For more information about Royal Holloway, please see this promotional video. To see a promotional video for the MA Consumption, Markets & Culture see here. To see a promotional video for the Royal Holloway School of Management, click here.

For more information about the Royal Holloway MA Marketing and MA Consumption, Culture & Marketing and the application process see here.

To get an understanding of the unique values that underly the MA Marketing and MA Consumption, Culture & Marketing programme please read these blog posts: Value of Scholarly Values, Importance of Reading and Morris Holbrook and Business Interest in Education.

Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Morris Holbrook and Business Interest in Education

A defining aspect of much of the teaching in the MA Marketing at Royal Holloway is a commitment to studying marketing critically. As Chris Hackley writes (see his post here) this approach means studying marketing "as a university subject with implied values of scholarship and critical thinking and not simply as a list of management axioms to be learned by rote and applied without discrimination." This entails taking an intellectually rich approach to the subject that transcends managerial positions and instead views marketing from the perspective of society, culture, economy and politics. Hence this programme may frustrate people who wish to be "tooled" (as Terry Eagleton euphemistically puts it) for an imminent professional practice but hopefully will delight students who want to spend a year developing their critcal and analytic abilities.

To that end, Morris Holbrook's - a highly influential consumer researcher - vigorous defence (which you can read here) of a study of consumer culture uncontaminated by managerialist agenda is worth further exploration. Holbrook remains marketing's master of metaphor and presents wonderful anaologies with his tale of the Three Bears serving as a great case in point. Morris's writing regularly presents us with a host of animals from gorillas to cats and dogs and beyond to make his points and rhetorical gestures. I here return to two of my very favourite Holbrookian examples which nicely articulate the value of a critical and non-vocational approach to the subject of marketing and consumers.

First Morris considers the contrast between the ichtyologist and the fisherman - both are concerned with studying fish but the ichtyologist studies fish simply to understand them and contribute to knowledge. The fisherman, on the other hand, wants to understand fish so to better catch them. Consumer researchers, he argues, must approach consumers as the ichtyologist approaches fishes - as a research site to study and understand because understanding is an excercise worthwhile in its own right. By contrast the marketing practicioner approaches consumers so to catch them, that is to sell them products that they don't want and this is a dubious learning excercise that corrupts the historic mandate of the university and limits the ability for wider and reflexive thinking. A further concern of Morris attends the increasingly prevalent spectacle of business interests determining what should be thought in masters programmes. For example see the rise of various accrediting bodies and agencies that endorse and regulate university programmes (usually at a hefty fee) leading some schools to pursue the heady but dubious goal of "triple accreditation". Morris comments as follows:

An ichthyologist studies fish, but we don't find it acceptable for her to be swallowed by a whale. Why, then, should we who teach in business schools cheerfully agree to submerge ourselves in business interests to the point where we lose our own identities and disappear?

Another comparison he uses is that between Edmund Hillary and Willie Sutton. Edmund Hillary was a New Zealand mountaineer who, in 1953, became the first man to reach the summit of Mount Everest. Willie Sutton was an infamous careerist bank robber who staged several high profile robberies. Morris's comparison beautifully makes the point:
In directing attention away from consumption phenomena and toward buying behavior, managerialism rejects Sir Edmund Hillary's reason for climbing a mountain ("because it's there") in favor of Willie Sutton's rationale for robbing banks ("because that's where the money is"). This observation reminds us that, whereas the Greek Hermes or Roman Mercury served as the god of commerce, he was also the patron of thieves. 
Morris presented these ideas at a session at the Advances of Consumer Research conference in 1985 and by all accounts the event was a very much heated affair with major scholars of the field arguing passionately and vociferously. Marketing scholars took sides between those who strongly believed that marketing's study of consumers should be even more industrially relevant and those, lead by Morris Holbrook, who called for a subject divested of managerial relevancy and a-relevant to commercial interest. Almost thirty years later the need still remains to insist upon and passionately defend space in universities for an orientation of marketing scholarship that pursues knowledge for its own sake. We ask our students to respect and support this orientation and parcipate with us in what we believe to be the richest and most intellectually rewarding and fulfililng way of approaching the fascinating brand culture and consumer society in which we find ourselves.


  1. Hey. I'm glad to see that serious scholars are still worried about these things. And I congratulate Royal Holloway in general and Alan Bradshaw in particular on leading the pack in the right direction.

    Morris B. Holbrook

  2. I started reading this with the turtles head but it was interesting enough for me to hold off. Great work. Now excuse me.

  3. Nik Dholakia, University of Rhode Island2 February 2012 at 04:54

    Alan, you demon-slayer, keep that sabre sharp!

  4. Bradshaw, we DID notice that you weakly defended comments on your idiotic statements on Sarkozy's "jogging" (December 27,2011) We also noticed that you waited a few days, and then decided to do the open-minded, academic thing any excellent university professor would do - just remove the comments... Smart my good man! (Let's see how long this one lives)

  5. Business is a battle for survival.  Marketing is one of the battlegrounds.

    Why proclaim the study of battle a "dubious learning exercise", only good for "corrupting the historic mandate" of the university?

    Half a league, half a league, half a league onward - even Iron Maiden knew.

  6. Nullius in Verba you seem a bit credulous toward business rhetoric. Perhaps you've been reading too much Sun Tzu.

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