Date of Graduation

Spring 2022


Master of Arts in Communication



Committee Chair

Erin Wehrman


The ubiquitous presence of flea markets is emblematic of midwestern life. They illustrate common consumption practices and distinct modes of entertainment. This study investigates how vendors within a large, midwestern flea market conceptualize and utilize the space. Additionally, this study reveals the relationship between variant conceptualizations of the market and the merchandise sold by individual vendors. Existing research identifies a tension between social and economic dimensions within flea markets. This study extends prior research by examining the specific social fulfillments vendors garner and identifying other non-economic rationalizations for participation within the market. The results are derived from ethnographic observations and supplemental semi-structured interviews with vendors. Each interview is analyzed according to thematic analysis, supported by contextual field notes. The subsequent analysis explores the diverse non-profit incentives that motivate vendors to continue their work. From the data, five themes emerged that explain variant conceptualizations of the market: (1) Life After Labor, (2) The Primacy of People, (3) Personal Investment in Merchandise, (4) Hoarding, (5) Identity Maintenance. In sum, this study is an exploration of how vendors understand and function within the quasi-economic spaces they participate in.


flea markets, third place theory, kitsch, taste, carnivalesque, identity, hoarding

Subject Categories

American Material Culture | American Popular Culture | Community Psychology | Critical and Cultural Studies


© Tyler D. Curran

Open Access