Academic journal article The Geographical Review

Race and (Online) Sites of Consumption

Academic journal article The Geographical Review

Race and (Online) Sites of Consumption

Article excerpt

Geographers have noted the increasing role of the Internet and social media in everyday life (Zook and Graham 2007; Elwood 2011; Kitchin and Dodge 2011; Stephens 2013). Actions and events that take place offline are being planned using the Internet and social media applications. This is particularly true for the places where people choose to consume goods and services, such as retail outlets or restaurants. However, it is clear that not all businesses are accessible online, much less through social media sites. This paper seeks to address the gap in business participation on social media by using data from the social network Foursquare. In looking more closely at datasets from Foursquare overlaid with information on racial characteristics in census tracts, a pattern emerges: predominantly African-American tracts are increasingly left out of this type of online participation.

Despite a growing literature on online consumption--Murphy 2002; Wrigley 2002; Ren and Kwan 2009; Weltevreden and van Rietbergen 2009--thus far economic geographers have not dealt with social media and its effects on retail trade. A study of location-based media and the GeoWeb can help to show what places are popular sites of consumption and where they are located, illuminating the types of businesses that get left out of people's consumption habits due to the digital divide. Increasingly, many people are interacting with their physical environments through the filter of digital media, reshaping their individual activity spaces through the use of digital code (Kitchin and Dodge 2011). Businesses need to claim (and are claiming) their online spaces in order to compete and continue to drive customers to their locations (Wilson 2012). Those businesses on the ground that are left off of social media may be disadvantaged in the future.

This paper will use a multiscalar approach to address the issue of consumption and race using social media data from the network Foursquare. After a discussion of the literature of ethnicity and consumption and the GeoWeb, the paper will outline Foursquare as a data source and the methods used for analysis. Three cities similar in socioeconomic characteristics, but much different in terms of racial and ethnic makeup--Denver, Baltimore, and El Paso--will be compared to assess the effects of on-the-ground consumer habits and race. At a finer scale, Kansas City, Missouri, will be used as a case study to understand discrepancies in consumption within a single city. It will be shown that those communities of predominately African-American populations do not have a presence on Foursquare, thus potentially being left out of future economic activity.

CONSUMPTION, RACE, AND ETHNICITY

Previous geographical research on the subject has looked at ethnicity and consumption with a focus on the ethnic and immigrant experience in terms of marketing independent stores to a wider population (Dwyer and Jackson 2003; Kaplan and Li 2006; Lo 2009). Similarly, there have been several geographic studies of the influence of Asian fashion in Britain, raising questions of Western cultural appropriation or increased multicultural awareness at the expense of specific ethnic groups (Jackson 2002). Studies have also concentrated on the purchasing habits of various ethnic groups. For example, Rachel Slocum identifies the ethnic differences in buying and participating in the Minneapolis Farmers' Market, concluding that the demand for local, alternative, and cleaned (no roots and in packaging) foods is largely a white phenomenon (2008). Other foods are purchased by immigrant populations, leaving a void of African-Americans who partake in farmers' market shopping (Slocum 2008). Grocery shopping can also be viewed as an ethnic and cultural practice. Lu Wang and Lucia Lo recognized that among Chinese immigrants in Toronto, many were willing to drive longer distances to be able to shop at ethnic grocery stores because of the unique social experience these retail outlets provide (2007). …

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