Who is Working for Who? Exploitation, Empowerment and Cocreation

Alexander, Matthew and Hamilton, Kathy (2014) Who is Working for Who? Exploitation, Empowerment and Cocreation. In: AMA SERVSIG 2014 International Research Conference, 2014-06-13 - 2014-06-15, University of Macedonia.

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Abstract

Recent research portrays cocreating customers as both empowered and exploited without solid agreement as to which perspective is most appropriate. Complementing the predominant focus on online environments we explore these contrasting perspectives in a context where cocreation takes place within the tangible assets of a firm. The paper is based on a 3 year ethnographic study of community adoption of railway stations. A range of methods were used to collect data including in-depth interviews, observation, photography and videography. Over 100 participants took part in the study. We explore how communities are motivated to take part through a passion for their local area. For the firm a complex ownership structure means communities are often best placed to take control over the value proposition of the station. Communities are empowered by a ‘hands off’ and common sense approach to the scheme from the firm leading to a sense of ownership. Communities recognise the benefits received by the firm through their involvement but these are outweighed by those received by the communities themselves. Our research builds on calls to explore the contexts in which exploitation may (or may not) occur (Cova & Dalli, 2009). Viewing cocreating in socio-economic terms is important for developing our understanding of the blurring of roles between firm and customer. In contrast to studies that suggest that cocreation leads to double exploitation we suggest that exploitation, like value cocreation, is phenomenologically and contextually determined by each consumer ‘in use’ (Vargo & Lusch, 2008). Consequently, the circumstances when exploitation may occur are complex and not universal. Our research reveals how ultimately, the assets of the firm can be appropriated by consumers to the extent that the notion of ownership is as blurred as the relationship between the firm and the consumer.