Taste engineering: An extended consumer model of cultural competence constitution

Andre F. Maciel, Melanie Wallendorf

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

99 Scopus citations


Since industrialization, both beauty and refinement have been highlighted in many consumer markets, including home decoration, clothing, and fine foods and beverages. Consumers whose habitus resonates with these markets often formulate the goal of developing aesthetic expertise in them; they learn complex systems of taste evaluation to judge their aesthetic experiences. Extant research shows these systems' effects on many aspects of consumer behavior, from information search and memory to strategies for participating in status games. This study extends consumer research by illuminating how these taste evaluation systems are constituted in consumers, after habitus has instilled generic dispositions in them. The multimethod ethnography studies US middle-class, male craft beer aficionados seeking to become connoisseurs. This work makes two main contributions to consumer research. First, it places the often-neglected world of the senses at the center of taste theorizing. It details three learning practices (benchmarking, autodidactics, and scaffolding) that consumers use to bind together the sensory and discursive dimensions of social practices. Second, it reveals interconsumer cooperation as a key mechanism in building consensus on social practices that involve ambiguous aesthetic experiences. This theorization complements prior research on status competition as a dominant type of sociality in taste-centered consumption domains.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)726-746
Number of pages21
JournalJournal of Consumer Research
Issue number5
StatePublished - Feb 1 2017


  • Connoisseurship
  • Craft beer
  • Expertise
  • Gender
  • Goals
  • Habitus
  • Learning
  • Social class
  • Taste

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Business and International Management
  • Anthropology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Economics and Econometrics
  • Marketing


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