A Dialectical Approach to Consumer Research: Beyond Positivism and Postmodernism

ABSTRACT - This paper examines some of the theoretical and methodological implications for consumer research of four principle 'dialectical’ concepts: (a) Materialism: which holds that the material environment shapes consumer behaviour; (b) Change: which maintains that consumer behaviour is in a process of continuous motion and transformation; (c) Totality: which suggests that consumption is interconnected with other forms of human behaviour; and (d) Contradiction: which views changes in consumer behaviour as arising from its internal contradictions. It is argued that these dialectical concepts offer a more useful framework for guiding consumer research than either the static or abstract concepts associated with the traditional positivist and emerging postmodernist approaches in the field respectively.



Citation:

David Marsden and Dale Littler (1999) ,"A Dialectical Approach to Consumer Research: Beyond Positivism and Postmodernism", in E - European Advances in Consumer Research Volume 4, eds. Bernard Dubois, Tina M. Lowrey, and L. J. Shrum, Marc Vanhuele, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 341-346.

European Advances in Consumer Research Volume 4, 1999      Pages 341-346

A DIALECTICAL APPROACH TO CONSUMER RESEARCH: BEYOND POSITIVISM AND POSTMODERNISM

David Marsden, Napier University, Scotland

Dale Littler, Manchester School of Management, England

ABSTRACT -

This paper examines some of the theoretical and methodological implications for consumer research of four principle 'dialectical’ concepts: (a) Materialism: which holds that the material environment shapes consumer behaviour; (b) Change: which maintains that consumer behaviour is in a process of continuous motion and transformation; (c) Totality: which suggests that consumption is interconnected with other forms of human behaviour; and (d) Contradiction: which views changes in consumer behaviour as arising from its internal contradictions. It is argued that these dialectical concepts offer a more useful framework for guiding consumer research than either the static or abstract concepts associated with the traditional positivist and emerging postmodernist approaches in the field respectively.

INTRODUCTION

A number of approaches have recently emerged in consumer research in response to the intellectual hegemony of the traditional "positivist" paradigm in the field. These include, for examle, interpretivism, critical theory, feminism, semiotics, ethnography, post-structuralism and ethical theory (for a review, see Gabriel and Lang, 1995). Among the most radical of these when contrasted with positivism, however, is undoubtedly "postmodernism." Although they are often referred to as the old and new approaches to consumer research (Buttle, 1994), both positivism and postmodernism can be seen as variations of two basic traditions in philosophy, namely materialism and idealism respectively (Novack, 1996).

Materialism assumes that there is an objective material world which exists independently of and predates human existence, discourse or consciousness and positivism represents a crude mechanistic version of this tradition with its primary focus on the environmental determinants of human existence (McLellan, 1995). Idealism, in contrast, maintains that the material world is totally dependent on, and has no reality apart from, human existence, discourse or consciousness and postmodernism represents a highly relativistic version of this tradition with its primary focus on the social construction of reality (Plant, 1997). The problem with both these philosophical versions, however, is that they offer a very one-sided and partial understanding of the complex interrelationship between the environment and human behaviour.

As we shall see, by viewing consumers as passively reacting to their external environments mechanical positivism ignores the proactive role of human ideas and actions. Conversely, by focusing solely on human ideas and discourse postmodern relativism ignores the environmental context of consumption. What is required, therefore, is an alternative understanding of the consumer\environment interface which transcends these two dualistic currents in consumer research (Heath, 1992). This paper attempts to offer one such approach based on 'dialectics,’ the genesis of which can be found in recent applications of critical theory to marketing (e.g., Alvesson, 1994; Hetrick and Lozada, 1994; Hirschman, 1993; Morgan, 1992; Murray and Ozanne, 1991). The rest of this paper draws out, in turn, some of the preliminary theoretical and methodological implications for consumer research of four principle dialectical concepts: Materialism, Change, Totality, and Contradiction. The emergent limitations of this overall approach are then discussed in the conclusion.

