Special Session Summary Videography Versus Written Ethnography in Consumer Research

Russell W. Belk, University of Utah
[ to cite ]:
Russell W. Belk (2001) ,"Special Session Summary Videography Versus Written Ethnography in Consumer Research", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 28, eds. Mary C. Gilly and Joan Meyers-Levy, Valdosta, GA : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 44.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 28, 2001     Page 44



Russell W. Belk, University of Utah

The possibility of using broadcast quality video in conducting and presenting consumer research has grown rapidly in the past several years. Not only has such equipment become affordable for many consumer researchers, but the possibilities for distributing finished videos are expanding as well through media such as the Internet, video CDs, and DVDs. However, the fact that something can be done, does not necessarily mean that it should be done. This session examined the advantages and disadvantages of doing videography versus more traditional written ethnography. Not everyone has the skill to produce compelling visual research. However, as everyone who has done editorial reviewing can attest, not everyone has the skill to produce compelling written accounts either. Yet both are skills that can be learned and improved upon. And both are skills likely to be expected of the consumer ethnographer in the future.

Rob Kozinets and I first put our written ethnographies on the web for discussants and others to read. In addition to the abstracts below, see: http:www.kellogg.nwu.edu/faculty/kozinets/htm/research/BurningMan/ritual/htm and http:www.business.utah.edu/~mktrwb/zimelite.htm .

At the session the two 20-25 minute videos from these studies were screened. Eric Arnould and Deborah Heisley then critiqued and lead the discussions of two paired projects. Their critique raised largely pragmatic questions including whether the audience for videographies can develop critical visual literacy, whether a peer review process can be employed for videos, and whether university promotion and tenure committees will be able to evaluate such work. They noted that videography has the opportunity to reach a far broader audience than written papers. Possibilities of collaborative research, as with the Belk video, were acknowledged as a way to overcome the neo-colonialist videographer as "voice of God." Deb noted that the Society for Visual Anthropology is developing guidelines to help in tenure decisions. Deb’s comments follow.

Audience discussion demonstratively overcame passive "television audience" illiteracy, asking questions such as what were the biases of the videgraphers and what was not shown in the edited videos. High session attendance and spirited discussion suggest that the session stimulated critical awareness of emerging issues in videographic consumer research.



Robert V. Kozinets, Northwestern University

The Burning Man festival is an unfettered celebratory event held for one week every year in Nevada’s barren Black Rock Desert. Through videography and written ethnography, this research explores the consumption meanings, themes, and experiences presented at Burning Man’s live and virtual communities. The research presents the rules, performances and rituals that are enacted by participants in order to psychically distance consumption from the sphere of the commonplace, and to re-enchant it into a transformative experience. Theoretical implications draw from the postmodern thought and include enhancing consumer research understandings of gifts, art, resistance, primitivism and high technology.



Russell W. Belk, University of Utah

Since Zimbabwean independence in 1980, a small percentage of blacks have become wealthy. This video and paper explore their consumption patterns based on a collaboration with graduate students at Africa University. We find that the consumption patterns of these nouveaux riches largely emulate those of the former colonialists as well as consumption images of the West. One cost of these new consumption lifestyles is neglect of traditional African obligations to care for extended family. Issues are also raised concerning Zimbabwean culture, environmental sustainability, and Third World development.