Beyond the Odyssey: Interpretations of Ethnographic Writing in Consumer Behavior


Annamma Joy (1991) ,"Beyond the Odyssey: Interpretations of Ethnographic Writing in Consumer Behavior", in SV - Highways and Buyways: Naturalistic Research from the Consumer Behavior Odyssey, eds. Russell Belk, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 216-233.

Highways and Buyways: Naturalistic Research from the Consumer Behavior Odyssey, 1991     Pages 216-233


Annamma Joy

[The author wishes to thank John Sherry, Melanie Wallendorf, Gary Johns, V. Baba, and Russ Belk for answering questions, and providing valuable insights to improve the manuscript.]


The literature on the use of naturalistic inquiry in consumer behavior focuses primarily on the researcher and the research process, although the ethnographic account and the reader are often implied. The focus of this paper is on the crafting of such interpretive accounts - realist, confessional, impressionist and jointly constructed. It is argued that ethnographic accounts are not only interpretations of a culture but texts that raise theoretical, philosophical, and epistemological issues. Ethnographies question some of the underlying principles of what is known in the field of consumer behavior and our ways of knowing. By using alternate frameworks and methodologies, they create the "other" in order to understand the "self" In consumer behavior, this has led to the critical evaluation of core concepts such as consumer loyalty and consumer involvement. Selected works in consumer behavior are examined insofar as they deal with issues of interpretation.

The last few years have witnessed both ideological and intellectual ferment in consumer behavior over what constitutes knowledge and how it is generated, interpreted, and generalized across situations (Anderson 1983; Belk, Sherry & Wallendorf 1988; Belk, Wallendorf & Sherry 1989: Hirschman 1986; Holbrook, 1987a, Holbrook, Bell & Grayson 1989; Hudson & Ozanne 1988; McCracken 1988; Mick 1986; Sherry 1987a, 1988; Stem 1990). To date, there are very few publications in the Journal of Consumer Research that use naturalistic inquiry [Belk, Sherry and Wallendorf (1988) define naturalistic inquiry as a set of methods that are used in a natural occurring context, which are typically qualitative and represent a systematic set of procedures for assessing the credibility of the findings.] (although Sherry & Camargo 1987 predates the Odyssey project), and doubts remain in some scholars' minds as to the usefulness of such alternate paradigms and research techniques in the field of consumer behavior. There is some unease about such deconstruction processes [Deconstruction is an approach to literary interpretation which suggests that texts can generate a variety of meanings over and above what is intended. Further, the meaning of a text is generated by what it says as well as what it does (Stern 1990). ] where knowledge creation and dissemination become the focus of analysis (Anderson 1986; Holbrook 1989).

Since the consumer behavior Odyssey Project (Kassarjian 1987), there has been a concerted effort to use alternate methodologies to understand consumption patterns, processes, and meanings (Amould 1989; Belk, Sherry & Wallendorf 1988; Belk, Wallendorf & Sherry 1989; Hirschman 1989; Sherry & McGrath 1989). Without exception, all these accounts have questioned some of the underlying premises of what is known in the field of consumer behavior and our ways of knowing. They have used the ethnographic mode to rethink some key concepts and revise many of our long-held assumptions. This process of questioning our established ways of thinking is referred to in anthropology as "defamiliarization" [Defamiliarization is a term used by anthropologists to critique our own culture, by examining the form and content of ethnographies written about cultures other than our own (Marcus & Fischer 1986:138). The authors describe two ways of doing so -through cross-cultural juxtaposition and through epistemological critique. The former makes use of data from other cultural contexts to probe and describe cultural reality at home. Defamiliarization by epistmological critique is more abstract and refers to the process by which knowledge generated on the periphery of a Eurocentric world can be brought back to examine the assumptions at the centre. This helps us to realize the culturally constructed and arbitrary nature of other societies as well as our own.] (Marcus & Fischer 1986:138). In consumer behavior, for instance, Belk. Wallendorf & Sherry (1989) do this in their study of the sacred aspects of consumption. They state that revelatory incidents directly experienced by the researchers caused them to reevaluate some of the field's fundamental constructs for understanding marketplace and consumer behavior. They provide three examples of such revelatory vignettes and explain that (1989:2).

Each of these vignettes reflects a dimension of a buyer and seller world previously undescribed in consumer research. Each is an example of the ritual substratum of consumer behavior. These observations make it apparent that consumption involves more than the means by which people meet their everyday needs. Consumption can become a vehicle for transcendant experience; that is, consumer behavior exhibits certain aspects of the sacred.

The focus of this paper is on the crafting of such interpretive accounts whether they are narratives of one's own culture or of cultures other than one's own. Further, this paper incorporates some of the insights provided by feminist discourse that poses new challenges to the writing of ethnographies at home and abroad. Since the consumer behavior odyssey project was confined geographically to the U.S. the ethnographic narratives linked to this project primarily consider issues relating to the "self'and "other" in the context of one's own culture. Consequently gender concerns or cross-cultural issues are only peripherally raised. To fill this gap, I examine at some length Arnould's (1989) study of consumption in Zinder, Niger Republic, (cross -cultural) as well as Sherry & McGrath's (1989) comparative ethnography of two gift stores (Feminist discourse). In addition, I also make references to a few other ethnographies that help in elucidating key issues raised in this account.

While ethnographic writing is still in its infancy in consumer research, researchers, some of whom have training in fields with long histories of ethnography and case studies, have veered rapidly toward such rich documentation processes (Wallendorf & Belk 1989). It is my contention that the creation and production of the text is the logical outcome of the hermeneutic process [Hermeneutics refers to the theory of interpretation that is based on a subjective understanding and significance of human actions, utterances, products, and institutions. It is associated with philosophical attempts to investigate the human condition and the nature of human existence.] and should be given importance not only because it plays a major role in the dissemination of knowledge but because it raises ethical, political, and epistemological issues. One of the central concerns of this paper is to argue that by not reflecting on the text-writing process or on the reading of the text, we objectify the text. This self-reflexivity is central to the claims made by the naturalistic mode of inquiry (Belk 1988, 1989). Thus the four components - the researcher, the research process, the reader, and the text - are inextricably entwined, and no one factor can be considered without the other. However, this form of demystification need not be confined to accounts using a naturalistic mode of inquiry but must be applied to texts written in a positivist mode as well.

There is a danger, however, in focusing on the textualization process. [Textualization is a term used by Ricouer (1973) to refer to the process by which unwritten behavior, beliefs, and practices become coded and classified as data, which then forms the basis for interpretation. It is embodied in field notes kept by researchers. It is thus at least once removed from the immediate situation in which the ethnographer participates.] postmodemist [Post Modernism is a feature associated with advanced capitalist societies and is a controversial term referring to experimental tendencies in the arts, social sciences, and architecture since the 40's. It is confusing as a term, since it suggests that modernism is over; yet what are characterized as sucessor movements are dependent on what has gone before (Mascia-Lees et a] 1989). The post-modern condition is devoid of authority, unity. continuity, purpose, and commitment. In its place, there is rupture, fragmentation, and crisis (Marcus & Fischer 1986).] accounts suggest that writing is autonomous and that we can talk about the "other" without situating the discourse in a political context (Polier & Roseberry 1989). This approach contains an interesting blindspot - it refuses to be self-reflexive, even though it elevates the process of self-reflexivity [Self-Reflexivity is a term commonly used by anthropologists to refer to the consideration of the "self' in the interpretive process. It arises out of the concerns with ways of knowing as presented in positivist philosophy and language. The "self"in such discourse, although recognized, is minimal and unintrusive. Hermeneutics challenges this notion of the neutral or objective self and consciously draws it into the research process such that knowing is contingent on the knower. The self thus becomes a vehicle of meaning transfer.] (Rabinow 1986:250). The very same argument is applicable to this paper as well. While I have had the opportunity to receive feedback from some of the consumer researchers whose works I have selected 1, as the author, have the final say. The attempt at using a dialogic mode [The dialogical mode is used in ethnographic accounts that are jointly constructed. It provides cultural materials that are elicited in the interaction between informant and researcher and depends on the representation of the actual discourse of fieldwork (Marcus & Cushman 1982:43).] remains partial because of the authorial voice I use.

To write a piece such as this at a critical time in the history of consumer behavior is also to highlight the political processes - at both a macro and a micro level. The macro level has already been alluded to in terms of discussing paradigm diversity arising out of dissatisfaction with existing theories and explanations (Anderson 1986; Firat, Dholakia and Bagozzi 1987; Holbrook 1989). At the micro level, power relations involve the university community and the publication process that includes informant readings prior to publication, editorial control, and the review process (Sherry 1988). Any discussion of interpretive textualization cannot be understood out of the social contexts of knowledge production (Crick 1982; Flacks & Turkel 1978).