DIALECTICAL THEORY

Summarised in Figure 1, dialectics considers all forms of human behaviour, including consumption, as being: (a) shaped by the 'material’ environment; (b) in a process of perpetual motion and 'change;’ (c) 'interconnected’ with other forms of human behaviour; and (d) transformed according to its internal 'contradictions.’ As discussed below, the theoretical implications for consumer research of these four dialectical principles can be contrasted with those that underpin the traditional positivist and emerging postmodern approaches in the field.

MATERIALISM

Dialectics is based on the materialist tradition in philosophy which, as noted earlier, simply designates the fundamental primary conditions of everyday social existence in structuring human consciousness and behaviour: the physical natural and social-historical environments (Hetrick and Lozada, 1994). Human behaviour never arises in a void, but originates, forms, and develops within the boundaries of this 'material reality’ (Williams, 1997). Consumer behaviour, therefore, is essentially a social activity which has to be understood in the context of given historical realities and specific social conditions (Murray and Ozanne, 1991). This view can be contrasted with the emerging postmodern relativist approach to consumer research which maintains that (reversing materialism) the material envionment does not exist outside subjective experience and interpretation (Brown, 1995). It is not material existence that fashions consumption, but consumption that fashions material existence (Firat, 1992).

This is a very one-sided view, however, because it ignores the most elementary sociological evidence that shows how consumer behaviour is fragmented and channelled along racial, ethnic, gender and class lines (Robins, 1994). In this sense postmodernism is idealistic in that it fails to 'recognize any material limits on the way in which people can interpret and reinterpret their environment’ (Burkitt, 1991, p. 23). Bauman (1990, p. 210), for instance, notes that within capitalist society material wealth tends to take on a class character which in turn shapes material consumption because: 'The plain truth is that some people have more money than others, and thus more practical freedom of choice.’ And as Bocock (1993, p. 63) reminds us, the poor remain poor whatever their ideas, interpretations or dreams may be as: 'They cannot wish this feature of their lives away, in the sense that the structure of material inequalities disappears.’ Thus, postmodernism reflects a very conservative and abstract view of consumer behaviour because by isolating consciousness from material existence it masks the 'constraints of culture, the ties of history, and the material reality of the body’ (Thompson and Hirschman, 1995, p. 151). As Gottlieb (1987, p. xvi) also makes clear:

'Postmodernism seems to be clearly at odds with the fundamental facts of our dependence on and interdependence with non human nature, and clearly blind to the non-discursive limits to human action and institutions by the degradation of the environment. The endless discourse of interpretation and deconstruction will have an untimely end should we run out of breathable air and drinkable water’

Dialectics also differs from the mechanical positivist approach in consumer research in terms of its understanding of the interaction between human beings and the material environment.

FIGURE 1

THEORETICAL AND METHODOLOGICAL IMPLICATIONS OF A DIALECTIC APPROACH TO CONSUMER RESEARCH

CHANGE

The second principle of dialectics is that the material environment and human behaviour are in a constant process of reciprocal motion and change (Reese, 1998). Whilst the material environment is primary within dialectics, however, this does not mean that human behaviour is simply a reflection or photocopy of it (Miller, 1987). Humans are not viewed as mere spectators of their environment, but as doers and inquirers who react back upon it in ways that transform both it and themselves (Tolman, 1994). As Novack (1996, p. 78) points out, this process can be seen in the fact that: 'The characteristics and capacities of the human species have varied according to the changing circumstances of its historical development.’ The material environment, therefore, is simultaneously a determinate and mutable condition of human behaviour; new meanings, values, and practices are continually emerging and being created in response to current environmental boundaries which, in turn, reflect back on and alter these boundaries thus opening up new possibilities for action (Giddens, 1986).

