Discussion Paper: Sociological Perspectives

Thomas S. Robertson, University of Pennsylvania
[ to cite ]:
Thomas S. Robertson (1979) ,"Discussion Paper: Sociological Perspectives", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 06, eds. William L. Wilkie, Ann Abor, MI : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 396-397.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 6, 1979      Pages 396-397


Thomas S. Robertson, University of Pennsylvania


These papers present an opportunity to discuss the development of theoretical perspectives within the marketing field. Each paper has taken a somewhat different approach to extending consumer behavior knowledge and the relative merits of each approach will be discussed.


The novelty of this paper by Smith, Olshavsky, and Smith is the borrowing of diffusion theory and applying it to a marketing decision context involving the design of anti-smoking campaigns. The logic of the paper is persuasive and the only concern is a desire for the authors to go further in the following areas:

- Future research would be enriched if the authors could offer specific hypotheses for testing based on the diffusion literature and their knowledge of the smoking literature.

- It would be of further value if they could suggest particular research designs for testing the ideas which they offer.

This paper is based theoretically on an applied problem, as is much theory generation in marketing. What is somewhat different, however, is the direct application of a particular theoretical framework to this applied problem. This is a very "efficient" process for advancing theory development in consumer behavior, but does raise a number of questions, such as:

- Why was this particular theory selected?

- Does this theory adequately represent the complexity of behavior -- is it complete in itself?

- Are multiple theories needed to explain the complexity of the behavior?

- Is this the "best" possible theory for this problem?

Justification and rationale in response to these questions would be helpful for the reader.


This paper by DeBell and Dardis takes as its central concern the applied problem of extending product life. The authors then address this problem based on survey research concerning consumer purchase and disposal decisions for appliances.

The intriguing part of this paper, in my opinion, is the data on disposal decision-making. The research literature in consumer behavior is so biased toward acquisition and totally ignores the disposal decision process (Jacoby, 1978).

As a pilot study this paper provides data of value to future research and marketing strategy formulation. In particular, however, let me address some comments which may advance further research on this topic.

1. Are there different disposal decision processes by market segment? The present small-scale study is limited to a somewhat older and above average education and income sample. Ferber (1977) has recently commented on the dangers of convenience samples.

2. What theoretical perspectives or concepts might explain the results that the present study obtains?

3. Can this type of research be tied more closely to the burgeoning research which takes an information-processing view to acquisition behavior?

4. Can a situation-specific model of disposal behavior be derived building on the work of Belk (1975), which might help explain differences in behavior by product category.

5. Can future research probe more deeply into the dynamics of family decision-making in disposal decisions?


The objective of this study by Bearden, Gustafson and Mason is to test a theoretical explanation of life satisfaction among elderly consumers. As such, the paper succeeds very well. The theory suggested is cohesive and fairly robust and communication with the reader is very efficient since the model is well specified.

The question could be raised as to why this particular model was selected for testing; yet no particular justification is offered. The authors, however, do alert the reader that they are testing one framework and not developing a complete explanation of elderly life satisfaction. There are also some measurement questions which could be addressed in terms of the validity and reliability of the scales, despite their apparent logic.


These papers illustrate different approaches to theoretical development including: (1) borrowing theory and applying it to a new problem; (2) starting with the problem and conceptualizing research which will appropriately bring empirical data to bear on that problem; and (3) testing a particular conceptual model appropriate to a research issue.

Given the current state of affairs in consumer behavior theory development, we need to pursue these approaches simultaneously. However, much of the research to date fails to build toward cohesive theory. As Robertson and Ward observed in 1973, "Since many different concepts from diverse behavioral science areas have been applied separately to marketing problems, findings are disjointed and lack consistency and integration in formal, predictive theories and models" (p. 14). Jacoby (1978) has also questioned the value of much consumer behavior research due to the lack of theory and the lack of appropriate methodology and analysis.

Thus, what the consumer behavior field badly needs is integration of concepts and the development of cohesive models appropriate to particular problems. In this sense, the paper by Bearden, Gustafson and Mason is particularly refreshing. It is unlikely that we can continue to borrow without restraints from the behavioral sciences in general and it is grossly inefficient to conduct idiosyncratic research free of theoretical constructs. Perhaps some progress is being made in building more cohesive conceptual foundations.


Russell W. Belk, "Situational Variables and Consumer Behavior,'' Journal of Consumer Research, 2 (December 1975), 157-164.

Robert Ferber, "Research by Convenience," Journal of Consumer Research, 4 (June 1977), 57-58.

Jacob Jacoby, "Consumer Research: A State of the Art Review," Journal of Marketing, 42 (April 1978), 87-96.

Thomas S. Robertson and Scott Ward, "Consumer Behavior Research: Promise and Prospects," in Consumer Behavior: Theoretical Sources, eds. Scott Ward and Thomas S. Robertson. Englewood Cliffs, NJ.: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1973.