When Evaluation is Anchored: Contrasting Responses of Consumers and the State to Category-Spanning Films in China

Prof. Ying LI
Assistant Professor, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology

Date: 7 June 2024 (Friday)
Time: 10:30 am – 12:00 pm
Venue: E22-G015
Host: Prof. Haitao YU, Assistant Professor in Management


The literature on category spanning establishes that products with multi-category memberships confuse audiences and thus tend to receive negative evaluation. However, we propose that, during the emergence stage of a category system, a product’s number of categorical memberships may only be one source of its identity ambiguity. What is overlooked is the role of a “cognitive anchor,” defined as a prominent product feature established before the category system’s emergence, in leading audiences to interpret the emergent categories from the lens of the anchor. A product’s identity becomes ambiguous when it combines categories that are interpreted as close to the anchor with those distant from the anchor. In this study, we term the traditionally investigated multi-category membership as “manifest category spanning” and the novel, anchor-based category spanning as “latent category spanning.” We theorize that consumers and the state have contrasting responses to these two types of spanning due to different preferences for ambiguity. Using data on the population of domestic films screened in mainland China, 2009-2019, we find strong empirical support to our theorizing. This study makes important contributions by revealing a novel type of category spanning and disclosing the government’s role as an agentic non-market evaluator of cultural products.


Prof. LI is an assistant professor at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. She obtained her PhD in Business Administration from the Gies College of Business, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 2022. Her research interests include industry emergence and evolution, space and place, categories, and organizational values. Her dissertation, with the American movie theater industry as the context, was recognized with multiple awards, such as the Best Dissertation Award by the TIM Division of the Academy of Management. She has published in Academy of Management Journal and Strategic Organization.

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