This conception of change is very different to the mechanical positivist approach to consumer research and the deterministic models of consumer behaviour that have evolved from it (Morgan, 1992). Traditional models of consumer behaviour typically portray consumers as passive organisms simply responding to environmental forces that operate largely beyond their control (Hirschman, 1993). This is most evident, for example, in the behavioural model which reduces all consumer behaviour to an elementary environmental response (e.g., Foxall, 1995). Likewise, although the dominant cognitive model suggests that consumers actively construct information they receive frm the environment, this process is nevertheless a product of an 'innate, determined structureBthe cognitive system’ (Slife and Williams, 1995, p. 42). And as Phillips and Bradshaw (1994, p. 51) point out, the problem with all such deterministic theories is that they 'condemn the customer to a role of semi-passive reaction in the purchasing situation.’

Conversely, although postmodern idealism celebrates the notion of change and fluidity in consumer behaviour it maintains that there is no material basis or rational explanation to it (Brown, 1995). Moreover, since it is ideas and images that constitute social existence, postmodernism argues that people can change themselves and the world around them through the symbolic and expressive elements of consumption (Heath, 1992). In this sense consumption is considered a 'liberation, freedom from monotony, boredom, and the necessity to conform’ (Firat, 1992, p. 204). Once again, however, by ignoring the social and historical structures of consumption there is an improper 'romanticism’ of consumer freedom (Robins, 1994). As Madigan and Munro (1996, p. 56) argue, consumption is 'constrained and circumscribed by the dominant and conventional meanings attributed to different patterns of consumption and the material resources available to the consumer.’ Overall, therefore, both these approaches produce a very one sided view of consumer behaviour because as long as we consider things as being fragmented and randomly occurring as in postmodern relativism, or static and lifeless as in mechanical positivism, the complexities of change processes remain unknown (Sutton and Staw, 1995). We find certain qualities that are partly common to, partly diverse from, and even unrelated to each other; but the position is quite different when we consider consumer behaviour not only in its motion and change, but also in its unity.

TOTALITY

A third distinguishing feature of dialectics is its insistence that the seemingly separate elements of which the world is composed are in fact related to one anotherBevery phenomena only derives it reality from its relation to other phenomena (Hetrick and Lozada, 1994). That is, there is an ongoing complex interaction between external material conditions, physical and psychological needs, human language, personal thoughts and emotions (Tolman, 1994). Such a view abolishes the antitheses of mechanical positivism and postmodern idealism, of a world in stasis or chaos whose components interact in either fixed or random ways, as Willmott (1989, p. 340) explains:

'The critical and practical significance of dialectics is that it challenges the view that the social world comprises of an assemblage of clearly bounded, objective entities which exist independently of each other and whose interrelations can be grasped in these dualistic terms’

Consumer behaviour, therefore, has to be understood in relation to other basic forms of activity in which people engage, namely economic, political, religious, and so on. For example, Reese (1998, p. 5) argues that: 'Poverty and crime, unemployment and suicide, art and business, language and history, engineering and sociology cannot be understood in isolation, but only as part of a totality.’ More specifically, Williams (1997, p. 185) contends that we can only understand the social status of advertising, for example, with any adequacy 'if we can develop a kind of total analysis in which the economic, social and cultural factors are visibly related.’ And Hetrick and Lozada (1994, p. 551) maintain that understanding the interrelationship between consumption and production is crucial in approaching consumer research because whilst mass production determines the object, mode, and manner of consumption, 'mass consumption is required to absorb the vast outputs achieved by mass production.’ Thus, Madigan and Munro (1996,p. 42) argue that the 'focus on fashion, style and symbols [of consumption], without reference to the production process, creates a false image of classlessness.’

Dialectics not only teaches us to look at things in their totality, however, but also to see totalities as possessing qualities that are not merely the sum of their constituent parts (Novack, 1996). This is because dialectical explanations do not abstract properties of parts in isolation from their associations in wholes, but rather it views the properties of parts and wholes as codetermining each other (Rose et al., 1990). Cause and effect relationships, for instance, are inseparable parts of the whole; each interpenetrate one another and constantly change places so that what is now or here an effect becomes there and then a cause (Gottlieb, 1987). This notion of totality can be contrasted with the kind of explanations that characterise both mechanical positivism and postmodern relativism. In terms of postmodernism, because it views every single thing or event in the world as being unrelated and independent of each other it fails to see the way in which the social takes precedence over the individual, the material over the subjective, and the whole over the part (Robins, 1994). The self is set adrift, so to speak, in a sea of different, irreconcilable and non-reducible language games and interpretations whilst the broader historical-material influences on consumption are ignored (Heath, 1992).