In what is to follow, I explore, through a close reading of the ways in which each author has constructed the text, the ways that selected authors using the ethnographic mode arrive at their conclusions. It is subjective in that it is one reader's interpretation of the texts. Yet any interpretation is also a socially located activity and involves selecting the elements to be included, translating these elements into standard parts, and then arranging them into a text (Becker 1986). Such a process does not occur in a vacuum but follows from the conventions of a collective tradition - in this case, an anthropological /feminist approach. While the ethnographic mode is alive and well in sociology, and eminently applicable to consumer behavior, this paper focuses primarily on anthropological texts.


An ethnography is a written account that arises out of fieldwork rather than from the description of the fieldwork [Fieldwork refers to the systematic, firsthand participant observation and in-depth interviews that are conducted by researchers in the field. Prolonged contact and linguistic competence are generally considered necessary to the creation of an ethnographic account. Meld notes and a field journal are systematically kept as tools for self-reflection, observation, and interpretation. They are the preliminary steps to the interpretive process.] experience itself (Marcus & Fischer 1986). It is the systematic description of a culture, based on first-hand observation. There are two facets to this - the actual observation and collection of data; and the transformation of such knowledge into the text. The written account of fieldwork in some form in the text is what distinguishes an ethnographic account from all others.

The writing of the ethnographic text has moral and ethical implications, since writing about other cultures involves participation in the culture, and first-hand knowledge of a culture belies any form of neutrality. Ethnographic accounts point to the numerous ways of defining what it is to be human. More recently, ethnography has been a way of talking about theory, philosophy, and epistemology while maintaining the traditional task of Interpreting different ways of life (Marcus & Fischer 1986). One of the ways in which this is accomplished is by the conscious examination of "self' vis-a-vis the

"other." [The terms "other" and "otherness" have been used extensively in the sociological and anthropological literature (Marcus & Fischer 1986). "Self' and "other" are seen as inhabiting the same world, although the "Other" lives a separate life, with its own centre distinct from the "self." The attempt in phenomenological understanding is to focus on the similarities of the self and other that make mutual understanding possible. Putting oneself in the shoes of another allows one to see the similarities between one's own behavior and that of the other. A particular twist to this process of understanding involves making the other strange. In other words, knowledge of the other is possible only through further defamiliarization of the strange or unfamiliar as part of the other.] This "other" could be either one's own culture or a different one. In trying to explain differences however great or small, ethnographers have to deal with complex relations between their cultural constructions of reality and those of others.

How can these concepts of "self"and "other" be applied to consumer behavior? At a very general level, the "other" can be applied to the study of consumption in our own society as well as to those that are different from our own. In the first instance, we make the familiar strange; and in the second, we make the strange familiar. At another level, the "self' refers to constructs and methods that are dominant in the field (for instance, the construct of consumer involvement understood through a positivist mode of inquiry). This familiar construct can be made strange by subjecting it to scrutiny and re-analysis using a naturalistic mode of inquiry. Such an exposure to deconstruction and reconstruction of the meaning of this construct through an alternate framework brings forth new recognition and newer understanding.

Belk, Wallendorf & Sherry (1989:3) provide some insights into this process. They state, with reference to the use of naturalistic inquiry,

This approach differs from surveys or experiments which assume that the researcher understands the phenomenon prior to doing the research, so that hypothesis and fully specified data collection and analysis plans are possible. In naturalistic inquiry, no such assumption is made. Instead, researchers build an understanding of the phenomenon as it occurs in situ, later testing the veracity of that understanding also in situ.

Later (p.3 1), regarding the construct of involvement, they observe,

Involvement has been glossed as focused activation (Cohen 1983), whether its duration is situational or enduring (Bloch & Richins 1983). Even when it has been considered as more than merely repeat purchase, loyalty is reduced to a function of decision-making, utilitarian, evaluative processes (Jacoby & Kyner (1973)...We have described the sacred and the profane as conceptual categories that animate consumer behaviors. We have incorporated the spirit of these constructs into a more inclusive and culturally grounded process in which consumers routinely harness the forces of material and mental culture to achieve transcendent experience.

In reading a text, a person understands it not only in terms of his/her own individual concerns but also as a collective effort. Reading is a learned and socially organized activity (Becker 1986; Peterson 1976). As an anthropologist I am familiar with the set of conventions that has been used in interpreting a text. These conventions were developed over time and have changed over the years through debate over the problems of representation and interpretation (Becker 1986). When changes are made in conventions, it suggests that the authoritative voices of the past have been replaced by those of a new interpretive community. The political dimension in the interpretive process is thus crucial.

That being said, I must identify the conventions that I used to read and interpret the ethnographic texts presented below. For these purposes I rely heavily on articles by Marcus & Cushman (1982), by Flax (1987) and Strathern (1987), although I have developed my own style of reading and interpretation. On my first reading, I form a general impression of the text. In my subsequent readings, I flesh out the salient features identified in my first reading.

Salient Characteristics of Ethnographic Accounts

1. Its particular genre - realist, confessional, impressionist or jointly constructed.

2. The location of fieldwork, duration, number of researchers. reasons and choice of locale(s), references to establishing rapport, conditions of fieldwork, linguistic competence (if applicable), choice of key informants, methods used to gather data, as well as references to field notes and journals on which the account is based.

3 Organization of the text. How does the author establish a narrative presence? How does s/he present the problem (event, ritual, concept) and how is it analyzed? What stance does the author take on the subject?

4. Documentation on any prolonged contact with informants through revisits.

6. Field experience. While the writer may choose to exclude what happens in the field, the reader must be convinced that the writer presents a world that is known to him or her through first-hand experience. This includes not only written statements but maps, drawings, films, videos, and photographs as well.

7. Generalizations from particular sets of data. For instance are the cases presented for instance treated as "typical" or are they acknowledged for their individuality when the author tries to interpret them?

8. Linguistic competence in studying cultures other than one's own. I examine the ways the author uses contextual explications of native concepts in organizing the text.

9. The ways by which the author establishes his/her authority. In any interpretation, this means examining the individual's biases and prejudgments and the ways they are presented. How does the author locate his/her study with interpretations that have gone before? What is the problem and how does it unfold? The concern here is with the story line and the fleshing out of the details. What point of view does the author take in narrating the story? Does the data presented stay close to the contexts from which the cultural materials are drawn or is it abstracted from the contexts in which it is elicited?

10. The form of cultural critique the text offers. Is it through cross-cultural comparison or through a critique of theory?

11. Gender implications - that is, the author's gender, the gender of the informants, and the types of questions that are asked that reflect gender concerns. This is very closely linked to the stance taken by the author(s). While this may not be critical to all texts, the sensitivity to such issues I consider crucial.

12. Closure, consistency, and formality of presentation.

13. Authenticity or plausibility of the explanation. I consider the sensitivity the author displays in presenting the informant's perspective. Does s/he use an "us-them" difference or a "me-they" form of contrast, and how is it presented in the text?

14. Audience. Is the author writing for a readership, some of whom are unfamiliar with this framework?

Having outlined the criteria I use for evaluating and interpreting an ethnographic account, I will now discuss the different genres available. They are expertly discussed by Van Maanen (1988), upon whose text I rely heavily for what is to follow.

Types of Ethnographic Texts

A historical description of ethnographic genres sets the stage for the examination of ethnographies in consumer behavior. Through these accounts, we have the benefit of knowledge that has gone before, thus providing a potentially greater variety of textual modes. Consumer ethnographies however combine elements of each of these genres while emphasizing one or the other.

Realist tales are documentary, are written in the third person, and make reference to typical individuals in the society under study. Ultimately what distinguishes this genre of ethnographic writing from others is the authoritativeness with which the fieldworker presents the culture. The formal rendition of the "I was there" narration appears only in the introduction or the footnotes or the appendix. The informants and accounts are presented as abstract or ideal types, and the narrator fades into insignificance after the initial introduction (Marcus & Cushman 1982, Van Maanen 1988).

A modified attempt at realism is provided by Arnould (1989:24 1) in his study of consumption practices in Zinder, a province in the Niger Republic. He notes,

Data for this study comes from the author's fieldwork in Zinder province of the Niger Republic .... Ethnographic data collection began in 1977 in several villages (Lepdo, Don Doukou, and Riga) and one urban neighborhood Multiple data sources (both quantitative and qualitative), constant working back and forth between hypotheses and reality tests of them, and intimate knowledge of a group's daily life earned through long term participant observation provide internal validity checks on the data (Kirk and Miller 1986, pp.24-25). As in any discipline, peer review provides external validity checks for published material .... For this study, formal interviews provided data about consumer behavior (Wallendorf & Arnould 1988).

