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…

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