Call for papers

Call for papers, Ambiguous Goods Journal of Consumer Behaviour


Ambiguous Goods

A Special Issue of the Journal of Consumer Behaviour

Guest Editors

Elizabeth Parsons (Keele University) and Janice Denegri-Knott (Bournemouth University)

In this special issue on ‘Ambiguous Goods’ we invite submissions that deal with the inherent ambiguity of consumer goods at particular moments in their biographies. Their lives are punctuated with liminal moments when they are not clearly a commodity, a gift, a possession, a shared good or something to be thrown away but something in-between, neither ‘this or that’. This inherent ambiguity may be further inflamed by technological and market developments which problematize and even impede the successful transition of a good from one commodity state to another (Kopytoff, 1986). For instance, the growing availability of digitized entertainment goods, like music, movies, books, in-game goods and mobile phone applications present consumers with goods which are both material and virtual and bound to contractual agreements which test the degree to which something may be owned.

In market terms, often, consumer goods will elude our attempts to fix their meaning as our relations with objects are never fixed and stable, but rather various, ambiguous and unstable. As Slater observes: ‘the instability of goods is always an inherent property of their social being, and can be mobilised by economic actors as a resource in their production, exchange and consumption’ (2002: 98). In each discrete case, different dimensions of our relations with objects in a marketing setting are stressed. These instabilities, present both problems and opportunities for consumers’ meaning making endeavours and their effort to deploy their own meaning frameworks to create necessary distinctions, for example between what is profane and sacred (Belk, Wallendorf and Sherry, 1989).

In short, both practitioners and consumers alike are confronted with ambiguity. At a macro level we want to consider special categories of goods that are culturally ambiguous, and around which discipline based, moral and legal discussions have been or are taking place in order to arrive at some kind of consensus regarding how they should be ordered. At a micro level, we want to discuss the ways in which both market workers and consumers deal with ambiguity.

1. The conceptual potential of ambiguity to illuminate consumer and market phenomena; the critical appraisal of theoretical frames that may be used to understand ambiguous goods (for example practice theory, actor network theory, post-structuralism, structuralism, liminality, cultural biographical approaches).

2. The ways in which ‘ambiguous’ goods are ‘disambiguated’, and how ‘stable’ goods are made ambiguous in institutional and domestic contexts; the differing processes through which goods are valued in a range of alternative contexts, e.g. antique shops and fairs, car boot / yard sales, charity shops.

3. Ambiguous categories of objects, like digital virtual goods, shared goods, borrowed goods, divested goods, goods in storage, leased goods, and how consumers or market workers relate to them.

4. The discussion of ways through which formal market workers (e.g. brand managers, advertising practitioners) work with ambiguity to create compelling brands.

We intend to publish research which makes significant contribution to our knowledge in this

area. We welcome submissions (conceptual or empirical) that deal with, but are not limited to,

the following:Authors are invited to submit their manuscripts via Scholar One Manuscript Central at:

The deadline for submission is March 31st 2013

Papers will be subjected to a blind, peer reviewing process following customary practice in the Journal of Consumer Behaviour. Papers should adhere to the submission guidelines for authors which can be found at:

Informal enquiries can be made to the guest editors: Elizabeth Parsons,, Janice Denegri-Knott,


Belk RW, Wallendorf M, Sherry JF. 1989. The sacred and the profane in consumer behavior: Theodicy on the Odyssey. Journal of Consumer Research 16(1): 1-38.

Kopytoff I. 1986. The cultural biography of things. In Appadurai A (ed). The Social Life of Things: Commodities in Cultural Perspective (pp. 64-91). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press: Cambridge.

Slater D. 2002. Markets, materiality and the “new economy”. In Metcalfe S, Warde, A (eds.) Market Relations and the Competitive Process (pp. 95-113). Manchester University Press: Manchester.