Semiotic structure and the legitimation of consumption practices: The case of casino gambling

Ashlee Humphreys*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

224 Scopus citations


How do changes in public discourse and regulatory structure affect the acceptance of a consumption practice? Previous research on legitimacy in consumer behavior has focused on the consumer reception of legitimizing discourse rather than on the historical process of legitimation itself. This study examines the influence of changes in the institutional environment over time on the meaning structures that influence consumer perception and practice. To study legitimation as a historical process, a discourse analysis of newspaper articles about casino gambling from 1980-2007 was conducted. Results show that the regulatory approval of gambling is accompanied by a shift in the semantic categories used to discuss casinos and that journalists play a role in shaping these categories. Further, journalists shape the meaning of a consumption practice in three ways: through selection, validation, and realization. Interpreted through the lens of institutional theory, these findings suggest that studies of legitimation should consider changes in public discourse and legal regulation in addition to consumer perceptions of legitimacy.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)490-510
Number of pages21
JournalJournal of Consumer Research
Issue number3
StatePublished - Oct 2010

ASJC Scopus subject areas

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


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