Explaining identification with relatively low-prestige collectives: A study of Nascar fans

University House - Room 204
Wednesday 2 September 2015 (12:00-14:00)

Michele Donovan - M.L.Donovan@bham.ac.uk

All are welcome to attend this luntime seminar and we look forward to seeing you. For catering purposes, please confirm your attendance to Michele Donovan (M.L.Donovan@bham.ac.uk).


Professor Kimberley D. Elsbach (University of California)

Kimberly D. Elsbach (PhD – Industrial Engineering, Stanford University) is Professor of Management, Stephen G. Newberry Chair in Leadership, and Associate Dean for Instruction at the Graduate School of Management, University of California, Davis.  She is also an International Research Fellow at the Center for Corporate Reputation, Oxford University, and the co-founder and organizer of the Davis Conference on Qualitative Research. Kim's research focuses on perception – specifically how people perceive each other and their organizations.  She has studied these perceptual processes in variety of contexts ranging from the California cattle industry, and the National Rifle Association, to Hollywood screenwriters. She is currently studying how crying at work affects perceptions of professional women and why fans identify with NASCAR. Her book Organizational Perception Management was recently published by Lawrence-Erlbaum as part of its Organization and Management Series. Prior to her academic career, she worked as an Industrial Engineer for the Quaker Oats, Co. in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.  Address: Graduate School of Management, Gallagher Hall, University of California - Davis, Davis, CA 95616; telephone: (530) 752-0910; fax: (530) 752-2924; e-mail: kdelsbach@ucdavis.edu


Through a series of studies, we examined why fans identified with the relatively low prestige collective known as NASCAR (National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing) — a US-based organization for automobile racing. Anecdotal evidence and our own pilot research indicated that NASCAR was viewed as relatively low in “Perceived External Prestige” (a validated measure that has been shown to be the strongest predictor of collective identification across dozens of empirical studies) compared to most collectives in empirical studies of identification. 

In a first study, involving qualitative analysis of archival data, interviews, and observation of NASCAR experts and fans, we found evidence that identification with NASCAR was predicted, primarily, by what we call fan’s “Perceived Opportunity for Authentic Self-Expression” with NASCAR (i.e., the perception that fans could be their “true selves” when interacting with NASCAR). Further, we found that NASCAR fans identified with the collective because it provided the opportunity to self-express in relation to the specific value of “patriotism" – which fans claimed was an important personal value that was difficult to affirm in other contexts.  In a second, longitudinal study, involving three large-scale surveys of NASCAR fans, we confirmed that fans’ identification with NASCAR was predicted more strongly by Perceived Opportunity for Authentic Self-Expression with NASCAR vs. its Perceived External Prestige. In turn, identification with NASCAR predicted fans’ collective-supporting behaviors, such as watching NASCAR races and recommending NASCAR to friends.  

Together, these findings suggest that individuals may strongly identify with relatively low-prestige collectives because those collectives allow them to express important, but difficult to affirm values, that are part of their authentic or “true” selves. We discuss the implications of these findings for theories of collective identification.