On the other hand, mechanical positivism views consumer behaviour phenomena in isolation from the material world, detached from the general context of things (Arndt, 1985). It considers consumer behaviour to be purely and simply the sum of its component parts; whilst the parts of the whole are said to possess fewer properties than the whole (Alvesson, 1994). This can be seen in the habit of splitting consumer 'attitudes’ into cognitive, affective and conative parts (Buttle, 1994). By artificially isolating one or another of these elements at any one time, their interconnections have been oversimplified and the qualitative nature of their sum lost. Of course, splitting up consumer behaviour phenomena into its individual parts, the grouping of these parts into different classes, and these classes into various cause and effect processes did lead to the early developments in marketing knowledge. However, this kind of reasoning has also left as a great legacy the habit of observing consumer processes in their isolation, detached from the whole vast interconnection of things, thus producing a specific narrow-mindedness. We are consequently left with a less than integrated body of theoretical and empirical knowledge; mere description, not explanation (Wells, 1993). According to Sutton and Staw (1995, p. 375), however, the advancement of social science disciplines such as consumer research is dependent on the development of holistic theories of human behaviour that not only describe what happens, but also how and why they happen:

'A theory must explain why variables or constructs come about or why they are connected....Listing the demographic characteristics of people associated with a given behavior is not theory. Dividing the world into personality versus situational determinants does not, by itself, constitute a theory of behavior’

Nevertheless, totality alone is not in itself sufficient to understand the dynamics of consumer behaviour because as we shall see next the dialectic not only combines a critique of isolated and abstract categories, but also of the view tat society is characterised by harmonious and integrative social relations that evolve and change through continuous and gradual reforms and modifications.

CONTRADICTION

From a dialectical perspective change is a product of the internal contradictions that exist within any totality (Gottlieb, 1987). This notion starts with two assumptions, first, that all totalities are composed of a dynamic set of forces or poles and that it is the struggle between these opposites which constantly upsets the temporary equilibrium, stability and unity of the totality. And second, that change follows a leap-like, rather than straight line or circular, process that unfolds in a spiral with occasional qualitative breaks in continuity (Reese, 1998). That is to say, gradual change is going on all the time, most of it repetitive, but from time to time slow, accumulative changes lead to more fundamental changes which eventually culminate in a watershed. These changes are not just changes in quantity or degree, however, but qualitative changes of a kind (Murray and Ozanne, 1991). It is a tanscendence rather than a mere negation of the previous status quo because there is an element of continuity and development as well as destruction within the new framework and its set of contradictions (Plant, 1997).

The focus on the contradictions within totalities as the engine of change can be contrasted with mechanical positivism and its assumption of 'homeostasis,’ the view that changes occur primarily or exclusively to reduce tensions and return to an existing state of social consensus and equilibrium (Slife and Williams, 1995). Thus, rather than society being held together by a harmonious consensus that is stabilised through gradual reforms dialectics views changes in society as arising from the social contradictions and conflicts of interests that exist within it (Giddens, 1986; Morgan, 1992). This also means that consumer behaviour is never free from conflict and friction, and that over time these conflicts will gradually grow and harden to the point at which decisive changes occur (Gabriel and Lang, 1995). And as noted earlier, within class societies most of the changes in consumer behaviour stem from the basic socio-economic contradictions: the conflicts between profit maximisation and human need, over-production and under-consumption, technological progress and human control, monopoly capital and individual choice, and industrial expansion and environmental degradation (Hetrick and Lozada, 1994). For instance, Bauman (1990, p. 201) notes some of the contradictions between technological progress and human control:

