Tim Hill and Robin Canniford

Ethnographies in marketing and consumer research studies once focused on the localised and esoteric worlds of ‘consumer oddballs’ (Arnould and Thompson 2007). From leather-clad Harley riders (Schouten and McAlexander 1995) to modern mountain men (Belk and Costa 1998), to ‘burners’ (Kozinets 2002) and ecstasy-dropping ravers (Goulding et al. 2009), consumer researchers have used single-site fieldwork to detail how shared interests and market resources enable consumers to carve our localised social orders.

Notwithstanding the contributions made in these contexts, questions have been raised over whether single-sited methodologies remain appropriate to investigate a rapidly changing ‘world system’ (Appardurai 1990; Marcus 1995; Burawoy et al. 2000). This world system was envisaged as increasingly complex, interconnected, global in character, and moulded by ‘the penetrating impersonal systems of political economy’ (Marcus and Fischer, 1986: 95). As single-sited methodologies could potentially miss how local sites are connected to such processes, multi-sited ethnography was seen as an attempt to adapt consumer research to these changing conditions (Bettany & Daly 2007). Accordingly, descriptions of geographically bounded consumer cultures have been augmented by multi-sited investigations that foreground seamless movements of people, ideas and objects, transnational flows, and the influence of globalized political and economic orthodoxies (Canniford 2005; Cayla and Eckhardt 2008; Kjeldgaard et al. 2006; Penaloza 1994; Wilk 1995, 2006).

Nevertheless, as we enter the early decades of a new century, the interconnected world system these multi-sited ethnographies sought to reveal has been called into question. Ironically, the loudest denouncements of contemporary connectivity and flows come from the political elites and economic institutions that once championed the creation of financial, technical and supply infrastructures that fed the connectivity of consumer culture. For it appears the unintended consequences of a world marked by increasing complexity and interconnection are new forms of uncertainty (Humphreys and Thompson 2014). As the theme of the 12th International Ethnography Symposium identifies, new forms of uncertainty present a necessity to investigate and reflect on the different ways in which unease, distrust and anxiety manifest in consumers’ lives and how the varied practices of marketing exasperate, reproduce and manage this uncertainty (Giesler and Veresiu 2014). Topics papers might look to address - by no means exhaustive - are as follows:

  • How do novel technological or discursive consumption resources emerge and operate in order to render one’s uncertain world controllable? (Bode and Brogard Krisensen 2016; Fitchett and Lim 2008)
  • What is the relationship between groups categorised as ‘vulnerable consumers’ (Kerrigan et al. 2007; Hamilton et al. 2014; Piacentini and Hamilton 2013; Saatcioglu and Ozanne 2013) and transformations in the ‘world system’?
  • What role does the ‘access economy’ (Eckhardt and Bardhi 2016) and increased indebtedness (Penaloza and Barnhart 2011) play in the creation and reproduction of uncertainties?
  • What are the affective and emotional bodily states produced through increasing uncertainty and the different ways in which brands work to provide individualised solutions to these structural problems? (Holt 2012; Giesler and Veresiu 2014 ; Thompson and Schor 2014)
  • How are marketing techniques - whether these are practices of segmentation and categorisation, or cultural branding (Holt, 2004; Smith and Speed 2011) - implicated in an increasingly populist and unpredictable political arena?
  • How are consumer social movements advancing images of a better and new futures (Kozinets and Handelman 2004), whether to achieve environmental sustainability (Chatzidakis et al. 2012; McDonagh 1998) or to secure worthwhile, secure and valuable employment?
  • To what extent is marketing and branding benefitting from a global politics that no longer looks to provide utopian images of our collective future? (Bajde 2013)
  • What is the relationship between changing political economic structures, mental health issues (Hill 2002; Lindridge et al. 2015), and substance and drug abuse (Hackley et al. 2012; Griffin et al. 2009)?
  • To what extent are commercial ethnographies (Arnould and Cayla 2015; Thompson 2011) become more attractive as uncertainties over the application and value of ‘big data’ grow?

Please submit a 500 word abstract or proposal by Tuesday 28th February 2017.

Stream organisers:

Tim Hill, University of Bath,

Robin Canniford, University of Melbourne,

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University of Bath

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