Wednesday, April 16, 2003

For the record

I got a message last week that I've included below, but have taken out any reference to its sender because I have nothing against this particular person. I do, however, find the request vaguely offensive.

Hi Anne. I'm a brand consultant currently engaged in a positioning project for a major wireless carrier. Our process includes so-called "expert interviews" to help us understand cultural as well as user-specific issues around the client's offering, to test some hypotheses, to generate some smart provocations. I've enjoyed (and learned a lot from) PLSJ over the past year or so, and I think your perspective would be a great addition to the project. Your time (prob 1-hour phone conversation) would be compensated.

First, the simple fact that there is such a job as "brand consultant" is appalling to me. That someone is tasked with figuring out how to buy and sell aspects of my identity is just... gross. Second, I don't know about other sociologists and anthropologists, but I feel an obligation to produce research that is committed to the social good. (Never trust a researcher who says their work isn't political.) And since I do not consider rampant consumerism, and its conflation with social and personal identity and value, to be a social good, I want nothing to do with enabling or supporting this endeavour.

OK. I really am more flexible in my thinking and behaviour, but you may still consider me naive or overly-idealistic in some respects. I understand, for example, that there is always the possibility of being able to positively influence the content and direction of marketing. I mean, I'm also a consumer of new technology and I have an interest in what sorts of products and services become available. Still, something about being asked to produce knowledge specifically for the purposes of marketing leaves a really bad taste in my mouth. But, you may also consider me a hypocrite because I would produce research with and for people developing these new technologies. It's the intervention of marketing, and its co-option of social and cultural knowledge, that offends me.

From my perspective, anyone can take what I have published here and elsewhere and figure out how to apply it to whatever problem they are trying to solve. So, maybe in the end, what I really value is academic autonomy? I dunno. I struggle with such things...


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