'The use of technology constrains our freedom, they make certain choices less profitable or downright impossible. They increase the hold of whoever has access to them over our freedom of movement. In extreme cases, they may even make us helpless victims of someone else’s arbitrary decisions. Yet much technology is meant for our personal use; it promises to enhance, not to limit our range of choices, to make us more free, more in control of our lives. In such cases while embracing new technology we also become dependent on it, this is much less straight forward’

Such contradictions manifest themselves in arguments, organised disagreements and struggles between the components of the whole and are resolved on the basis of the practical experience and the creative endeavours of people, through criticism and planned action. In terms of the resolution of the contradiction between industrial expansion and environmental degradation, for instance, Alvesson and Willmott (1996, p. 122) note that: 'In countering the fetish of consumerism it is relevant to recall the existence of groups (e.g. environmentalists) that more or less explicitly question the rationality of continuously increasing consumption.’ Hirschman_1993) critical analysis of the correspondence between mechanical positivism and masculine ideology in consumer research provides a good illustration of how socio-economic contradictions can also be resolved through the development of new categories of thought and practice that recognise and include 'previously muted voices and invisible constituencies, especially those of groups currently excluded from achieving social and economic equality’ (p. 537). And the establishment of pressure groups against business practices such as animal testing, rain forest destruction, child labour, and industrial pollution are further examples of how basic socio-economic contradictions are played out in consumption (for a review, see Gabriel and Lang, 1995). This dialectical view of change also differs from postmodern relativism which, whilst recognising the fragmentations and discontinuities in social life, actually celebrate and reinforce them rather than trying to challenge and transform them. That is, by inducing a scepticism and passivity towards any rational analysis or transformation of real social contradictions postmodern relativism effectively favours a conservative outlook which masks real social forces and ultimately bolsters the status quo as Plant (1997, p. 23) explains:

'In this view there is and can be no philosophical metanarrative which will provide an interpretation of all the forms of human experience and locate them in their appropriate place in the development of human powers. In this sense, the approach of postmodern thinkers who emphasize, and indeed celebrate, the fragmentation of human life and thought and profoundly anti-dialectic’

Now that the conceptual implications of the four principle dialectical concepts for consumer research have been outlined, the next section considers some of their methodological implications.

DIALECTICAL METHOD

The development of consumer behaviour theory, dialectically speaking, entails a negative critical analysis of old assumptions and theories on the one hand and, at crucial points and times, their transformation into new conceptual frameworks of understanding on the other. The full transcendence of new over old knowledge not only necessitates a critique at the conceptual level, however, but also a positive, practical plan of action. This is because knowledge generation from a dialectical perspective is not just based either on all-embracing theorising (i.e., postmodernism) or abstract empiricism (i.e., positivism), but on the recognition of the importance of both the theoretical generalisations in any framework and the necessary empirical basis on which any theoretical generalisations must stand. And crucially, the test of dialectical knowledge is how useful it is in practice, that is, in transforming both the world and ourselves. Thus, knowledge is made and exists only in and through practice, i.e., those forms of knowledge that interface the objective environment and human subjectivity and agency (political, technological, sociological). From a dialectical perspective, therefore, knowledge cannot be proved right or wrong by either an appeal to objective facts or reduced simply to the product of subjective interpretation.

In contrast, mechanical positivism takes an objective account of knowledge in which there is an assumed correspondence between truth and observed realityBfacts about consumer behaviour can be discovered through the application of 'objective’ scientific methods (i.e., quantitative) like those employed in the natural sciences (e.g., Foxall, 1995). Knowledge is not based on action and practice, therefore, but on passive observation (Giddens, 1986). Postmodern relativism, on the other hand, replaces the search for truth with the 'deconstruction’of different truth claims by exposing their 'inconsistencies, contradictions, unrecognised assumptions and implicit conceptual hierarchies’ (Brown, 1995, p. 303). Since all our knowledge about the world has no material or objective basis outside subjectivity, therefore, from this perspective any conceptual perspective is considered as good as any other (Firat et al., 1994). As summarised in Figure 1, however, dialectics calls for a many-sided investigation of consumer behaviour that transcends the objective\subjective dualism of positivism and postmodernism.

