Legitimacy and the arts of market making: Looking at fine wine cultural intermediaries in China

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Professor Jennifer Smith Maguire, Sheffield Business School, Sheffield Hallam University

May 30, 2019 - 15:00 to 17:00

Department of Sociology, U of T St George Campus, 725 Spadina Ave, Room 240

China is now among the world’s top ten wine consuming countries; however, a fine wine market is not yet secure in China. China’s per capita wine consumption remains very low, and grape wine remains peripheral in the domestic alcoholic beverages market. Significant gulfs persist between the potential for a mass, middle-class fine wine market and the current emergent state of a fine wine culture in China. Neither the cultural legitimacy of wine nor consumers’ taste for wine can be taken for granted. This context creates opportunities for the market-making interventions of a cadre of wine intermediaries, whose expertise in matters of taste and value encompasses both wine and Chinese consumers.

This backdrop offers a fertile setting for exploring the role of cultural intermediaries in the construction of legitimacy for a not-yet-legitimate consumption entity and corps of consumers. To that end, the paper reports on exploratory, interpretive research involving semi-structured interviews with a small sample of Chinese fine wine intermediaries working in the first-tier city of Shanghai. The data analysis highlights their roles as proxies (for an existing ideal consumer and a future, desired consumer), exemplars (for an existing, not-yet-legitimate consumer), and functional democratizers (for the ‘established’ European wine culture). Via these market interventions, I suggest how the intermediaries assist in ‘attaching’ emerging consumers to a global consumption regime, providing new insight to the development and social organization of markets with regard to the significance of constructions of legitimacy (e.g. Humphreys 2010), and the arts by which consumers’ attachments to consumption entities are encouraged, engineered, and steered (Cochoy, McFall & DeVille, 2017).

Works cited

Cochoy F., Deville J. & McFall L. (Eds.) 2017. Markets And The Arts of Attachment. London: Routledge.

Humphreys A. 2010. Megamarketing: The creation of markets as a social process. Journal of Marketing, 74(March), 1-19.


This event is co-sponsored by Culinaria Research Centre and the Sociology Department.