From Productive Consumer to Reﬂective Citizen: A Reception Study of Advertising Academia Online
Where is the consumer citizen? In audience reception theory, s/he is using a screen. When merchandise is marketed on cellphone, television or Internet, he or she is absorbed in watching the persuasive story unfold, immersed in the media-branded agora1 of advertising. Drawing on her or his memory of marketing, the viewer anticipates and articulates events s/he sees on screen into an intelligible narrative of people pursuing the use of purchases. Consumers appropriate these stories, deﬁning themselves as acquiring audiences, or distance themselves into alienation as the analytical citizens of depth hermeneutics.2
Addressed by the tag lines of marketing media, we buy or deny. In political theory, consumer citizens are ipso facto positioned in agora: the
space and time we inhabit as purchasers is also a discursive public sphere. Tourists and other travelers necessarily take a place in environmental debate, especially if they stay silent on the subject. Addressed online by university branding, students are located as consumer citizens in advertised agora. Communication theory with its close understanding of screen narrative as
spatio-temporal sequence having political import for citizens, we argue, now needs to take on board marketing theory and its metaphorical model of consumer as reader producing meaning (“prosumer”). For then media users can be conceptualized and considered in research as consumer citizens “gaining a purchase” on sense, producing (projecting) meaning for the screen perceived from their own particular perspectives or culturally shaped horizons of understanding agora amidst life. Producerly consumers are able to reﬂect as citizens on the very conditions of their manufacturing meaning. In this chapter, we think theoretically from the perspective of reader recep-
tion theory about an instance of Islamic student focus group responses to online academic brandscapes or branded campus agora.3 To do so, we draw from marketing and media studies research on Internet use, in particular the concepts of “citizen-consumer” (Livingstone et al., 2007) and “prosumer” (Toﬄer, 1980). We seek to show that prosumers’ or producerly consumers’ readings of the screen involve a process of forming meaning open to analysis, localized cognitive activity allowing them also as reﬂective consumer citizens to consider the cultural conditions of successful communication. Sometimes, as we have seen, they will do so from a hermeneutic distance, alienated from agora.