Realist portrayals gave way to more conscious accounts of the encounter with other cultures and gave rise to confessional tales, written in the first person. They exist today, in a modified form. Confessional tales question the assumptions of objectivity in studying other cultures and, more importantly, attempt to deal with this issue in the writing of ethnography.

An example of a confessional is provided by Van Maanen (1988:83) in his study of the police. He writes,

Three rather personal and perhaps pivotal factors seem best to explain my particular choice to study the police. First, when I began thinking seriously of the police as a topic for research in the late Sixties, the police were prominently fixed in the imagery of the day .... Second, however, not much seemed to be known about the police. Third, the available literature did not seem to square with my own random observations and run-ins with the police.

The Seventies witnessed a radical change in the role of ethnography and the importance of writing ethnographic accounts. In particular, impressionist tales made their appearance, exemplified by Geertz (1973). These writings were more reflexive, although episodic and complex, and reflected the tenuous nature of the link between researcher and informants (Van Maanen 1988).

The reader is aware of the nuances and subtleties of the culture as expressed in the vignettes of the ethnographer, establishing a rapport with the informants (Geertz 1973). The reader peeks over the narrator's shoulder much the way the narrator reads over the shoulders of informants in deciphering cultural principles. However, in this view, the independence of the text and its stable and structural properties are challenged. Detail and intimacy provide proximity between the ethnographer, the informant, and the cultures they each come from.

An excellent example of impressionist writing is evident in "the Balinese Cockfight." Geertz (1973:4) writes,

In Bali, to be teased is to be accepted. It was the turning point so far as our relationship to the community was concerned and we were quite literally 'in.' ..Getting caught, or almost caught in a vice raid is perhaps not a very generalizable recipe for achieving that mysterious necessity of anthropological fieldwork, rapport, but for me it worked very well.

The process of editing informant voices out of the text has the effect of distancing the reader. Distancing lends authenticity to the text. Changes in the account are made in relation to prior knowledge and less from encounters in the field even in the skilled hands of Geertz (1973).

What the cockfight says it says in a vocabulary of sentiment - the thrill of risk, the despair of loss, the pleasure of triumph ... Attending cockfights and participating in them is, for the Balinese, a kind of sentimental education ... If, to quote Northrop Frye again, we go to see Macbeth to learn what a man feels like after he has gained a kingdom and lost his soul, the Balinese go to find out what a man, usually composed and aloof, almost obsessively self-absorbed, a kind of moral autocosm, feels like when, attacked, tormented, challenged, insulted, and driven in result to the extremes of fury, he has totally triumphed or been brought totally low. The whole passage takes us back to Aristotle.

There are no exemplary impressionist narratives in consumer behavior although the article by Sherry & Camargo (1987:183) on English language labeling in Japan provides some insights.

Marcus & Fischer (1986a) refer to the newer modes of impressionist tales as experimental ethnographies, or jointly constructed tales, which reflect on writing itself and the contrived nature of cultural accounts. These accounts use the dialogical mode, wherein the focus is on the actual discourse of fieldwork. They seriously question the substantiality and independence of the text and highlight the tenuous and collaborative nature of the ethnographic account (Crapanzano 1980; Clifford 1983, 1986a). They recognize the role of rhetoric in the persuasion process (Sangren 1988). Dwyer (1982:221) provides an interesting attempt to jointly produce a tale based on his fieldwork in Morocco. He writes,

D: Now, I'd like you to think about this question. When I came here for the first time, when Bukhensha brought me here, what did you think then?

A: I wasn't thinking anything. Just.. 'welcome,' that's all. What would be on my mind?

D: You must have thought something.

A: No

(Dwyer observes that this question leads to an immediate dead end. But since it is an important issue, he pursues it further.)

D: Let's see - what did Bukhensha say to you then?

A: Well, he said it in front of you: all things considered, this Rumi wants to come here and wants to rent your little room in the village. I have gotten to know him and I am making his concerns mine....

In consumer behavior, there are no exemplary accounts that use the dialogic mode, although Sherry (1990:33) provides some insights. The author introduces parts of the dialogue (not between himself and an informant as Dwyer does) that a consumer had with a vendor. He quotes,

P: Will you take $ 10 for it?

V: I'd feel like I was giving it away. I'd hate myself.

P: I wouldn't hate you.

V: I'd hate myself.

P: I'll split the difference with you $12.50

V: What's it marked?

P: $18

V: Can't do it. I'll go [$] 14[00].

P: Sorry, thanks.

V: No. thank you.

The focus in such accounts is on using rhetorical devices rather than on rendering quoted speech. Inspired by the new literary criticism, these accounts show how rhetoric can be used to communicate the meaning of a text (Burke 1969). They also enhance the reader's understanding of the ethnographer's aim of communicating a point of view. Just as self-reflexivity regarding the role of the informant and researcher sharpened earlier renderings into meaningful accounts, the new rhetorical devices lend credence to the subversive possibility that the account is unstable, and indeterminate. But this must always be seen within a particular context.

Documenting culture is embedded in a specific way of creating knowledge. No text stands by itself-, it is constructed within fields of power and privilege and must be seen as such (Mascia-Lees, Sharpe & Cohen 1989; Polier & Roseberry 1989:251). One way is to introduce elements of critical inquiry into the narrative, which becomes particularly important in cross-cultural contexts. A political economy framework, especially a feminist framework, provides insight into this process. Critical tales try to highlight the structural and historical connections among specific customs, institutions, or nations without adopting a normative commitment to social solidarity or stressing functional integration (Polier & Roseberry 1989:257).

To write about writing ethnographic accounts is itself a political process. In consumer behavior, the politicization of pluralism has been referred to as an unfolding drama - a clash of interests between paradigm bearers, the positivist, and post-positivist researchers (Thompson. Loccander & Pollio 1989; Sherry 1988; Belk 1990). The people have been identified, and critical incidents vary from the ACR presidential address to the Odyssey Project of 1986. While tensions mount, an impasse is avoided by reparation done to the situation, evidenced in major changes made to the Journal of Consumer Research Sherry (1988) views this politicization process as a re-vitalization movement in the history of the discipline. The choice of the performative metaphor opens up the process of dialogue about social complexity rather than reducing it to the single argument of the writer (Marcus & Fischer 1986).

Standard Conventions in the Crafting of an Ethnographic Text

In the construction of a tale, there are some common conventions regarding data collection and interpretation observed by ethnographers, regardless of the genre. Field data in any form (audio and visual) and the keeping of a field journal are central to the interpretive process (Wallendorf & Belk 1989).

The preliminary process of recording data is the earliest act of interpretation. Field data are constructed from talk and observation. These field notes provide the opportunity for self-reflection, since the researcher has to make conscious choices as to what is to be recorded, how, when, and why it is to be recorded. Values and attitudes determine what are to be recorded as events. good example of this process is provided by Belk, Wallendorf & Sherry (1988) in their discussion of revelatory incidents that helped them focus on the sacred aspects of consumption. These events or observations, in turn, do not speak for themselves. An interpretation is necessary because what we see or choose to see imposes constraints on us (Polier & Roseberry 1989). In combination with the journal kept by the researcher, it forms a powerful basis for the textualization process. This is why any interpretation is unstable and precarious.

Secondly, transforming oral and visual into written text can take many forms. Particularly in realist writings, the authors are conscious of the effort to represent the "other's" point of view. The authenticity of the text (realist tales) was expected by the interpretive community to be enhanced by the actual words, translated and edited by the author. Yet this form of polyphony was used not so much as a consideration of the uses of rhetoric as a desire to lend objectivity to the text.

Thirdly, textualization also raises the epistemological issue of visualism (Clifford 1986a,b; Fabian 1983). Hence the emphasis on quantification, diagrammatic representation, maps, and charts. By examining cross-cultural contexts which emphasize the importance of other human senses (Howes 1989), the arbitrariness associated with vision and cognition in our culture is revealed (e.g. "I see" ...suggests "I understand"). In consumer behavior, Sherry & McGrath (1989), as well as Sherry (1990), pay attention to extra-sensory modalities in different retail contexts. Sherry and McGrath (1989:162) note,

The reduction of atmospherics to just four sensory features- -visual, aural, olfactory, and tactile notions are noted by Kotler (1974)--blunts the exploration of simultaneous perception and synaesthesia which more accurately characterize ambience.

A particular twist to visualization involves the recording of fieldwork in the form of photographs and videos. While this fits well with the visual metaphor and is used precisely for these reasons, it opens the possibility of evoking polyphony and the multi-dimensionality of the account. As Wallendorf & Belk (1989:72) note,

In our experience, there is generally much more to gain in obtrusively, openly and honestly videorecording and talking to consumers than completely foregoing this opportunity and relying only on unobtrusive observation.

