Project: Luxury consumption and online reviewer discourse – the construction of knowledge, values and identities

Online communication is an ever-growing force in people's lives, and has become a strong forum for the construction of consumer ideals, perceptions, attitudes and identities. This project focuses on online reviews of luxury consumption, specifically reviews of wine, perfume and chocolate, products which have longstanding lineage and prestige and which involve complex interaction of the human senses.

Why do we find these types of consumer reviews particularly interesting to investigate? For one thing, the human sensory apparatus provides an intriguing backdrop. Physiologically, vision is known to be our most reliable and consistent source of objective data about the world, and it is generally difficult for humans to reliably distinguish sensory impressions when the human senses are simultaneously activated, because vision rules out the other senses. Smell is a particularly elusive sense; it can trigger memory and mood and appeal to people's emotions. The way in which we experience such sensory input is ultimately intertwined with who we are and where we come from, a combination of our individual physiological requisites and our past experience.

The intricacy of the physiological backdrop suggests that every individual's perceptual experience must be unique to them, each individual being their own consumption guru. Yet the products we are dealing with here have a history of being associated with exclusivity reserved for the few, which may be the reason why we find an abundance of expert advice online and through other channels telling us how to consume, how to smell, how to taste, how to and whether to enjoy. What is the role of these resources? Do they function to provide us with a joint pool of experiences, giving us the opportunity to adjust our individual perceptions and thus backgrounds so that they align with those of others? We explore this and other questions by studying how the websites argue for and appraise, both their roles as experts and the products.

Our study concentrates on the landing pages, "about" sections and actual reviews of websites targeting wine, perfume and chocolate. We take a multimodal approach to the materials and investigate not only verbal texts but also visual materials. Linnaeus University Centre for Intermedial and Multimodal Studies offers a multidisciplinary, creative and critical research environment against which our ideas are continuously tested and developed.