The S&H trading stamp company: A microcosm for understanding the "nature" of business and the dialectics of culture, economy, and gender
Kohler, Mary E.
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The S&H Trading Stamp Company: A Microcosm for Understanding the "Nature" of Business and the Dialectics of Culture, Economy, and Gender is a historical and grounded theoretical examination of one the oldest and culturally iconic companies in the United States. This research, spanning the years between 1896 and 1975, investigates the S&H Company through an ecological lens, that is, looking at the company as an organism that could only grow and survive in certain cultural and environmental conditions. Because middle-class women were one of the largest consumers of S&H Trading Stamps, two of the main conditions that were vital to the Company's success were linked to ideas of domesticity and Puritan notions of thrift. Yet, as this research illustrates, middle class women were not passive housewives and consumers, they often used S&H stamps as a type of alternative currency and formed trading stamp organizations and boycotts that gave them a voice in public affairs. In addition, as the case of S&H demonstrates, advertising evolved as a strategy to sway consumer perceptions and behaviors, however, its hegemonic influence is also often linked to various factors, and thus, is never a completed process. Data for this research was collected from magazine advertisements, S&H Green Stamp merchandise catalogs, the S&H Company's financial reports, journals, and other archival materials. After consulting these documents, a qualitative methodology was applied using Marxist sources and philosophical frameworks. The broad conclusions drawn from the research suggest the following: 1) businesses are entities, like other natural organisms that can only survive in particular environmental conditions, and thus must continually find adaptive strategies that allow for their survival, 2) although many scholars have written on the oppression of middle-class women as housewives and victims of consumer culture, this research illustrates, through a dialectical approach, that as consumers, women wielded a degree of power, and lastly, 3) that advertising evolved as a cultural language or narrative, similar to religion, for its use in attempting to direct behaviors and ideas.