Audio and visual data challenge the givenness of the tale and speak with a different voice (McDougall 1978).

Jointly constructed ethnographies deal with the idea of polyphony in a different manner. They identify the philosophical issues of mediation and problems of meaning involved in presenting the informant's point of view. These authors know that the story can be told in a way in which the author wants to tell it. Expertise is not so much at issue as is the knowledge that he or she is both voice and vehicle of meaning transfer. The emphasis is on fragmentation and discourse, not on the text. Narrative form is not a prior issue but one that evolves from the dialogical process. In consumer behavior, there are no exemplary accounts, although Sherry (1990) provides some insights. He notes (37),

The flea market is essentially a multilogue, as Emerson construes such discourse (Fernandez 1986:239), with many voices communicating. Or, rather, in keeping with the "alternative" status of the periodic market..As a polylogue, the flea market is a booming, buzzing confusion negotiated at the emic level by transactors, and at the etic levels by the analyst ... The flea market is a polylogue whose semiotic intensity is apparent to all participants but whose multiple meanings may be apparent to only a few. The subject of this polylogue (and ultimately its object) is the nature or essence of the marketplace in contemporary U.S. society.

Recognizing multiple voices in the text further necessitates the use of an intersubjective temporal structure which reduces the distance between the informant and the ethnographer. The assumption in such a situation is that both the researcher and the informants are equal and share the same concept of time (Fabian 1983). The difficulties of doing so have been identified earlier. At the present time it seems that the experience of the consumer researcher is given temporal anchoring in the past in order to lend logical credence to the description. Realism is preferred, as in the article by Arnould (1989:242). He notes,

The first case describes the historical context for contemporary consumer behavior in Zinder ... In the nineteenth-century state of Zinder (or Damagaram), mass access to luxury goods was limited by macromarketing factors: the narrow span of the market system, long channels, cumbersome media of exchange (cowrie shells, foreign coins, and slaves), and the absence of written accounting systems (Baier 1974,1977)....

Later, in the discussion of contemporary contexts of consumption, the author states (p. 247),

A critical periodic consumption event that provides scope for expression and innovation of preferences is the marriage ceremony.... A typical marriage today often involves expenses well in excess of annual per capita income.

Likewise, in the presentation of the account, the format used (expository substructures) varies, depending on the nature of the account. Thus Belk, Wallendorf, and Sherry (1989:2) observe,

Explicit recognition of the sacred status accorded to many consumption objects illuminates aspects of contemporary North American consumer behavior that, while basic and pervasive, have not been explained by prior theory and research. The substantial body of social science theory on the role of the sacred in religion is used here in developing an understanding of sacred apects of consumption... However, the processes of meaning investment and divestment the sacralization rituals we treat at length in this article-are resistant to such distanced exposition.



Ethnographies, among other objectives described above, construct the "self' in the process of constructing "otherness" (Marcus & Fischer 1986). This "other" can refer to a society very different from that of the ethnographer or can be the same one from which he/she comes. Instead of a crossculturally based probing, "otherness" is constructed from within the researcher's own culture. This form of cultural criticism is not new and is predominant in such fields as anthropology, sociology, literature, and fine arts (Barthes 1973; Csikszentmihalyi & Rochberg-Halton 198 1). There are two general directions in which this style of cultural criticism has evolved. The first involves the deconstruction of pure reason and the idea of social progress that results (Rabinow & Sullivan 1979). The second form of criticism arises from the study of social institutions and cultural forms. More recent studies, especially in sociology, deal with the production of cultural forms such as music, the text, and art (Becker 1986; Griswold 1987; Petersen 1976). The latest form of cultural criticism, a combination of the two styles, is self-reflexive, conscious about the positioning of the critique vis-a-vis one's own society, and provides alternatives to what is being critiqued (Marcus & Fischer 1986).

Thus a study of the researcher's own culture allows for the construction of "otherness" from a new vantage point. Being an insider and yet providing a cultural critique privileges one; on the other hand, it makes the researcher more vulnerable to cultural criticism. But the benefit of such a process is that it minimizes cultural chauvinism that has often accompanied the interpretation of an exotic "other." "Otherness" is comprehended as being both participant and interpreter. Secondly, by virtue of this dual position, the ethnographer is able to identify the various possibilities and alternatives as they exist in reality. However, such a perspective is not without problems there are a number of blindspots for the ethnographer studying her/his culture (Wallendorf & Belk 1989). Two examples are examined below.

A Naturalistic Inquiry into Buyer and Seller Behavior at a Swap Meet (Belk, Sherry & Wallendorf 1988)

The importance of this article can be appreciated when one considers the background information and critical political underpinnings of the consumer behavior odyssey project. Dissatisfaction with the existing logical positivist philosophy expressed by a number of consumer researchers since the early 80's eventually led to the coalescing of efforts by "a substantial and sociometrically- central minority" to question the appropriateness of this position (Belk 1990). This group then decided to embark on the Odyssey Project, which was to employ a variety of naturalistic methods to explore American consumption. In order to receive funding from the Marketing Science Institute (MSI), it was decided that a subset of the larger group would do a pilot project. The article on the Red Mesa Swap Meet was the outcome.

The purpose of the article on the Red Mesa Swap Meet is to document both the process and the outcome of interpretive research. It is essentially a tutorial and takes the reader through the various research stages encountered by the authors at a swap meet. Consequently, the first half of the paper is an explanation of data collection methods, data recording techniques, the creation of field notes, and the keeping of the field journal. Together they form the basis for the written account. Since the purpose is not to focus on the crafting of the text itself, the latter half of the paper deals briefly with their findings.

It is the first account of its kind in the consumer behavior literature to deal explicitly and systematically with alternate methodologies and paradigms for doing research, although Hirschman's article (1986) attempts to do the same. The framework used is described as "naturalistic," although the authors are sensitive to current issues in the field of anthropology and sociology (Wallendorf & Belk 1989).

This account of the swap meet is a prelude to the Odyssey Project. It is based on traditional fieldwork at a single venue and explores a variety of significant actors, events, and processes. As in other ethnographic accounts, etic and emic differences are well documented.

The reader is introduced to the site and is provided with a map of the meet. This is followed by some general information about the organization of the vendor area. Next, a brief description of the line-up and ambience is provided. The authors provide a brief description of the sellers and buyers, followed by a discussion of the emergent themes and possible hypotheses that could be tested further.

The authors' concern with the scientific nature of the study is particularly important, given the newness of the framework in consumer research and the considerable hostility of some researchers in the field toward such a paradigm (Sherry 1988). The pilot was critical to the launching of the Odyssey Project. Too much was at stake and, as Belk (1990:13) notes,

I doubt that MSI ever got more effort, energy, or material out of $1000 than they did out of the seed grant that got us started. It was partly a labor of love, partly that this effort promised larger rewards in potential funding for the summer project, and partly that it was now time to 'put up or shut up' about the project.

"Otherness" is represented by the alternate methodology and the paradigms that are used by the researchers. By juxtaposing the richer findings garnered from such alternative methods in specific consumption contexts to established concepts in the field, they raise havoc with our thinking and conventional modes of studying consumer behavior. In their words (p. 467),

The field has attained some elegance and precision but lacks soul, feeling and sensitivity to natural consumption contexts. ...But because naturalistic inquiry studies consumers in situ and provides thick qualitative insights, it can potentially inject the richness that Tucker saw as missing in our research.

The dialogic mode that is used is not so much the process of joint construction by informant and researcher as the dynamic chorus of styles- identified by Bakhtin (1981), which includes both the team's voice and individual voices (e.g., p.462 they state "yet for each of these rules we saw several violations"); narrative action; the reported speech of informants (e.g., p. 461 : "if we come out here and spend $10, $15 or $20, it is money well spent"); the teller's commentaries (e.g., p. 461: "Bill is one of a group of people who sell miscellaneous furniture and used household items. When we first talked to them, they were sitting in upholstered reclining chairs drinking beer and appeared to have been all day"); evaluative remarks (p.461: "Bill had never heard of Wroe Alderson, but he nonetheless explained Alderson's sorting concept perfectly"); and interpretive remarks (p. 462: "Freedom is an important motivation for both buyers and sellers at the swap meet and often transcends economic motivations").

The use of field notes and journal excerpts in the text, especially by researcher's name, suggests self- reflexivity in the research and writing process. One introspective field note excerpt on p. 465 (some researchers separated field notes from the journal) is particularly poignant. It reflects a sensitivity to the informant as well as gender concerns that explicitly drew me into the text.

