Relations in Aesthetic Space: How Color Enables Market Positioning
Peer reviewed, Journal article
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- Scientific articles 
Color is omnipresent, but organizational research features no systematic theory or established method for analyzing it. We develop a relational approach to color, conceptualizing it as a means of positioning relative to a reference group or style and validating it through a computational method for processing digital images. The research context is Norwegian black metal—a genre of extreme metal music that achieved notoriety in the early 1990s through band members’ criminal activity. Our analysis of 5,125 album covers between 1989 and 2019 confirms the alignment of aesthetic and music features and articulates the role of color in the construction of a relational identity based on forces of association and disassociation. Black metal bands associated with past color choices of non-black metal bands up to a point, after which they started to disassociate from them. The positioning is dynamic, pursuing adaptation to external events. Black metal bands reacted to their stigmatization in Norwegian society by increasing colorfulness and later returning to a darker aesthetic in defiance of the genre’s commercialization. Our analysis attests to color’s ability to organize producers’ exchange of information and attention, illustrating the interweaving of aesthetic features and relational processes in markets.