Representing Consumers: Voices, Views, and Visions

Representing Consumers: Voices, Views, and Visions

Representing Consumers: Voices, Views, and Visions

Representing Consumers: Voices, Views, and Visions


Representing Consumers challenges the prevailing orthodoxies within consumer research methodology by examining representation and constructions of "truth". The contributors make accessible a variety of theoretical approaches, drawing on postmodernism, photography, literary theory, narratology and poetry. They examine issues such as: the construction of the researcher and consumer voice; the use of quantitative tools; multimedia and representation: advertising narratives; poetic representation of consumer experience: and consumer-oriented ethnographic research.


Kent Grayson

In consumer research—as in all types of human communication—there is an inevitable link between representation and deception. In articles, monographs, and books, consumer researchers seek to present consumer experiences, behaviors, and general tendencies to readers. However, because experiences, behaviors, and general tendencies cannot be presented directly to a reader, they must instead be represented using words, tables, graphs, diagrams, formulae, and other signs. Thus, a great deal depends on the researcher’s ability to choose the most representative signs because they are the only link that a reader has with what the researcher has examined. To the extent that the researcher chooses unwisely—or worse, chooses selectively in order to present a more convincing account—the reader will be left with an incorrect or distorted view of what was researched. Umberto Eco (1979:59) summarizes this line of reasoning with the proposition that “every time there is signification, there is the possibility of using it in order to lie. ”

Are lies prevalent in consumer research? The answer depends on one’s definition of a lie. Certainly when researchers choose signs to represent consumer experiences, they leave out some things and simplify others. Kenneth Burke suggests that this alone leads to misrepresentation and deception, saying that people search for:

vocabularies that will be faithful reflections of reality. To this end, they must develop vocabularies that are selections of reality. And any selection of reality must, in certain circumstances, function as a deflection of reality (emphasis his).

(Burke 1945:59)

Perhaps it is unfair to call consumer research a lie if it “deflects reality” by omission or simplification. Readers undoubtedly would find fault with a consumer

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