I talked to one young woman who was selling household items in the regular area. She moved to New York about a year ago and had flown back into town for the weekend to sort through the things that she had left here. She was trying to sell some of them at the swap meet.... A woman friend was helping her sell her things. She said the things that were sentimental she was shipping to New York. These things that she was selling were just things that could be used. I asked about an old waffle maker. She said that if she didn't sell that, she would take it with her because her grandmother gave it to her. But she said that she felt okay about selling it. It appeared to be a U.S. - made waffle maker rather than one that had come from Norway. It was, however, fairly old (1950's) and was probably given to her used MW.

The instability and precariousness of the interpretation, the simultaneity and intimacy of the moment are all evoked in the reader. Wallendorf s interaction with the woman informant centres around the topic of personal and family ties and how sacred commodities are converted into profane commercial wares in impersonal market (public) contexts. The author is also sensitive to the ambiguity the woman informant felt about selling the waffle maker because it straddled both categories. It was sacred, Wallendorf argues, in that it was a gift from the woman's grandmother, yet it was not as sacred as those objects given to her that were made in Norway.

From such a poignant moment, we are drawn back into the team's effort to provide substantiality to the text and legitimize the process of naturalistic inquiry. We are told of the value of triangulation methods, of researchers, as well as of the usefulness of auditors. The ethnographic account as a record of facts also becomes apparent in the author's discussions of choice of site, the ambience at site, the profiles of buyers and sellers, and the themes that emerged over the course of doing fieldwork.

The map, the profiles, the categories, and themes are all intended to convince the reader of the factuality of the text. The blow-by-blow description of events and the process of temporal anchoring in the past lend validity to the description. The politics of writing culture is revealed only by examination of field entries by the researchers. The use of photographs and the video is an ingenious mechanism to suggest the presence of researchers and help in the interpretive process. However, while there is a commitment to the hermeneutic process, there is a preoccupation with establishing the credibility and legitimacy of naturalistic inquiry in consumer behavior. The field journals kept by some of these researchers suggest this dilemma. Sherry (1986:15) makes the following observations regarding the use of video equipment:

I find that I am relying too much on video as aid to memory, and trying too hard to sustain the interview rather than absorbing all that is being said... The naturalistic context we are after is distorted by this intercept procedure and is being sacrificed to some extent in favor of producing a particular kind of product to the proposal package..Once again, I found myself quite conscious of the camera, in the sense that I attended more to directing the interview than I did to absorbing the sense of his discussion. This time- constrained research -blitzkrieg ethnography is how I am coming to think of it -- with a video product objective is disrupting my own natural rhythm, and I'll have to monitor that closely.

In the final analysis, the pilot project accomplished what it set out to do, despite its explicitly exploratory goals. What's more, it helped to establish procedures that were to be used in the main project and became a tangible marker for what was to come for the larger number of researchers who were keenly awaiting the results.

The Sacred and the Profane in Consumer Behavior: Theodicy on the Odyssey (Belk. Wallendorf & Sherry 1989)

The editorial (although an extra-authorial intrusion over which the authors have little control) that accompanies the publication of this article signals the importance of the piece (Lutz 1989).

The use of vignettes as a rhetorical device at the very outset prepares the reader for what the authors try to do - that is, to question our take n-for- granted assumptions of the process of consumption as well as our day-to-day understanding of what is sacred and profane. The authors argue that consumption is more than the means by which individuals satisfy their material needs. It is a vehicle, they say, for a transcendent experience. Further, despite the recognition of sacrality associated with objects in North America, such concepts have not been explained by prior research and theory in consumer behavior.

The authors demonstrate that the use of naturalistic modes of inquiry is more suitable for revealing such fundamental aspects of consumer behavior. The iterative and discursive fashion in which they read the literature and interpret their field experiences is an effort to explain, deconstruct, and reconstruct theories for us. In so doing, it is multi-discipinary and is intended as a conceptual contribution to parallel disciplines and as an empirical contribution to consumer research.

That being said, this is how they do it. While the pilot project used a conventional mode of data collection - participant observation at one site - the Odyssey Project involved several researchers and multiple sites. The intent was to pursue a phenomenon that transcended specific sites.

Having established personal authority through the identification of sampled sites, they launch into a discussion of the properties of the sacred as drawn from theories of religion. This section is tutorial in intent, since this material is presumed to be unfamiliar to researchers in consumer behavior.

Following this is a discussion of the shifting boundaries of the sacred and the profane. What constitutes the sacred is outlined at some length to tutor the reader and make him/her aware of the paucity of such data in the field. This knowledge, they claim, is new and powerful-not amenable to quantitative analysis but best understood through qualitative research. The closest analog in consumer research are the concept of consumer involvement and extended self, which barely touches upon the nature and experience of sacrality.

"How do certain possessions attain sacred status?" they ask. Through several processes, they answer, such as ritual, pilgrimage, quintessence, gift-giving, collecting, and inheritance. They flesh out these ideas through field notes and observations informed by cultural theory and provide a thick text of the processes of sacralization. Each of these topics requires much in-depth plumbing through field data and recursive reading of theories and material and is done, for instance, by Belk, Wallendorf, Sherry and Holbrook (1990) in their paper on collecting.

This section is followed by a discussion of how sacrality is perpetuated. This includes spatial and temporal separation, sustaining rituals, specialized uses of objects, gift-giving, bequests, and tangibilized contamination. Again, field notes are used to substantiate each of these methods of maintaining sacredness.

The Odyssey data included 800 pages of field notes, journals. 4000 still photographs and slides, 137 videotapes, a dozen audio tapes, and few dozen artifacts - a very impressive amount of information that supports both the significance and the generalizability of their observations. The insights drawn from religious theories, seem to provide ample insights into the phenomena they observed, allowing the authors to make "thick descriptions."

The use of field notes rather than reported speech is an important means by which they establish scientific authority and objectivity. For instance, on page 16, the authors state,

He exhibited typical Japanese unwillingness to offend by claiming to have difficulty picking a favorite place he has been in America .... He doesn't like the crowded areas and said that the West is like the real America for him.

The distancing of the account from the simultaneity of the moment is what gives it scientific authority. There is no question in the reader's mind that the authors were there. Of the 24 instances of fieldwork material woven into the tale, more than half were taken from the field notes themselves. These detailed observations sometimes include short statements by informants. On occasion, the name of the informant is provided (eg. p. 18: "John's favorite toy is..."). The rest were extracted largely from the interviews and presented within quotation marks.

Avery interesting attempt to jointly construct the interpretation is done on pages 19 and 22 where the authors provide extracts from the interviews that use both voices - the questions they asked and the responses they received. A touching moment is presented in the text when they describe a woman selling handcrafted dolls (p. 22). They state, "She kissed the baby as she sold the doll (one object with two communicative voices)." Self-reflexivity is also evident on another occasion when they describe a situation in which they were corrected by their informants (p. 26). One other rhetorical device they use effectively is to bring the same informant into the text from time to time. By spreading the field notes and quotations from a single informant over the entire text, the reader begins to develop a sense of the person and not just the faceless "informant."

The discussion of triangulation of researchers and methods raises an element of reflexivity, although this is not pursued; the reader is told that they had a bi-gender team with multi-disciplinary specialists. In part, this can be explained by the fact that not all researchers were involved in the complete duration of the Odyssey Project (Belk 1990). Self-reflexivity is at its lowest when methodology and the theoretical discourse on the sacred and the profane are provided. The blow-by-blow description of the various stages of research and the interpretation process not only provides clinical description but helps to substantiate the text.


Focusing on a culture different from the ethnographer's is critical for three reasons. First there are restraints placed by countries on the nature of the research to be conducted and questions as to the accountability of the researcher. Second the informant can read and contest the interpretation provided by the ethnographer. Finally, the political confrontation between white and non-white feminists have led to a reconsideration of theories of the woman and replaced them with theories of multiplicity (Mascia-Lees et al. 1989:23). In particular, describing an alien society requires a complex and moral relationship between the researcher, his/her culture, as well as the informant and his/her culture (Marcus & Fischer 1986).

There are several ways of analyzing the "self' in the narrative. In the paper by Arnould (1989) that deals specifically with cultures other than one's own, the "self' can be identified through many means. In a general sense, "the self' refers to Arnould's cultural background. It also refers to the discipline that he is embedded in - consumer behavior. He is an ethnographer with anthropological training, creating ethnographic texts that challenge existing methods in the field of consumer behavior. It (the self) also refers to the central constructs and concepts in consumer behavior that are challenged by information gathered through such alternate ways of knowing. Most importantly, the interdependence between "self"and "other" as an outcome of a particular historical and cultural context is also brought to the fore (Dwyer 1982).