Materialism: it is the comprehension of the regularities and tendencies in the formation and development of the specific historical conditions of the natural and social environment that provides the foundation of a material analysis of consumer behaviour (Williams, 1997). This means that consumer behaviour has to be understood, at least in part, in relation to peoples’ social existence and real-world consumption experiences (Wells, 1993). In particular, dialectical materialism requires a commitment directly and openly to the standpoint of socially differentiated groups, particularly those oppressed and marginalised in society on the grounds of class, gender, race, ethnicity, and so on (Hirschman, 1993). As a result, this necessitates a methodological commitment to concrete socio-historiographic research that combines both the subjective (human behaviour) and in the first instance particularly the objective (material environment) dimensions of consumption. In terms of the subjective dimension, for example, Alvesson and Willmott (1996, p. 120) call for more interpretive research approaches because: 'These less objectivist (e.g., ethnographic) methods generate forms of knowledge that...take more account of the practical reasoning of consumers as they decide which products and services they will buy.’ Likewise, Novack (1996) calls for the immersion within different social groups so that their existence becomes familiar and known. And in terms of the objective dimension of analysis, Murray and Ozanne (1991) argue that such subjective analyses should always arise from an objective material analysis and return to it. To meet this end, they suggest an 'historical-empirical’ approach which entails identifying 'the development of any relevant social structures and processes that have determined or constrained intersubjective understandings’ (p. 137).

Change: since consumers do not simply react to the environment, researchers need to take into account how consumers act back upon and in doing so recreate the environment (Hetrick and Lozada, 1994). By emphasising the pro- rather than re-active view of human behaviour, therefore, the aim of dialectics is to explore the way in which consumers establish new institutions, new categories of understanding, practices and actions as Wells (1993, p. 500) points out: 'Consumer behavior starts with antecedents of decisions and ends with ecological effects.’ This requires more dynamic and longitudinal methods of inquiry that can identify the changing features and patterns of consumer experience over time that traditional snap-shot methods miss. To meet this end, interpretive approaches to consumer research are particularly required. Giddens (1986, p. 20), for example, recommends an ethnographic approach 'because it allows us to appreciate the diversity of modes of human existence which have been followed on this earth.’ And from this we could begin to understand the 'dazzling’ variety of human societies and cultures so that we can become conscious of alternative futures that are in their formation or potentially open to us.

Totality: consumption has to be analysed from the standpoint of its mutual connection with everyday life activities in which people engage. Social life reveals highly diverse types of connections and relations, between economic, political and cultural processes. The aim of such holistic interpretations, therefore, is to try and re-establish the links between these elements, to show their internal connections, to see consumption as a totality, a unity. It is in this sense that Rose et al., (1990) call for an 'epistemological plurality of explanation’Bdifferent explanations of totalities are not mutually exclusive, incompatible, or even equally validBbut are complementary. That is, human behaviour is amenable to different methods of analysis at different levels of abstraction:

'All human phenomena are simultaneously social and biological, just as they are simultaneously chemical and physical. Holistic and reductionistic accounts of phenomena are not 'causes’ of those phenomena but merely 'descriptions’ of them at particular levels in particular scientific languages. The language to be used at any time is contingent on the purposes of description’ (ibid., p. 282)

This type of pluralistic analysis requires an interdisciplinary approach in order to identify the regularities, tendencies, and patterns in the nature and development of consumer behaviour. According to Wells (1993, p. 494), this can be achieved by reaching out to other fields of inquiry whose concepts, data and problem-solving strategies can 'expand horizons, heighten creativity, and increase validity in consumer research.’ Of course it is impossible to take into account all the complex and diverse forms of interconnections, but such efforts will safeguard against stagnation, abstraction and one-sided forms of analysis that presently characterise the field.

