Focussing on consumer culture entails developing alternative ways of not just understanding consumer behaviour but also ways of approaching questions of accessing consumers and getting to know consumer behaviour. Whilst the mainstream of marketing research fixates on lengthy questionnaires and focus groups, increased attention now attends alternative methods such as ethnography that draw from more diverse fields like anthropology. These alternative methods allow us to develop heightened awareness of how consumers are not just purchase decision-makers who can be influenced by strategic marketing communication, but are people who organise and give meaning to their daily practices, performances and rituals of consumption, be they mundane or extraordinary. These alternative methods can be thought of bringing colour to a subject that typically insists on black and white understandings.
John Schouten, of Aalto University in Finland, recently outlined how consumer ethnography functions in his excellent Inaugural (or as the Finns seem to call it Installation) Lecture. Professor Schouten's lecture helpfully introduces many of the core assumptions behind consumer ethnography but also reminds us that, at the heart of such inquiry, is recognition that consumers are people who are creative and fascinating. As he puts it, "there are no uninteresting people, only those who we haven't got to know" and so consumer ethnography, he explains, can be thought of as opening up "windows on ... really interesting places in people's lives". Schouten concludes "for me ethnography provides some of the elements of romance and discovery that make life interesting". Accordingly he says for him "science is one part fact finding, one part puzzle building, one part crusade and one part telling a good story".
At Royal Holloway we study John Schouten's ideas and encourage our students to develop their own consumer ethnographies for their dissertations and other projects that are conducted over the course of studies. More broadly we encourage students to invest creative energy into their studies and to discover that same spirit of romance and discovery.