Thesis Spotlights – Symbolic Consumption of Print Media: How Physical Newspapers Allow Romanian Readers to Do Identity Work
Laura Toma, PhD student, Romania
Email: lauratoma_gp [at] yahoo.co.uk
Institution: Doctoral School of Sociology, Faculty of Sociology and Social Work, University of Bucharest, Romania
Time: 1 October 2015 – 30 Sept 2019 (PhD viva expected Spring 2020)
Supervisor: Prof. Dr. Vasile Dâncu
Various studies have explored the influence of both technology and social and cultural changes on traditional newspapers, to assess the present status of print and to offer a perspective for its future. But there has been little interest in exploring the symbolic dimension of print media consumption, which refers to the relationship between self-identity and a consumer’s attraction to, and preferences for, specific media objects.
To remedy this issue, the thesis explores the symbolic consumption of traditional newspapers, especially from the perspective of how they – as material commodities or artefacts – allow consumers to reflect the self. Symbolic consumption is defined as the use of products as mechanisms to create, develop and maintain identities.
The thesis employs an interdisciplinary theoretical framework, engaging various areas of knowledge in the theoretical debate – the sociology of consumption, audience research, consumer research, and material culture studies. Furthermore, the thesis proposes an integrative review of identity-related media consumption by building bridges between these disciplines. 
The first research question focuses on reasons and motivations leading readers to use print media products. The second research question focuses on the meanings and interpretations that print media products provide in terms of the consumer’s identity work. The third question relates to how the consumer’s relationship with a print media product is structured in terms of identity-related consumption.
Methodologically, the thesis explores Romanian readers’ symbolic consumption of print media products by using three data collection methods: interviews, participant observation and media-use diaries. Consistent with the research goal of understanding identity-related consumption of print media, the thesis uses a pre-specified sample that represents readers across different age and gender groups, and located in different areas in Bucharest. A thematic analysis is conducted to explore the universe of actions and meanings that constitute print media consumption. The first phase of analysis involved the use of descriptive coding methods, and the second stage of coding condensed the descriptive codes using a patterned coding technique.
The findings reveal five distinctive categories of print media consumption practices: consuming print media as experience, consuming print media as identity work, consuming print media as interaction, consuming print media as utility, and consuming print media as practicality. This led to an actualised typology of print media consumption practices and the construction of identity management in relation to print media consumption. Furthermore, the thesis provides a model of the consumer’s relationship with a print media product, and it advances a number of theoretical propositions in relation to this model. Additionally, the thesis reveals the defining role played by materiality in the fabric of these practices. The thesis concludes with some reflections on the relevance of the symbolic dimension of print media consumption, and provides suggestions for further research.
 Toma, L. (2018) Identity-related media consumption: bridging the literatures from audience research, consumer research and material culture studies. In: Journal of Media Critiques, 4 (13), doi: 10.17349/jmc118104
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