Jack Wills: A sociological study of elite group sociality and identity through the prism of a brand-name corporation
Smith, Daniel Robert
Date: 16 September 2013
University of Exeter
PhD in Sociology
The Jack Wills brand and the name Jack Wills has become synonymous with an elite group identity in British society, namely the 18-24 demographic of the ‘upper-middle classes’. This group – wealthy, privately educated and attending a Russell Group university – are the subject of this thesis, specifically those involved in the co-ordination ...
The Jack Wills brand and the name Jack Wills has become synonymous with an elite group identity in British society, namely the 18-24 demographic of the ‘upper-middle classes’. This group – wealthy, privately educated and attending a Russell Group university – are the subject of this thesis, specifically those involved in the co-ordination and lifestyle events of the Jack Wills brand. This study tracks and distils the identity and sociality of this social group through the prism of the Jack Wills brand’s corporate activity, a role that I outline to be central to the group’s social networking and cohesion through convivial pursuits and lifestyle events. This, I show, creates an elite core group who become the face of the brand; their life being the life-style element that the corporation sells to their consumers. Central to this thesis is the distinction between this elite, core-group of persons that become the basis of Jack Wills advertised lifestyle and those who purchase the product at market. The distinction I make is between a gift and commodity economy where, on the one hand, gifts develop intricate friendships and lasting social ties amongst a small few as an elite segment of the group and commodities, on the other hand, develop a residual role and make those purchasing the clothes an aspirational group. The name of the corporation comes to stand for the name of the group. And this name contains a contradiction; that of the gift and the commodity as the aspired and the aspirational persons, respectively. This contradiction is explored and dubbed ‘the dialectic of gentry’. Tracing this contradiction at the heart of the brand and the gentry group Jack Wills’s target, the thesis traces the value of the brand through ethnographic investigation: What type of economic object is a brand? Arguing it is what anthropologists call ‘inalienable wealth/valuables’, I claim the social group’s elite identity arises through the gifts and patronage the Jack Wills brand supplies them as they withhold these valuables from wider circulation and, therein, the value of the brand is manifested and given its elite stature. Bolstered by ethnographic material I attempt to demonstrate that the Jack Wills brand embodies the aspirational core of elite British identity and aids in the reformation of this elite group in the face of globalising pressures and new forms of sociality mediated by branded goods.
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