The path to high status is paved with litter : a netnography of status competition among Litterati.
Eiseman, Danielle Lee
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Within marketing, postmodern perspectives relate conspicuous consumption and status to the realisation of self-identity. The consumption of goods and their symbolic meaning allow an individual to reinforce, create and maintain his or her identity. Notions of conformity and consumption of visible goods could be attributed to social identity theory, where identity shifts from context to context. The consumption or rejection of certain goods thus reinforces an individual’s shifting identity among various contexts, such as home, school or work. It is the view of evolutionary psychology that theories such as social identity theory and consumer culture theory provide a proximal explanation of consumer behaviour, yet beyond these explanations are thought to be universal and ultimate drivers of behaviour. Evolutionary psychology presents cost signalling theory to help explain why individuals compete for status. However, existing evolutionary theories are still incomplete, particularly in explaining the paths in which individuals take to achieve status within a peer group. This research explores how and why people engage in pro-environmental behaviour. A review of the literature indicates that a desire for status is the main underlying driver motivating this type of behaviour, however the literature further indicates that theory on status is still incomplete in terms of understanding the path a person takes to achieve higher status. Therefore the gap this thesis aims to fill is to clarify the path an individual takes to achieve higher status within the context of pro-environmental behaviour. In order to identify how and why people engage in pro-environmental behaviour and strategies for status this research uses netnography to explore hierarchy negotiation within an online community of pro-environmental behaviourists called the Litterati. The Litterati is an Instagram community consisting of over 15,000 members worldwide, whom pick up and photograph litter. The main Litterati site and associated social media pages provide the visible conditions necessary for people to compete for higher status through cost signalling. The research findings are presented as three levels. The first level addressed observed empirical events, consisting of the observed tactics used within the Litterati for gaining status. The observed tactics among the Litterati are the use of visual appeal, time, humour and reciprocity. The next level addresses events, which are not wholly observable. This consists of the themes or patterns arising from the retroductive analysis of the interviews and participant observation and how they relate to status strategies. The main themes that help explain the paths to status are self-efficacy; community; and reciprocity or validation. The third level applies evolutionary theories of status and cost signalling to explain the underlying causes of the observed behaviours. The two strategies for status, Dominance and Prestige are presented as manifestations of the dynamic relationships between each level of the findings. This research contributes to exiting theory by clarifying the path an individual takes to achieve higher status, with the analysis demonstrating that Dominance and Prestige are not as distinct as the extant literature would suggest. Additionally, this research indicates that behaviour online influences behaviour offline provided there is a strong sense of community and feelings of self-efficacy are promoted through social modelling and social persuasion. The sense of validation participants reported through the community membership led to an increase in their uptake of pro-environmental behaviours offline, including changes in their consumption decisions. The wider implications of these findings indicate online communities of ethical consumption, such as the Litterati, promote a feeling of passive activism, where discussion of social change and interaction result in behaviour change.