Toward a Broadened Theory of Preference Formation and the Diffusion of Innovations: Cases from Zinder Province. Niger Republic (Arnould 1989)

Arnould deals with the concepts of diffusion of innovation, economic development, and its impact on consumer behavior in Zinder, Niger. Here is a realist tale par excellence that does not detract from the centrality of the contribution this article makes. It builds, brick by brick. an argument that uses the "other" in the examination of the "self." 'Me "other" refers to the people of Zinder and their consumption practices. Specifically, the article deals with the diffusion of innovation in Zinder consumption contexts. The "self," in addition to what I stated before, is also identified as the existing theory of diffusion outlined by Gatignon and Robertson in consumer behavior. The express purpose of studying consumption in Zinder is not only to highlight cultural peculiarities but also to allow the author to refine the existing model of diffusion of innovation developed primarily within a North American context to reflect these multicultural realities.

The discussion of field methods establishes incontrovertibly that the author was there. The authority of the narrator is established in the long-term field involvement in Zinder. He gathered information on household budgets, interviewed people at 70 weekly markets and various members of marketing channels, collected oral histories, carried on informal discussions, and had informants fill out a questionnaire. In addition, published data on earlier fieldwork provides the background, specific issues to which Arnould refers in this account.

However, other than this revelatory note on fieldwork, very little attempt is made to bring either his field notes or his journal into the narration. The style is documentary, and the people described are "typical people." There is little in the narrative that allows glimpses of Arnould, the participant observer in Zinder-ostensibly one of the poorest parts of the world. There is no description of actual encounters with informants in the field, although they figure prominently in the background. They are nameless and faceless, much like the author, who establishes that he was there and then disappears from the narrative. Another factor is the absence of reference to any material kept in a journal. While journal material does not always have to appear in the text, as a reader I am interested in knowing the context within which Arnould elicits and interprets information from the people he studies. Further the absence of the author from the narrative gives the false impression that the interpretation is objective.

It is from an elaborate set of data collected over several years that the author constructs a series of cases. The amount of time spent in the field (although duration does not necessarily guarantee good ethnography), the technical skill of the ethnographer, and the sensitivity in presenting the native's perspective render this narrative authentic. While concern with issues of validity and reliability are embedded in such thick description, the construction of cases from empirical data signals the scientific narrative presence of the author.

The author begins with a brief consideration of innovation and diffusion theory outlined by Gatignon and Robertson before critiquing some of the axioms underlying it. He takes a key concept in consumer behavior, such as diffusion of innovation, and systematically defamiliarizes it for us with materials from Zinder (discussed below). By tying in diffusion of innovation in consumption with larger forces outside of Zinder, he weaves together a more critical approach to the narrative structure. The juxtaposition of critical theory in a realist account makes the reader question the earlier assumptions of the substantive nature of the text. Such narration seems to raise a critique of the text by the author himself.

The first case he describes sets the stage for what is to follow-it provides a historical account of the economic and political changes and the accompanying alterations in consumption. Case 2 provides an example of a "typical" rural marriage today. It provides a detailed example of how cultural values are enacted in consumption processes. Social structure, stage in life cycle, bride wealth contexts, as well as the indigenous concept of "brilliance," provide a framework for acceptance of new products. Case 3 provides ample justification for the statement that rural adoption of cosmopolitan styles may be part of a broader pattern of implantation of common, international, elite standards of operation and consumption within a global economy. Case 4 patiently takes the reader through a discussion of the importance of Hajj in preference formation.

Each subcategory of the diffusion concept is then examined in the light of field data, to either revise it or question its cross-cultural applicability. The revised propositions are smaller in number (16 rather than 29) but greater in scope and depth. This then leads into a discussion of a broader theory of preference formation and diffusion of innovations.

Here Is a tale that is both realist and critical. This rendering provides concrete and complex images of Zinder. Yet in raising the embeddedness of the concept of diffusion of innovation in the light of a revised world systems approach, it alerts the reader to the subversive possibilities in the text. It is unpretentious and not experimental. The author does what he sets out to do - to provide an improved multicultural model for diffusion, and in that process transform the descriptive mission of anthropology into a paradigm building one. He also contributes to the disciplinary goal of a comparative science of consumption rather than one of buyer behavior. This narrative is exemplary in the depth, breadth, and realism it conveys. Yet while what is "known" is substantial, the "knower" is unknown. In the final analysis, as a reader, I consider what is known to be contingent on the knower.


If in realist, impressionist, and jointly told tales the self and other are seen as important elements to be dealt with one way or another, feminist discourse offers yet another dimension to ethnographic writing in its irreconcilable stance between "self"and "other."

Why should feminist discourse be a consideration in writing ethnographic texts in consumer behavior? The answer to that is as follows: if self-reflection is a cornerstone of ethnographic accounts, the uncritical examination of gender issues that invariably arise in fieldwork is not tenable (Rosaldo 1980; Strathern 1987). More eloquently stated,

Feminist theory is an intellectual system that knows its politics, a politics directed toward securing recognition that the feminine is as crucial an element of the human as the masculine and thus a politics skeptical and critical of traditional 'universal truths' concerning human behavior (Mascia-Lees, Sharpe & Cohen 1989:8).

The above authors state that constructing the "other"entails relations of domination. While post-modern anthropologists speak for the "other" (women in our culture, and both men and women in other cultures), the feminist speaks from the position of the "other" (p. 11). This insight is brought home to us with greater force when we consider the paucity of such analyses in consumer behavior (Schmitt, Leclerc, & Dube-Rioux 1988; Stern 1990).

Gender discourse refers not only to the ethnographer and the construction of gender in her/his own culture but also to the informants and their constructions of gender. In cross-cultural contexts, this becomes particularly significant, since universal theories of asymmetry are questionable. In consumer behavior, the construction of gender is not so much an issue as is its manifestation (e.g Jackson, McDaniel & Rao 1985). The key construct in feminist discourse is domination embodied in the general principle of patriarchy and, more concretely, in men. Men are the "other" in this discourse (Strathern 1987), and the feminist task is to expose and destroy the authority of the "other" in order to determine the female experience. Yet within feminist discourse itself, the dialogic process and is pursued. The "sell"and "other" are reconcilable, despite the varying interpretations and divergent cultural experiences of women. With men, however, there is no collaboration, no parity, only asymmetry. Dominance and patriarchy must constantly be recognized in order to maintain self and identity (Strathern 1987). The danger in such a perspective is the reification of the  differences that are the sources of oppressionthat feminism is keen on destroying. One positive outcome of this binary thinking, however, is the emphasis on the worth of some of these "feminine" qualities (Holbrook 1989). It has countered the negative valuation of women, as well as provided a critique of general cultural values that foster aggression and narrow individualism (Hare-Mustin & Marecek 1989) and allowed women to speak for themselves.

In the consumer behavior literature, there are a few accounts that deal tangentially with some of the issues raised above (Fischer 1989; Sherry & McGrath 1989). It is to a discussion of this theme in the Sherry & McGrath article that we now turn.

Unpacking the Holiday Presence: A Comparative Ethnography of Two Gift Stores (Sherry & McGrath 1989)

While this article is not informed by feminist discourse that sees asymmetry and conflict, there is an attempt to recognize the role of the female voice and the female experience in the construction of the text. Thus of all the texts discussed hitherto, this is the most self-reflexive regarding gender considerations.

The authors begin the narrative with the stated objective of studying the institutional focus of discovery and the production of meaning. The two researchers chose sites that are comparable, especially in relation to the backgrounds of the owners and clientele who shopped at the stores. Each week, for a period of two months, 12-24 hours were spent doing field work. The researchers' concern with short-term ethnography made them reluctant to give anything other than tentative generalizations and suggest explanatory frameworks. This sense of incompleteness and missing data set the mood for the reader, who could now join in the interpretive process. Multiple voices were also presented. For instance, the authors note (informant's voice),

- I'd love to receive a gift from here but would never buy anything here for myself. Buying here is a time investment. It shows that people really care if they take the time to shop here.


- This (expensive piece of jewelry) is a present from me to me.

The introduction to the two gift stores (Baubles and The Mouse House) is richly descriptive. There is detail and there is attention to preparing the reader for what is to follow. Expectations of the reader are met in the discussion of appropriate subtopics such as ambience, merchandise, history, choice heuristic, personnel, seasonal cycle, range of shopping activity, backstage activity, and giving to oneself. The differences in text, albeit very few, are apparent in the slight deviations in topics by the ethnographer of Baubles, who introduces subtle nuances in her discussion of the importance of place and the marketing mix involved.

