Doctor of Philosophy
Theory and Criticism
My goal in this dissertation is to help demystify or “filter” the “Starbucks Experience” for a post-pandemic world, taking stock of how a multi-national company has long outgrown its humble beginnings as a wholesale coffee bean supplier to become a digitally-integrated and hypermodern café. I look at the role Starbucks plays within the larger cultural history of the coffee house and also consider how Starbucks has been idyllically described in corporate discourse as a comfortable and discursive “third place” for informal gathering, a term that also prescribes its own radical ethos as a globally recognized customer service platform. Attempting to square Starbucks’ iconography and rhetoric with a new critical methodology, in a series of interdisciplinary case studies, I examine the role Starbucks’ “third place” philosophy plays within larger conversations about urban space and commodity culture, analyze Starbucks advertising, architecture and art, and trace the mythical rise of the Starbucks Siren (and the reiterations and re-imaginings of the Starbucks Siren in art and media). While in corporate rhetoric Starbucks’ “third place” is depicted as an enthralling adventure, full of play, discovery, authenticity, or “romance,” I draw on critical theory to discuss how it operates today as a space of distraction, isolation, and loss.
Summary for Lay Audience
This dissertation demystifies or “filters” the post-pandemic “Starbucks Experience,” taking a critical look at a multinational company that has long outgrown its humble beginnings as a wholesale coffee bean supplier to become a digitally-integrated and hypermodern café for the global consumer. The primary question I explore in this thesis is: How has Starbucks as a successful global coffee house chain curated a unique, exclusive coffee house experience, selling itself as a comfortable and inclusive “third place” for informal gathering, while concealing a darker history of labour exploitation and union busting? I pay special attention to the role that Starbucks’ “third place” philosophy plays within larger conversations about urban space, commodity culture, and the consumer experience. While in corporate rhetoric Starbucks’ “third place” is depicted as an enthralling adventure, full of play, discovery, authenticity, or “romance,” I discuss how its cafes today operate as a space of distraction, isolation, and loss. Drawing on critical theory, cultural studies, land multi-disciplinary perspectives, I take a closer look at the coffee conglomerate’s own story to re-read Starbucks advertising, architecture, and art, while tracing the spectacular rise of the Starbucks Siren, including its reiterations and re-imaginings in corporate advertising, contemporary art and popular media.
Bodkin, Michael A., "Grounds for a "Third Place": The "Starbucks Experience," Sirens, and Space" (2023). Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository. 9494.