Symbolic Interaction with Consumer Products: An Affect Control Theory Approach


Symbolic interactionism is one of the few social psychology perspectives that recognizes the important role of physical artifacts, including consumer products, in social life. Consumer products are artifacts people can use to maintain the expressive order within social life – the order that is embedded within the shared meanings of a culture. As a formal theory of symbolic interactionism, affect control theory emphasizes culturally-shared affective meaning, the impressions produced within social events, and identity processes that rely on those cultural meanings and social events. We contend that affect control theory provides a framework for understanding and researching how consumer products influence people’s social experience and interaction. First, we specifically explore how affect control theory’s concepts of affective meaning, identity modification, and impression management can be applied to understanding consumer products. Building on this foundation, we then consider how affect control theory might also contribute to three new research directions: social interaction with consumer products, affective design of consumer products, and the prosumer identity created from consumer products. Our conclusion is that affect control theory provides sociologists with a means of exploring the important and fascinating questions that emerge when we consider people’s symbolic interaction with consumer products.


Psychological Science

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)


Document Type

Article - Journal

Document Version


File Type





© 2016 Wiley, All rights reserved.

Publication Date

04 Jul 2016