The propositions they offer are illuminating. They also challenge some taken-for-granted assumptions in marketing. The importance of sense of place in understanding buyer behavior is evident in the authors' discussion of synaesthesia, which accompanies perception. Kotler's concept of "atmospherics," which refers to the use of the senses of touch, smell, vision, and taste, they argue, barely touches this issue.

Object - person relationships through gift-giving processes is a mechanism by which individuals make and re-make themselves visa-vis others, they note (Sherry 1983). The ludic and hedonistic qualities embedded in gift-giving activity is more important than its utilitarian function, they argue. Through rich descriptions, metaphor, and point of view, the authors allow the reader to share in the construction and narration of the text. Most importantly, the authors state that gift-giving is the work of women (Fischer 1989). Since gift-giving behavior is part of kin work that women do, they amplify our existing knowledge of kin work and, by extension, its importance to consumer behavior. Further, by raising this issue, they signal the importance of kin work and thus defamiliarize the concept of work itself and what constitutes men's work and women's work. They even suggest that a gendered mediation between gift exchange and market might provide a model for a more personalized political economy and more humane work place cultures.


The purpose of this paper is to provide a sequel to the discussions on naturalistic inquiry that have appeared in the consumer behavior literature. It suggests that the openness associated with such an endeavor, the process, once begun, must go on. The paper raises the issue of the links between the researcher, the research process, the reader, and the narrative.

In the above discussion, I explored some of the many ways in which ethnographic accounts are being crafted-be they realist, critical, impressionist, or jointly constructed tales. This paper is my interpretation of the selected accounts. Yet any interpretation is also socially constructed and is guided by conventions used by an interpretive community (anthropologists/ feminists in this instance).

Ethnographic accounts reflect and construct cultural variation in an otherwise homogenizing world. They point to the multiplicity of being human. In the process, they question and challenge existing knowledge and the aims of such knowledge in consumer behavior. More recently, these have been mechanisms by which theoretical and ethical issues are discussed.

Writing an ethnographic tale does not occur in a vacuum. It is embedded in a specific way of creating knowledge. In particular, ethnographies in consumer behavior reflect the political turmoils within the field. While they provide alternate frameworks for an epistemological critique of the discipline, there are differences of opinion among the researchers themselves that reflect these larger concerns. The politicization of pluralism and the mission of legitimizing naturalistic inquiry have led some authors to restrict the textualization process. This gatekeeping function can limit the creativity of these accounts.

Based on the studies that have been discussed earlier, the following observations can provide some guidelines for interpreting a text:

1. The crafting of the text is central to the hermeneutic process because it raises theoretical, philosophical, and ethical issues.

2 Field notes are the first type of interpretation that occurs. It is close to what the informants say and do and reinforces the constructed nature of interpretation.

3. Field journals allow for self-reflection that informs not only of the keeping of field notes but also of the interpretive process. In conjunction with field notes, they are necessary manifestations of in-depth observation and interviews and form the basis from which the ethnography is written.

4. The visual metaphor that guides the creation of an ethnographic account contributes to the emphasis on diagrams, charts, and maps. However, they have the potential for using multiple voices and presenting the "other's " point of view and must be explored by researchers.

5. While photos and videos add to the substantiality of the text, they also evoke multiple readings of the text and must be plumbed for its uses. In addition, these videos/ photographs may themselves be presentational media (as exemplified by the video "Deep Meanings in Possessions: Naturalistic Research from the Consumer Behavior Odyssey," (Wallendorf & Belk 1987).

6. The temporal structure that is essential to the structure of the text raises issues of inter-subjectivity in the crafting process. While informant and ethnographer share the same time during fieldwork, distancing occurs through the use of narrative structure.

7. Likewise, writing an account cannot be divorced from its political and social context. Concerns over legitimizing naturalistic inquiry, editorial control, and the review process may lead to the use of expository substructures that provide for more realist accounts.

8. The use of multiple voices depends on the stance taken by the researcher(s) and varies with the account. Realist accounts, such as Arnould's (1989), provide data on typical individuals in the field, yet offer a critical perspective. Polyphony is maximally evoked by Sherry (1989) and presented differently in the dynamic chorus of styles in Belk, Sherry & Wallendorf (1988). 9.

9. Finally, the mutuality of the "self" and the "other" is challenged in instances that are written in a feminist mode. The constructed nature of gender rather than the acceptance of gender manifestations is dealt with, at least tangentially. in Sherry & McGrath (1989) and offers us insights into how gender can inform writing in consumer behavior.

The writing of ethnographic accounts is recent in consumer behavior, hence there is not a large selection of documents. Importantly, research monographs that do justice to the multiple dimensions of the text are only beginning to be considered. Journal articles, however comprehensive, are constrained by the requirements made by reviewers in their ability to flesh out the multiple voices of informants, professional standards in doing fieldwork, the self-reflection of the authors, and the nature of field experience itself.

This paper, it is hoped, will encourage researchers working within this tradition to reflexively consider the interpretive process. While Belk, Sherry, and Wallendorf (1988) provide guidelines for doing research, this paper poses questions about how such accounts are written and read.


Anderson, Paul F. (1983), "Marketing, Scientific Progress and Scientific Method," Journal of Marketing, 47 (Fall), pp. 18-31.

Anderson, Paul F. (1986), "On Method in Consumer Research: A Critical Relativist Perspective," Journal of Consumer Research, 15(l), pp. 133-173.

Arnould, Eric J. (1989). "Toward a Broadened Theory of Preference Formation and the Diffusion of Innovations: Cases from Zinder, Province, Niger Republic," Journal of Consumer Research, vol. 16: no. 2, p. 239-267.

Bakhtin, Mikhail (1981), The Dialogic Imagination: Four Essays, M. Holquist, ed. Austin, University of Texas Press.

Barthes Roland (1973), Mythologies, London: Paladin Press.

Becker, Howard (1986), "Felling about Society," in Doing Things Together, Evanston: Northwestern University Press.

Belk, Russell (1986), Journal, Odyssey project. Unpublished text.

Belk, Russell (1987), "A Modest Proposal for Creating Verisimilitude in Consumer Information-Processing Models, and Some Suggestions for Establishing a Discipline to Study Consumer Behavior," in Philosophical and Radical Thought in Marketing, eds. A. Fuat Firat, Nikhilesh Dholakta, and Richard Bagozzi, Lexington, MA. Lexington Books, pp. 361-372.

Belk, Russell, John Sherry and Melanie Wallendorf (1988), "A Naturalistic Inquiry into Buyer and Seller Behavior at a Swap Meet," Journal of Consumer Research, 14(4), pp. 449-470.

Belk, Russell, Melanie Wallendorf and John Sherry (1989), 'The Sacred and Profane in Consumer Behavior: Theodicy on the Odyssey," Journal of Consumer Research, Vol. 16, No. I (June), pp. 1-38.

Belk, Russell, Wallendorf, Melanie, Sherry John, & Holbrook Morris (1990) "Collecting in a consumer culture," in Highways and Buyways: Naturalistic Research from the Consumer Behavior Odyssey, Russ Belk ed., Provo, UT: Association of Consumer Research. (in this volume)

Belk, Russell, (1990) "Ibe History and Development of the Consumer Behavior Odyssey," in Highways and Buyways: Naturalistic Research from the Consumer Behavior Odyssey, ed., Provo, Utah: Association for Consumer research. (in this volume)

Burke, Kenneth (1969), A Rhetoric of Motives, Berkeley & Los Angeles: University of California Press.

Clifford, James (1983), "On Ethnographic Authority," Representations, Vol. 1 (Spring), pp. 118-146.

Clifford, James (1986a), "Introduction: Partial Truths," in Writing Culture: The Poetics and Politics of Ethnography, eds. James Clifford & George E. Marcus, pp. 1-26, Berkeley, California: University of California Press.

Clifford, James (1986b), "On Ethnographic Allegory," in Writing Culture: The Poetics and Politics of Ethnography, eds. James Clifford & George E. Marcus, pp. 98-121, Berkeley, California: University of California Press.

Crapanzano, Vincent (1980), Tuhami: Portrait of a Moroccan, Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Crick, Malcolm (1982), "Anthropology of Knowledge," Annual Review of Anthropology, 11, pp. 287-313, Palo Alto, California: Annual Reviews Inc.,

Csikszentrnihalyi, Mihaly & Eugene Rochberg-Halton (198 1), The Meaning of Things :Domestic symbols and the Self. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Dwyer, Kevin (1982), Moroccan Dialogues: Anthropology in Question, Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Fabian, Johannes (1983). Time and the Other: How Anthropology Makes Its Object, New York: Columbia University Press.

Flacks, Richard and Gerald Turkel (1978), "Radical Sociology". Annual Review Of Sociology 4, pp. 193-238.

