Research Question: Why do people put bumper stickers on their cars?
Reason for Investigation: Because I commute in a car, I spend significant quantities of time looking at the back end of other people’s cars. I have observed that other people put bumper stickers on their cars indicating their political and personal preferences. This observation is of interest because I would never put a bumper sticker on my car.
Method of Investigation: I performed a selective literature search to find social science research on why people put bumper stickers on their cars. As expected, because of my knowledge of the nature of social science research, I found results. The results of my search are contained in the bibliography.
Findings From Articles:
People put bumper stickers on their cars (Enderby & Towle, 1996).
Bumper stickers are research material for communication scholars.
People place bumper stickers on their cars to express themselves (Case 1992) and to identify the groups they belong to (Enderby & Towle, 1996).
Common topics for bumper stickers include “political issues,” “social issues,” education or other affiliation, advertising or other commercial messages and philosophical or religious messages.
Bumper sticker use is inversely related to income.
Limitations of Research:
All of the research was conducted by external observations and content analysis. There were no interviews, so the results relate to what and not why.
Conclusion:
The researchers’ conclusions about why people put bumper stickers on their cars are the reasons I would have guessed before I read the articles. The articles did help me articulate the reason for my curiosity. As Newhagen and Ancell (1995, p. 313) put it, “the stickers represent a paradox as a medium for public expression.” On one hand, they are distinctly personal, more or less permanently attached to the owner’s automobile for friends and neighbors to see. On the other hand, they are anonymous with the vast majority of readers unknown to the sticker bearer.”
Further Research:
The underlying assumption of this research is that bumper stickers are a medium for personal communication in a mass communication culture. These articles, however, were written before the ubiquity [to use an academic term] of the web and social media which offer infinite outlets for self-expression. So, why are people still putting bumper stickers on their cars?
P.S. And what’s the deal with tattoos?
Reference List:
Case, C.E. (1992). Bumper stickers and car signs: Ideology and Identity. Journal of Popular Culture, 26(3), 107-119.
Enderby, J. W. & Towle, M. J. (1996). Tailgate partisanship: Political and social expression through bumper stickers. Social Science Journal, 33(3), 307-.
Newhagen, J. E. & Ancell, M. (1995). The expression of emotion and social status in the language of bumper stickers. Journal of Language and Social Psychology, 14 (3), 312-323..

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