Contradiction: in this respect dialectics opens up an analytical space for both an appreciation of the intersubjective character of consumer behaviour and, relatedly, a grasp of its structure as a medium and outcome of the contradictions between political, economic and ideological forces. The aim here, therefore, is to probe and reveal the complexities and contradictions of consumer behaviour, especially in relation to those socially marginalised groups in society. According to Morgan (1992, p. 148), this means that interpretive research must be placed in the context of understanding how particular ways of seeing represent certain material power and class interests: 'In this view it is not sufficient to accept the meanings that people hold; it is also necessary to question why they hold them and to see that mass consumption as a way of life is open to critical analysis.’ To meet this end, McLellan (1995) suggests using discourse analysis and semiotics which, taking as their subject the language of everyday life such as newspapers and magazines, attempt to analyse the patterns and structures within both written and spoken texts in order to show how they reflect relations of power. Hirschman’s (1993) study into the dominance of masculine ideology in consumer research journals, for example, is an example of such an approach.

However, dialectics also entails an analysis of human agency, the way that peole interpret, accommodate and transform social contradictions. In this sense, there is a positive, emancipatory element embodied within dialectics because it suggests that there is not a single phenomena or contradiction which, under certain conditions, cannot be transformed into its opposite (Novack, 1996). To elucidate such processes, Williams (1997) suggests an ethnographic analysis of individual and group solutions and strategies to social contradictions in the form of 'emergent and oppositional cultures’ of consumption to those that dominate society. And again, Alvesson and Willmott (1996) argue that interpretive studies can also be used to examine the consumer boycotts against companies deemed to be operating unethically (e.g., polluting the environment). Now that the theoretical and methodological implications for consumer research of dialectics have been outlined, the final section summarises some of the limitations of this approach.

CONCLUSION

This paper has explored some of the theoretical and methodological implications of four dialectical concepts for consumer research. It has been argued that they offer a more useful framework for understanding the relationship between consumer behaviour and the marketing environment than the simple reductionistic arguments or abstract generalisations associated with the traditional positivist and emerging postmodernist approaches in the field respectively. However, there are a number of initial barriers to developing a dialectical approach to consumer research. First, dialectics entails a rather all-encompassing analytical framework that necessitates a consideration and critical understanding of a wide number of social issues and interdisciplinary (i.e., sociological) concepts. The trouble here is that such issues and concepts have rarely been considered or employed in any systematic fashion within the field. Second, dialectics involves a multi-method research strategy in order to capture the dynamic interactions between consumer agency and environmental determinants. Again, however, a pluralistic methodological approach has yet to be fully developed in consumer research, particularly regarding the use and evaluation of qualitative methods. And third, the critical dimension of dialectics could be a barrier to the dissemination of its research findings. This is because dialectics promotes, on the one hand, a very critical analysis of the technicist and instrumental mind set that characterises much of the consumer research field; and on the other, radical programmes of action for transcending market contradictions. Nevertheless, this paper offers a first step in evaluating the potential benefits of dialectics as a theoretical and methodological framework for guiding consumer research; the next step is to move from the conceptual side of things to providing concrete empirical studies.

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Authors

David Marsden, Napier University, Scotland
Dale Littler, Manchester School of Management, England



Volume

E - European Advances in Consumer Research Volume 4 | 1999



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Featured papers

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The Anchoring Effects of Temperature Cues on Price Valuations

Michael Barbera, Barbera Solutions
Gavin Northey, University of Auckland, New Zealand
Felix Septianto, University of Auckland, New Zealand
Vicki Andonopoulos, University of New South Wales
Catherine Frethey-Bentham, University of Auckland, New Zealand

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The psychological impact of annuities: Can pension payout choice influence health behavior?

Anja Schanbacher, London Business School, UK
David Faro, London Business School, UK
Simona Botti, London Business School, UK
Shlomo Benartzi, University of California Los Angeles, USA

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The Best of Both Worlds: Androgyny in Consumer Choice

Niusha Jones, University of North Texas
Blair Kidwell, University of North Texas

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