Flax, Jane (1987), "Post-modernism and Gender Relations in Feminist Theory," Sons, Vol. 12, No. 4, pp. 621-643.

Firat A- Fuat, Nikhilesh Dholakia & Richard Bagozzi (1987), Philosophical and Radical Thought in Marketing, eds. Mass: Lexington Books.

Fischer, Eileen (1989), "This the Season to be Jolly? Tensions and Trends in Christmas Shopping," paper presented at ACR, October 1989.

Geertz, Clifford (1973), Me Interpretation of Cultures, New York: Basic Books.

Griswold, Wendy (1987), 'The fabrication of Meaning: Literary interpretation in the United Staates, Great Britain and the West Indies," American Journal of Sociology, Vol 92: 1077-1117.

Hare-Mustin Rachel & Jeanne Maracek (1989), 'The Meaning of Difference", American Psychologist~ vol.43: no. 6.455-464.

Hirschman, Elizabeth (1986), "Humanistic Inquiry in Marketing Research: Philosophy, Method and Criteria," Journal of Marketing Research, (August), vol: 23.,pp. 237-249.

Hirschman, Elizabeth (1989), Interpretive Consumer Research, Provo, UT: Association for Consumer Research, forthcoming.

Holbrook, Morris (1987a), "What is Consumer Research?," Journal of Consumer Research, 14(l), pp. 128-132.

Holbrook, Morris (1987b), "From the Log of a Consumer Researcher: Reflections on the Odyssey," unpublished journal and fieldnotes from the Odyssey project.

Holbrook, Morris, Stephen Bell & Mark W. Grayson (1989), 'The Role of the Humanities in Consumer Research: Close Encounters and Coastal Disturbances" in Interpretive Consumer Research (ed) E.C. Hirschman. Provo, Utah: Association for Consumer Research.

Holbrook, Morris (1989), "President's column," ACR Newsletter, p.1-9.

Howes, David (1989), "Sensorial Anthropology," unpublished manuscript, Department of Anthropology, Concordia University.

Hudson, Laurel and Julie Ozanne (1988), "Alternative Ways of Seeking Knowledge in Consumer Research," Journal of Consumer Research, 14(4), pp. 508-521.

Jackson, Ralph W., Stephen W. McDaniel, and C.P. Rao (1985), "Food Shopping and Preparation: Psychographic Differences of Working Wives and Housewives," Journal of Consumer Research vol: 12 (June), 110- 113.

Kassarjian, Harold H. (1987), "How We Spent our Summer Vacation: A Preliminary Report on the 1986 Consumer Behavior Odyssey' in Advances in Consumer Research, vol. 14 (ed.) Melanie Wallendorf & Paul Anderson, Provo, UT: Association for Consumer Research: 376-377.

Lutz, Richard (1989), "Editorial" Journal of Consumer Research, vol. 16, no. 1.

McDougall, David (1978), "Ethnographic Film: Failure and Promise", Annual Review of Anthropology, vol. 7, pp. 305-426.

Marcus, George E. (1986a). "Contemporary Problems of Ethnography in the Modern World System," in Writing Culture, edited by James Clifford and George E. Marcus, pp. 165-93, Berkeley, California: University of California Press.

Marcus, George E. and Dick Cushman, 1982. " Ethnographies as Texts." Annual Review of Anthropology 11, pp. 25-69.

Marcus, George E. and Michael Fischer (1986), Anthropology as Cultural Critique: An Experimental Moment in the Human Sciences, Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Mascia-Lees, Frances, Patricia Sharpe & Colleen B.Cohen (1989), 'The Postmodernist Turn in Anthropology: Cautions from a Feminist Perspective, "in Signs, Vol 15: no.1. p.7-33.

McCracken, Grant (1988), Culture and Consumption: New Approaches to the Symbolic Character of Consumer Goods and Activities, Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press.

Mick, David (1986), "Consumer Research and Semiotics: Exploring the Morphology of Signs, Symbols and Significance," Journal of Consumer Research, 130, pp. 196-213.

Peterson, R.A_ (1976), The Production of Culture, Beverley Hills: Sage Publication.

Polier, Nicole & William Roseberry (1989), 'Tristes- tropes: Post-Modern Anthropologists Encounter the Other and Discover Themselves", Economy & Society, vol. 18: no. 2. (May) p. 245-264.

Rabinow, Paul (1986), "Representations are Social Facts: Modernity and Postmodernity in Anthropology," in Writing Culture, eds. James Clifford and George E. Marcus, pp. 234-61. Berkeley, California: University of California Press.

Rabinow, Paul and William Sullivan (1987), "The Interpretive Turn: A Second Look," in Interpretive Social Science: A Second Look, eds. Paul Rabinow and William Sullivan, Berkeley, CA_ University of California Press, pp. 1-30.

Ricouer, Paul (1973), 'The Model of the Text," New Literary History, Vol.5. pp.91-120.

Sangren, Steven (1988), "Rhetoric and the Authority of Ethnography," Current Anthropology, Vol. 29, No. 3 (June), pp. 405-435.

Schmitt, Bernd H., France Leclerc, and Laurette Dube-Rioux (1988), "Sex Typing and Consumer Behavior: A Test of Gender Schema Theory," Journal of Consumer Research, vol. 15 (June), p.122-128.

Sherry, John F., Jr. (1983), "Gift-Giving in Anthropological Perspective," Journal of Consumer Research, vol. 10 (Sept.), 157168.

Sherry, John F., Jr. (1986),"Odyssey Pilot: Fieldnotes and Journal" unpublished text.

Sherry, John F., Jr. (1987a), Journal and fieldnotes on the odyssey project, unpublished text.

Sherry, John F., Jr. (1987b), "Keeping the Monkeys Away from the Typewriters: An Anthropologist's View of the Consumer Behavior Odyssey," Advances in Consumer Research, Vol. 14, eds. Melanie Wallendorf and Paul Anderson, Provo, UT: Association for Consumer Research, pp. 370-373.

Sherry, John F., Jr. & Camargo (1987c), "May your Life be Marvelous: English language Labeling and the semiotics of Japanese Promotion." ,Journal of Consumer research, vol. 14. p. 174-188.

Sherry, John F., Jr. (1988), Post-Modem Alternatives: The Interpretive Turn In Consumer Research," Handbook of Consumer theory and Research. eds. Harold Kassarjian and Thomas Robertson, Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, in press.

Sherry, John F., Jr. and Mary Ann McGrath (1989), "Unpacking the Holiday Presence: A Comparative Ethnography of Two Gift Stores," in Interpretive Consumer Research. ed. Elizabeth Hirschman, Provo, UT: Association for Consumer Research.

Sherry, John F., Jr. (1990), "A Socio-cultural Analysis of a Midwestern American Flea Market," Vol. 17 (1) pp. 13-30, Journal of Consumer Research, vol. 16 (4).

Stern, Barbara (1990), "Literary Criticism and Consumer research : Overview and Illustrative Analysis," Journal of Consumer Research, Vol 16: 3, p. 322-335.

Strathem, Marilyn (1987), "An Awkward Relationship: The Case of Feminism and Anthropology', Sgns, Vol. 12, No. 2, pp. 276296.

Thompson, Craig J; William B. Loccander & Howard R. Pollio (1989), "Putting Consumer Experience Back into Consumer Research: The Philosophy and Method of Existential-Phenomenology," Journal of Consumer Research. vol. 16: 2, p. 133-146.

Van Maanen, John (1988), Tales of the Field, Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Wallendorf, Melanie (1986), Journal observations on the Odyssey project, unpublished text.

Wallendorf, Melanie and Russell Belk (1989), "Assessing Trustworthiness in Naturalistic Consumer Research," in Interpretive Consumer Research, ed. Elizabeth Hirschman, Provo, LTF: Association for Consumer Research.



Annamma Joy


SV - Highways and Buyways: Naturalistic Research from the Consumer Behavior Odyssey | 1991

Share Proceeding

Featured papers

See More


C1. Promoting Subjective Preferences in Simple Choices During Sleep

Sizhi Ai, First Affiliated Hospital of Xinxiang Medical University
Yunlu Yin, University of Hong Kong
Yu Chen, Peking University
Lin Lu, Peking University
Lusha Zhu, Peking University
Jie Shi, Peking University

Read More


‘But Screw the Little People, Right?’ Case of the Commercialization of Reward-Based Crowdfunding

Natalia Drozdova, Norwegian School of Economics and Business Administration, Norway

Read More


How Numeric Roundness Influences Probability Perceptions

Julio Sevilla, University of Georgia, USA
Rajesh Bagchi, Virginia Tech, USA

Read More

Engage with Us

Becoming an Association for Consumer Research member is simple. Membership in ACR is relatively inexpensive, but brings significant benefits to its members.