Rebel, Rebel: Insurgent Users and the Identity Rollover in the Field of Electric Guitars

Tuesday, 17 July 2018: 16:00
Oral Presentation
Tristan MAY, EMLYON Business School, France
With this study I aim to shed light on how and under which conditions organizations reflect and recreate dominant discourses and cultural-institutional arrangements against the backdrop of social-cultural upheaval. To do so I venture into the electric guitar industry and inquire with a historical case study how the field’s identity shifted from one of a fairly neat character enrooted in country music and white Swing traditions to a rebellious one with the non-conformatist values of rock-stardom. In particular I focus on how the insurgent users rising to fame in the gaze of the countermovement of the mid and late 1960s reinvented the understanding of the electric guitar. In stark contrast to the manufacturers ambitions to create sonic perfection, these rebellious guitarists found new affordances in the artefacts. They drove their amplifiers to the maximum in volume and cut their speakers just to get a dirty, distorted tone. Only years later, when rock music was fully established in its own right and after the countermovement lost its political momentum, the manufacturers caught up on the cultural phenomenon, commemorated it in a nostalgic fashion, and heavily built their identity claims around the “sex, drugs, and rock’n’roll” myths.

While previous research silently assumes that organizations basically ignore their insurgent users, my case study highlights the unintended consequences and their avalanche effects on the organizational, field, and institutional level. As such I inquery how agency is distributed between organizations and their audiences. This is relevant as the boundaries between organizations and audiences are getting in our digital age increasingly blurred. User-generated content is getting preponderant in marketing efforts and also the discursive interactions between organization and audience become more and more means for strategic appropriation. My findings suggest a mutual cat and mouse game in the quest for recursive legitimacy.