (and this is still the case in the current climate…even more so, I’d say) seen as a necessary evil on the road to getting a job, to becoming a taxpayer. This is not irrelevant: how does learning take place under this kind of atmosphere? When learning itself is not valued, but seen as instrumental?

Now at Aalto University, and I have only ever been a doctoral student or a teacher here, the teaching has also been somewhat different. The courses I have taken are doctoral courses, usually quite small, and have the possibility for more interaction. The course I teach ended up having more students than originally planned. We had planned for small groups and interactive group work, but having so many students the timetable didn’t allow as much of this as we wanted, and it ended up difficult to manage. However, we did emphasise practical work (creating blogs, tweeting, drawing up marketing campaigns, for example) along with academic writing. We also had the student present their work in groups, something they all seemed to enjoy. Yet, there wasn’t as much interaction as there could be: this is partly due to the fact that the students are not used to it. Ask them a question in class, and most of them remain silent. We had hoped for more lively discussions. Perhaps with the help of this pedagogical course and the fresh ideas it offers us we will be able to manage small group discussions by allocating more time for it, possibly by reducing lecturing time. There are many ways to learn.

All in all, in my opinion the amount and quality of interaction matters, be it between students and teachers, or among students. Discussing issues and newly learned things, debating and arguing about them in a social, communal setting facilitates learning and increases understanding. Reading a book at home alone in preparation for a book exam is a practice I wish would be abandoned at universities.