Putting the ladder back

Putting the ladder back.

Me on the CPPE Blog:

There’s some concepts that have arisen over the last few years in consumer research, especially in the pages of Consumption Markets Culture and the Journal of Consumer Culture, which have been nagging at me over the last little while – notably prosumption, liminality and vulnerability. I think I figured out this morning what it is that gets my goat. I’ll try to illustrate it with prosumption.

These concepts prioritize the relationships between to things: production and consumption in the case of prosumption. This is no bad thing. Of course – it’s PoMo dude. But what I’ve noticed is that researchers use such concepts to argue against the very things the concepts relate to. So, we see Ritzer and Jurgenson arguing in numerous papers that production and consumption are no longer valid terms because we are now “prosumers”. What’s a prosumer, you might well ask. Simples. It’s someone who links consumption and production. But wait, aren’t they no longer valid terms… erm, yeah but no. Hang on.

So, it seems to me that such concepts are the best argument against themselves. If you ask taxing questions such as (which the peer reviewers at the above mentioned journals presumably haven’t): “what?”, “really?”, “are you sure about that?”, “what evidence do you have?”, concepts like prosumption end up reinstating the importance of the terms they rest on. But the authors use them to argue the oppose, that the concepts destroy the foundations on which they rest.

So, I can’t help but feel I’m missing something, these are smart people but this just seems moronic to me.

If I were a kind man, I’d say that these are clever tactics to open up more and more social interactions to the gaze of consumer researchers. But I think it’s actually just desperation to come up with a sticky term (I call it “the MacDonaldization of conceptual thought”) and poorly applied social theory. I’d love to be proved wrong.

Does marketing research need another alternative?

Maybe not.  We already have critical marketing, marketing theory, marcomarketing, naturalistic inquiry, CCT and non-managerial approaches.  But, with the possible exception of CCT, all of these have failed to gain much traction in mainstream research.  Apart from some exceptional researchers (Russell Belk, Morris Holbrook, Elizabeth Hirschman, Jeff Murray and some others) there’s not too many people who have published work informed by these approaches in the top journals such as the Journal of Consumer Research. 

There’s a number of reasons why these movements haven’t had much of an impact. 

Part of the problem undoubtedly comes from the connotations of the labels – critical, macro, theory and so on.  For those who don’t want to look in detail, it’s all-too-easy to read these as ‘lefty’, ‘irrelevant’ and ‘useless’.  “Critical marketing”, a grey-haired American exclaimed at the recent Macromarketing Conference in Berlin in a symbolic exchange with Mark Tadajewski, “starts from the position that marketing is wrong!!!”.  Of course, it doesn’t.  But if that’s the impression it gives to someone who attended a macromarketing conference (even if they clearly haven’t looked at the research done in critical marketing), it’s no surprise that it’s not welcome in the more established outlets.  Marketing is wrong – that’s a hard sell to a mainstream marketing journal. 

Another problem is that these approaches sometimes simply stand for methodlogical pluralism – which isn’t welcome in marketing.  It’s not that the things critical, marco or naturalistic researchers are researching aren’t important.  The problem is that they way the go about researchign these issues does not meet the demands of normal marketing science.

So, drawing on the social studies of finance initiative – which seems to have been able to establish itself as a legitimate area of research for theoretical progress and practical solutions to real world problems – this blog is going to push for a social studies of marketing.  The tagline says it all, I think.  The social studies of marketing looks at how marketing, as something people do, interferes with the invisble hand of the market, understood as a collection of other people.  It looks at marketing from two angles – the marketer and the market.  It seeks to understand marketing as a social process and how marketing affects social relations.