What is it about?

Consumers and scholars show increasing interest in authenticity in products, services, performances and places. As typically used, authenticity is an attribution which is socially constructed and appears in many domains of social life. The interest in authenticity presumes that its attribution conveys value and emerging evidence agrees. Authenticity, however, carries some very different meanings, including those about classification, morality, craftsmanship, and idiosyncrasy. Parsing these various interpretations requires attention to cultural and historical context. The article explains these various interpretations.

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Why is it important?

Consumers in developed markets today show intensifying and broadening interests in appreciating goods and services that express authenticity to them. Seeking authenticity is a major trend of modern consumption.


Social scientists studying authenticity typically find that it is not a ‘‘real’’ thing, not something that can be objectively determined. It is though they are reciting John Lennon’s lyrics in Strawberry Fields Forever: “nothing is real.” By this view, certain specific aspects of a product, performance, place or producer somehow get defined and treated as authentic by audiences in a particular social context. Butt social science theory also provides strong clues, and even some answers, as to the impact of some other core elements involved. A fundamental starting point for such theory involves parsing the many meanings or definitions that both individuals and social scientists use when attributing authenticity to an entity. So, my response to those reciting John Lennon is to keep going to the next line: “nothing to get hung about.”

The Adams Distinguished Professor of Management Glenn R Carroll
Stanford University

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This page is a summary of: Authenticity: Attribution, Value, and Meaning, May 2015, Wiley, DOI: 10.1002/9781118900772.etrds0020.
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