Corporate Power and the Market: Automotive Performance and the Automobile Industry

by Alan Michael Listiak

Institution: University of Toronto
Department: Sociology
Degree: Doctorate Degree
Year: 1981
Keywords: automobile industry; corporate power; power; advertising; meta-power; horse power; muscle car; high-performance; hot rodding; drag racing;
Posted: 05/05/2016
Record ID: 2063522
Full text PDF: https://tspace.library.utoronto.ca/bitstream/1807/30049/1/Listiak%20Corporate%20power%20and%20the%20market.pdf


This dissertation is an examination of the sociological debate over the nature of corporate power and the market for consumer goods in modern society. Two sociological theoretical positions, the pluralist/functionalist and the elite/class, are compared and contrasted with respect to this issue. They are then critically tested by applying them to the automobile industry and the development of the meanings and physical shape of the automobile, in particular, the controversial meanings and designs associated with those non-transportation themes subsumed under the notion of "performance." The focus is the development of high performance cars, in particular the "muscle as car" or "super car" designs that were marketed in the mid-1960s even in the face of mounting criticism regarding the horsepower race, energy consumption, pollution, and safety. It was found that hot rodding functioned as a complementary behavior pattern which was selectively incorporated and supported by the industry in the 1950s and 1960s. Without this support and without the increasingly powerful automobiles provided by the industry, hot rodding would not have developed into the market or the spectacular sport it has. The performance market of the 1960s is thus a structured outcome of the industry's actions in the 1950s to develop and incorporate hot rod themes. This dissertation shows the utility of the conception of power in terms of meta-power and relational control. The emphasis on structural variables and interaction systems provides a sociological orientation to power that is missing in the predominant approaches to power. As such, it is able to comprehend situations as involving the exercise of power which would not be considered as such by the traditional approach. This enables the terms of reference to be expanded and a more adequate representation of social reality to be comprehended in sociological analysis.