Brandon Wallace
June 3, 2019

Congratulations to Brandon Wallace (Advisor: Dr. Andrews) who successfully defended his Thesis.  Brandon will begin his Doctoral Program in the fall with Dr. Andrews as his advisor. 

Title:  Consuming the (postmodern) self: Sneaker customization and the symbolic creation of meaning and identity

Abstract: The athletic sneaker, as a commodity which derives its value from the cultural meanings it signifies, holds particular significance in a late capitalist, aesthetically-driven consumer culture (Featherstone, 2007; Lury, 2011; Vanderbilt, 1998). The cultural meanings of sneakers produced by the sneaker industry, however, have historically been constructed by commercial interests, which have determined the ways in which consumers understand and engage with sneakers (Fuller, 2015; Turner, 2015; Wilson, 1996). Little scholarly attention has focused on the practice of sneaker customization, in which individual consumers personalize sneakers through altering their designs and colors, adding paint or text, or any other form of modification that gives a sneaker new meanings. In this thesis, I critically analyze ways in which consumers use sneaker customization to construct and express meaning and identity within a postmodern, post-Fordist, late capitalist society. I argue that sneaker customization is a form of what Willis (1990) calls “symbolic creativity”: in which ordinary, everyday individuals exercise agency by creatively infusing consumer goods and commodities with novel, symbolic meanings. Drawing from 15 in-depth interviews with individuals who have experience with sneaker customization, I explicate the various meanings that participants attach to sneaker customization, along with articulating its emergence, current position, implications and significance within the broader contexts that influence it. While answering the PCS call to identify and conscientize individuals to the operations of power in the late capitalist moment (Andrews, 2008; Freire, 2002), this thesis contributes to understanding how everyday individuals engage with popular cultural practices, such as sneaker customization, to create and define the means of their existence amidst the societal conditions with which they are confronted (Hall, 1996).