My projects

Previous studies interested in market dynamics have uncovered how certain market actors (Scaraboto & Fischer 2012; Dolbec & Fischer 2015) and full markets (Humphreys 2010) can be changed and legitimised. The phenomenon of interest in this study relates to when new markets emerge on the boundaries of markets that are already legitimate and illegitimate. The conflict that arises between actors when markets emerge on these boundaries and the push from different actors to firmly situate the market as one or the other causes the market to reside as neither legitimate nor illegitimate. Thus, the overarching question guiding this research is: How are legitimate markets created, maintained or disrupted by actors engaging in Institutional Work at market boundaries? Additional questions that are of interest in this project include: How is legitimacy constructed in markets? How is legitimacy changed or disrupted? By who?

Legitimacy, one of the central concepts to this project, has been discussed in marketing literature in terms of the three institutional pillars: regulative, normative and cultural-cognitive (Humphreys 2010; Scaraboto & Fischer 2012). The proposed study will expand this research by including the concept of disruption of full market boundaries to the discussion of legitimacy in Marketing. Institutional work and Institutional Boundaries are also central concepts to this project. Institutional work refers to actions aimed at creating, maintaining and disrupting practices (Lawrence & Suddaby 2006), understandings, and rules (Dolbec & Fischer 2015) in organizational fields. Institutional boundaries refer to the distinctions between actors, objects, practices and spaces (Dolbec & Fischer 2015). These boundaries define membership and shape practices. They also affect access to (and distribution of) resources and opportunities (Zietsma & Lawrence 2010). Institutional Theory provides an interesting lens through which to understand the phenomenon and context, discussed subsequently, of interest.

‘Legal Highs’ are psychoactive substances that are designed to mimic the effects of mainstream illicit drugs (such as amphetamines and Marijuana). These products skirt around the law through manufacturers tweaking chemicals and renaming brands when they are banned as well as labelling the products as ‘not for human consumption’ and selling them as bath salts, potpourri, research chemicals, plant food, incense, etc. (New South Wales Parliament Legislative Assembly 2013). Despite being sold under the label of household items these products are positioned as for-consumption as they are packaged in bright colours, branded with creative names, and sold in online drug and adult stores instead of household stores. This context provides a compelling case of market emergence at boundaries and the conflicts between actors for and against legitimacy. This market emerged on the boundaries of the legitimate alcohol market and the illegitimate illicit drug market and different actors, discourses and practices work to maintain and/or disrupt the market and its boundaries. It should be noted that, while the alcohol market is seen as illegitimate to some and the illicit drug market is a legitimate one to many people, for the most part, these markets are seen as legitimate and illegitimate as a whole in society.

This interpretive qualitative project will begin with a search of news and other online media to gain an idea of who the different actors in the market are. Interviews will then be conducted with key informants from each actor category to map out the cultural discourses of each. Where access to informants from actor categories is limited or unavailable, inferences will be made through the discussion with other actors. Observations will be recorded during the collection of this data. The online, interview, and observation data will be used to uncover the compatibility of the cultural discourses of these actors, surrounding the dynamics of the market, as well as the tensions and conflicts between them. Actors will be included to or removed from the discussion based on information uncovered through the data collection process.

This paper engages scholarly thinking on contested consumption by drawing on research relating to desire (Belk, Ger, & Askegaard, 2003), contained illegality (Goulding, Shankar, Elliott, & Canniford, 2009) and consumer culture surrounding pleasure (Karababa & Ger, 2011) – for the purpose of understanding how consumers navigate pleasurable leisure markets bounded by risk and control. Pleasure is often constrained by regulation (controlled and managed) confining its consumption to certain space and time. This paper argues that the rise of ‘Legal Highs’ has allowed consumers to ‘break free’ from these constrains and consume unbounded pleasure. Consumers navigate this contested market by weighing up the tensions between the pleasurable experience that come with the consumption of these products and the risks associated with them. This negotiation between pleasure and morality has given rise to drug consumption being ‘normal’ within the culture of intoxication (Szmigin, Bengry-Howell, Griffin, Hackley, & Mistral, 2011).

Synthetic Drugs [SDs] are increasingly linked to psychotic behaviour, self-harm and deaths among those who take them. What exactly are these synthetics, who is using them, and why? Interviews with 25 young people involved asking questions about why young people take SDs and engage in other risky and controversial leisure activities such as car surfing, condom snorting and drinking to intoxication. Contrary to alarmist reports from the media and health experts which state young people are unaware of the risks associated with engaging in risky behaviours, we found people are aware of health and social consequences associated controversial leisure activities. Our findings suggest young people are ‘mindful’ consumers – they weigh up their alternatives and engage in those activities that fulfill their desires, knowing (most of) the risks. Motivational desires found include belonging (fitting in with friends), independence (to build an identity), stability (avoiding the risky) and mastery (pushing boundaries between order and chaos).

My Honours research was featured on Professor Robert Faff’s “Pitch of the week”. Check it out here.