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How do we make choices in an information-saturated world? Prior studies often assume that the problem is coping with the volume of information. They rarely ask how people judge the validity of new information. But we are all forced to depend on secondary sources that no one has the time or resources to verify. In Critics, Ratings, and Society Grant Blank confronts these issues through an investigation of independent evaluations and reviews. Reviews are widespread; they rank products ranging from books and films to automobiles and computers. They are important not just because they influence success and failure of products, they also make or break reputations and careers, and often play a critical role in stratification, power, and status.
Reviews are shaped by the interaction of media editors, product makers, and consumers into credible cultural objects. These are processed into two types of rating systems: connoisseurial reviews that depend on the unique skills and experience of a single reviewer, a connoisseur; and procedural reviews that are based on the results of tests, well-defined procedures that allow reviewers to rank groups of similar products. Both rating systems construct hierarchies of products.
Blank develops a new theory explaining the circumstances where economic concerns like price are overshadowed by review-constructed hierarchies. When this happens, culture constructs markets. He argues that review-constructed hierarchies are widespread as a consequence of inherent structural characteristics of contemporary capitalism and, as a result, reviews will become more important in the future.
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Grant Blank is assistant professor of sociology at American University in Washington DC. His special interests are in the sociology of culture, the influence of computers and electronic networks, and analysis of qualitative and quantitative data.Review:
In the most extensive treatment to date, Grant Blank uses a comparative study of reviews to analyze the social construction of expertise and the role of gatekeepers in our consumer-oriented society. As a result, we learn a great deal about the production and consumption of credibility and social status. This book is a must-read for sociologists of culture, economic sociologists, and anyone interested in understanding the cultural mediation of the market in advanced capitalist societies. I give it "two thumbs up." (Penny Edgell, Associate Professor and Director of Graduate Studies, Department of Sociology, University of Minnesota)
. . . a fascinating interdisciolinary study . . . (Gary Day Time Magazine Education Supplement)
Much to his credit, Grant Blank shows reviews and ratings to be far more important and relevant than they may seem at first sight. . . . Blank's new book is not just a research monograph on critical rating systems. It also seeks to clarify the ways in which credible information is created and received and how reviews and ratings contribute to the creation and maintenance of status distinctions. (American Journal of Sociology)
Grant Blank skillfully and convincingly situates reviews squarely in the nexus of key sociological concerns about status, choice, economics, and culture. Critics, Ratings, and Society: The Sociology of Reviews takes us inside the review process to reveal the social organization of the public evaluation of goods and experiences and, along the way, illuminates their significance in everyday life and usefulness in social research... This is a must read for economic and cultural sociologists and for anyone struggling to make sense of the bewildering variety of products and experiences confronting consumers on a daily basis. (Daniel Thomas Cook, University of Illinois, author of The Commodification of Childhood)
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