Advertising Cultures

By Timothy Dewaal Malefyt; Brian Moeran | Go to book overview

3
Advertising, Production and Consumption
as Cultural Economy
Daniel Miller

This paper consists mainly of three case studies of the soft drink industry in Trinidad: The first focuses on an advertising campaign for a soft drink, the second on the advertising and consumption of Supligen – a soya-based drink, and the third on the production and consumption of Coca-Cola. Prior to presenting these casestudies I will briefly consider the methodological stance this work represents, in many ways a quite conservative sense of the merits of ethnography. I then turn to the theoretical debate that it raises which is that posed by recent attempts to rethink what we mean by the idea of a cultural economy. Finally, the case studies serve as demonstrations of the stance described.


The Methodology of Radical Empiricism

The sense of anthropology conveyed by this discussion is probably about as unfashionable as it is possible to be. I would characterize my approach as analytical, structural, and holistic. Ethnographically the approach is based on participant observation within one site, at a time when anthropology favors multi-sited fieldwork. It is empathetic seeking to see things from the point of view of those observed, but analytically it does not identify the interests and reasons behind what informants do with what they say or the reasons they give. In general ‘cause’ as a phenomenon in this work tends to be viewed as structural rather than personal, largely the effect of contradictions within the institutions which to a great extent determine what people do. This is because I believe such structural contradictions are indeed the dominant cause of most human activity. While such an approach was fashionable during the 1980s when structuralist and Marxist approaches held sway it is at variance with much contemporary anthropology. Although language and intentionality are a part of what I study, I consider them limited in their ability to answer the question ‘why’ something happened. My interest is resolutely in social phenomena, hardly ever in individuals per se. My anthropology is primarily directed to the question of what it is that makes people, rather than what it is that

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