Applying Symbolic interactionist Perspectives to Shopping and Consumption
Sociologists applying a symbolic interactionist framework to the study of shopping and consumption would primarily focus on a microlevel analysis of people's face-to-face interactions and the roles that people play in society. In our efforts to interact with others, we def ne any situation according to our own subjective reality. This theoretical viewpoint applies to shopping and consumption just as it does to other types of conduct. For example, when a customer goes into a store to make a purchase and offers a credit card to the cashier, what meanings are embedded In the interaction process that takes place between the two of them~ The roles that the two people play are based on their histories of interaction in previous situations. TIley bring to the present encounter symbolically charged ideas, based on previous experiences. Each person also has a certain level of emotional energy available for each interaction. When we are feeling positive, we have a
high level of emotional energy, and the opposite is also true. Each time we engage in a new interaction, the situation has to be negotiated all over again, and the outcome cannot be known beforehand (Collins, 1987). In the case of the shopper-cashier interaction, how successful will the interaction be for each of them? TIle answer to this question depends on a kind of social marketplace in which such interactions can either raise or lower one's emotional energy (Collins, 1987). If the customer's credit card is rejected, he or she may come away with lower emotional energy. If the customer is angry at the cashier, he or she may attempt to "save face" by reacting in a haughty manner regarding the rejection of the card. ("What's wrong with you? Can't you do anything right? J'J\ never shop here again!") If this type of encounter occurs, the cashier may also come out of the interaction with a lower level of emotional energy, which may affect the cashier's interactions with subsequent customers. Likewise, the next time the customer uses a credit card, he or she may say something like "I hope this card isn't over its limit. Sometimes I lose track," even if the person knows that the card's credit limit has not been exceeded, This is only one of many ways in which the rich tradition of symbolic interaction ism might be used to examine shopping and consumption. Other areas of interest might include the social nature of the shopping experience, social interaction patterns in families regarding credit card debts, and why we might spend money to impress others.