Graduate Student Profile: Michelle La, Sociology & Anthropology
Currently finishing her master’s in sociology and anthropology, Michelle La’s academic research focuses on the way business, society, and group interactions form the rich culture surrounding sneakers in Vancouver.
With a special focus on the way resellers and consumers use digital and physical platforms to purchase limited edition sneakers, La’s thesis project incorporates participant-observation and interviews to provide an ethnography of those invested in this fascinating intersection of art and fashion—topics that have been her passion since childhood.
Early on in her undergraduate degree, La decided to follow her passion and pursue a topic of study that truly interested her. She switched her degree focus from the sciences to sociology and anthropology, as she found the topics clicked well with her inquisitive personality. La was first introduced to Facebook buy/sell groups during the beginning of her master’s degree, and it was there she found her thesis topic.
“I was astonished to find some groups had over 20,000 members,” says La. “I knew there was something here that needed to be studied—I wondered to myself, ‘How do sneakerheads rationalize camping out for 20 hours outside a store for a sneaker that advertised as limited edition yet was still mass produced?’”
Although the sneaker reselling industry has been estimated to be worth over a billion dollars, there are only a handful of studies on the topic. In addition to breaking new ground on this topic, La’s research has also provided a significant amount of self-discovery.
“By studying sneaker culture, I also wanted to understand my consumptive behaviours. I would call myself a fashionista. I wanted to understand how it was that I can be seduced by and justify spending on certain brands despite knowing the psychological, environmental, and sociological effects of conspicuous consumption. Interestingly, while working on this research, my consumptive behaviours have decreased as I have been deconstructing consumptive practices.”
La’s decision to pursue research was largely influenced by her experiences working as a research assistant during her undergraduate degree and attending the annual American Anthropology Association conference, the largest anthropology conference in the world.
When asked how she likes being a graduate student, La responds enthusiastically.
“I do not have work-life balance,” she laughs. “But I enjoy all of the projects I work on and the courses I teach in. I have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) so I can get bored and lose interest easily. Therefore, always having different things to do works well for me.”
La says that there are so many things she enjoys about being a graduate student that it is hard to pinpoint what she loves most about it. From taking a private tour of the Adidas Global headquarters in Herzogenaurach, Germany to reselling sneakers as a participant-observer, La’s research has granted her very interesting experiences.
However, she says it is the diversity of experiences and opportunities that come with being a graduate student that makes it a truly fulfilling experience.
“Professional development workshops, being a teaching assistant/tutor marker, meeting other graduate students who are also passionate about their research, and being able to work on a project that interests you—these are all enjoyable aspects of my graduate experience.”
Were it not for being a teaching assistant, La would not have known that she could find passion and fulfillment in teaching others.
La’s research has given her not only a fantastic master’s thesis but also a foundation of knowledge and experience for any path she chooses to pursue in the future.
As for what advice she would give to incoming graduate students, La says to be open to experience and enjoy every minute of it.
“Take advantage of the opportunities that are available to you as a graduate student—take risks and go out of your comfort zone.”
More information on Michelle’s research can be discovered on her website here