“Vetting” The American Dream: Nostalgia, Social Capital and Corvette Communities

Virginia D’Antonio

Advisor: Amy L Best, PhD, Department of Sociology and Anthropology

Committee Members: Greg Guagnano, Laurie Meamber

The Hub, #VIP 3
June 29, 2017, 01:00 PM to 03:00 PM


This research investigates the social organization of Corvette clubs and their membership in order to examine the wind of social change in community structures in American society during the period following industrial expansion. Specifically, this project examines the decline of traditional communities based on social ties formed through locale or productive work that have been replaced with communities based on common interests centered on consumption and leisure practice. Fragmentation of social ties among neighbors, families, religion, and work, combined with the decline of participation in voluntary associations, reflect intensifying individualism. In spite of this age of social disconnection, the desire to find meaning and purpose through collective life remains.

            Today, much of the American individual’s social life occurs in relationships that are mediated by markets and products that are consumed individually and collectively. This ascendance of leisure and the expansion of consumer markets as core social institutions in modern life offer opportunity structures for social connections and involvement for informal groups of people with similar interests. Building off America’s preoccupation with cars as status symbols that are representative of progress, mobility, and individuality, this research explores the social world of Corvette owners. The cultural significance of the Corvette as America’s sports car is reflected in this mixed methods study of a brand community and its role in creating social capital and civic engagement for its members. The Corvette community reflects a strong social network built around the mystique and history of the car and is organized by rituals of consumption and productive activity that construct identity and cement relationships among fellow car enthusiasts. Early life experience and sentiments of nostalgia and patriotism are important in this car culture as they are a means by which the car becomes valuable to the owner as an individual, and in turn, strengthen the social ties that knit this community together.

            The subjective meaning of the car as related to generational influence, consumer advertising, aspirations, and collective identity will be explored in order to understand the consumer influence in relation with this cultural icon. Membership based around the emotional affect and sentiments produced by the Corvette will serve as a basis of analysis for consumer objects as potential liaisons for renewed civic engagement and social forms of citizenship in broader society.