When Differences Unite: Resource Dependence in Heterogeneous Consumption Communities
Although heterogeneity in consumption communities is pervasive, there is little understanding of its impact on communities. This study shows how heterogeneous communities operate and interact with the marketplace. Specifically, the authors draw on actor-network theory, conceptualizing community as a network of heterogeneous actors (i.e., individuals, institutions, and resources), and examine the interplay of these actors in a mainstream activity-based consumption community—the distance running community. Findings, derived from a multimethod investigation, show that communities can preserve continuity even when heterogeneity operates as a destabilizing force. Continuity preserves when community members depend on each other for social and economic resources: a dependency that promotes the use of frame alignment practices. These practices enable the community to (re)stabilize, reproduce, and reform over time. The authors also highlight the overlapping roles of consumers and producers and develop a dimensional characterization of communities that helps bridge prior research on brand communities, consumption subcultures, and consumer tribes.
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