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Selected Doctoral and Masters Pre-1998 >

Please use this identifier to cite or link to this item: http://hdl.handle.net/1807/30049

Title: Corporate Power and the Market: Automotive Performance and the Automobile Industry
Authors: Listiak, Alan
Keywords: automobile industry
corporate power
hot rod
hot rodding
drag racing
street racing
moral panic
relational control
automobile design
autom obile advertising
automobile marketing
high performance car
high performance automobile
automobile racing
horsepower race
Ralph Nader
custom car
car culture
automobile manufacturer
extra motives
consumer demand
market regulation
consumer sovereignty
content analysis
Issue Date: 16-Nov-2011
Abstract: This dissertation is an examination of the sociological debate over the nature of corporate power and the market for consumer goods in modern society. Two sociological theoretical positions, the pluralist/functionalist and the elite/class, are compared and contrasted with respect to this issue. They are then critically tested by applying them to the automobile industry and the development of the meanings and physical shape of the automobile, in particular, the controversial meanings and designs associated with those non-transportation themes subsumed under the notion of "performance". In comparing and contrasting the pluralist/functionalist and the elite/class theories three basic conceptual areas must be examined: (1) the nature of power and its exercise; (2) the nature of corporate behaviour; and (3) the nature of the market and consumption in modern society. The pluralist/functionalist position depicts corporate power as well socialized and externally controlled whereas the elite/class position depicts a corporate elite/ruling corporate class able to control the political arena and the market. Empirical research has done little to resolve this debate. It is suggested that part of this loggerhead is due to the inadequate conception of power which underlies these positions. This conception is individualistic and limited in its scope. This is particularly problematic for the elite/class perspective because much of what it describes as corporate power is not consistent with this basic concept. A more sociological conception of power is proposed to comprehend this description based upon the works of Steven Lukes, Tom Baumgartner et al., and Bernd Baldus. Termed the meta-power view it conceives of power as the exercise of relational control, that is, the ability to structure social relationships in an interaction system by manipulating action possibilities, reward structures, and orientations. This conception is applicable to the collective actions of organizations and institutions. A number of power strategies are discussed and special attention given to the strategy of the incorporation of complementary behaviour patterns. The two positions are applied to the American automobile industry and the development of the automobile. Hypotheses are derived from each predicting the nature of the interaction between automobile manufacturers and consumers with respect to the determination of automotive design and meaning. These were tested using secondary sources. The meta-power view was supported. It was found that manufacturers exercised relational control over the market by selectively emphasizing and developing automotive designs and meanings which measured high in the dimensions of exclusiveness, machismo, styling, ergonomics and reputation. Other dimensions such as safety, technology, economy, functionalism, and durability were measured low in emphasis and development. The dimension of machismo which contains the themes of power, performance, speed, masculinity has proven to be a particularly problematic automotive dimension. These performance themes have been the subject of increasing public concern and criticism, particularly since World War II. Parallel with this criticism has developed a subculture known as hot rodding which utilizes the automobile as a physical and symbolic resource to express performance and machismo values and motives, as well as others such as rebellion, freedom, hedonism, and action-seeking. Originally viewed as a deviant and dangerous minority, by the 1960s it had achieved a degree of social respectability as a commercial sport. To explain the machismo and performance content of American automotive design, several hypotheses were derived from each theoretical position regarding the nature of the relationship between the auto manufacturers and hot rodders. They were tested by assessing the attitudes of the manufacturers and the public toward hot rodding through a content analysis and a historical analysis of the relationship in question over the postwar period to 1968. It was found that hot rodding functioned as a complementary behaviour pattern which was selectively incorporated and supported by the industry. This incorporation was based upon certain structural considerations and priorities of the manufacturers in their efforts to reduce demand uncertainty for their products. In the 1950s hot rod symbolism was incorporated into design and advertising aimed at middle class consumers by framing it in a context of comfort and controlled expression. In the 1960s such symbolism was no longer contained within the middle class context but stood on its own. Hot rod races were used to legitimize horsepower increases and to "proxy" durability and progress. Hot rodding was also viewed as a means of tapping the youth market. It was supported directly and indirectly by the manufacturers at various levels. Without this support and without the increasingly powerful automobiles provided by the industry, hot rodding would not have been developed into the market or the spectacular sport it has. The performance market of the 1960s is thus a structured outcome of the industry's actions in the 1950s to develop and incorporate hot rodding. This dissertation shows the utility of the conception of power in terms of meta-power and relational control. The emphasis on structural variables and interaction systems provides a sociological orientation to power that is missing in the predominant approaches to power. As such it is able to comprehend situations as involving the exercise of power which would not be considered as such by the traditional approach. This enables the terms of reference to be expanded and a more adequate representation of social reality to be comprehended in sociological analysis.
URI: http://hdl.handle.net/1807/30049
Appears in Collections:Selected Doctoral and Masters Pre-1998

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