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.

Friday, 25 November 2011

Guy Standing - Critical Debates Series

Students & Lecturers Critical Debates - Guy Standing
Tuesday 29 November, 4:00 Rialto Room, Students' Union

Professor Guy Standing of University of Bath will host the first in the Students & Lecturers Critical Debates at Royal Holloway. Standing is the author of the high profile The Precariat which describes an emerging class characterised by insecurity and lack of any occupational identity in an age of transformation of labour (see his article in the Guardian here). 

The event will take place in the Rialto Room at Students' Union between 4 and 6 on Tuesday 29th November.

The ‘Students & Lecturers Critical Debates’ is a joint initiative between Students' Union and lecturers and is designed to critically engage with issues, foster debate and reduce barriers between staff and students and between departments. It establishes an independent forum for critical debate where lecturers and students from all disciplines can join in debate outside the rigid classroom environment and outside the rigidities of departmental structures. The underlying ethos is to create a forum for raising critical issues and to foster the exchange of ideas and positions.
The debates run in the Student’s Union. Each session draws on the work of leading contributors to a field or topic which affects civil, market and state society. It draws speakers from academe, think tanks, journalism, trade unions and beyond. The debate programme is diverse reflecting the underlying plural spirit and the desire to attract a diverse and changing audience each fortnight.
Our aim is to be inclusive so everyone is welcome and that includes all types of students and all types of staff from all departments.

Universities, Profit and the Creation of Cultural Content

The UK Government Universities Minister David Willetts has expressed his support for more for-profit 'university' provision. The rationale is classically economic- he argues that for-profits will help to lower prices and increase consumer choice.

But there is something missing from the for-profits.They haven't created any of the collectively produced cultural content, the knowledge, that they retail. They play no part in filling the collaborative well from which real, non-profit, universities all draw. And they have no investment in the critical thinking which defines a Western university level education.

Of course, real universities are hardly immune from the commoditization of knowledge. But they have a moral legitimacy because of the stuff they do collectively to build that cultural content. For-profits in general pay their staff only to teach, while non-profits pay their staff to do that and also to review and edit books, articles and journals, to examine PhDs and courses, and to engage in debates around research, policy and public understanding.

This cultural content is mostly free to the user, yet the for-profits are packaging and selling it. So is that cultural plagiarism?                    

This op-ed piece is a shorter version of one on my own blog If you're wondering if the world really needs another self-promoting opinion-fest of a blog, blame Dr Bradshaw, whose solicitations to contribute to the MA Marketing blog led to my blog-epiphany. Thanks Alan!        

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Benetton revisit old advertising techniques

I was giving my undergraduate advertising students a history lesson this week about Benetton's strategic use of controversy in their ad campaigns under Toscani almost twenty years ago. Then just yesterday they come up with a reprise of one of their most famous ads. Their 1990s image of a nun and priest kissing (you can see it on this AdAge story) won creativity awards in some countries, but was banned in Italy.

It looks as if someone from Benetton has been studying their own history too- just yesterday a splurge of media chatter rose around a new campaign which includes a picture of the Pope and and a Turkish Imam kissing. Cue Vatican outrage and thousands of free column inches on Benetton's 'new' unhate ad camapign. Job done.

Story here, courtesy of the Daily Mail (warning: the pics are not pretty)

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Exarcheia Now!

Event to discuss contemporary economic crisis, radical activity, radical space and political economies of consumer culture. Will include contributions by Andreas Chatzidakis (Royal Holloway), Antonis Vardis (London School of Economics), Costas Douzinas (Birkbeck), Orsalia Dimitriou (Goldsmiths), Emma Dowling (Queen Mary) and more. To register attendance please email:

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Berman on Foucault

Michel Foucault was a highly influential French social theorist who died in 1984. In the words of Alain Badiou, he was "a scholar, the excellence of that term, full of humour, modest and capable, when necessary, of great rational violence" (Badiou, 2009: 119). Within Critical Management Studies, Critical Marketing and Consumer Culture Theory, Foucault's work has been particularly influential.

At one stage in Critical Management Studies, Foucault-scholars seemed to have become pitted against Marxists and division lines were set accordingly across several British business schools. From the Marxist perspective, his work often is seen as cited in a way that forecloses radical analysis and can be, despite himself, mobilised as a conservative and even reactionary frame of analysis leading Zizek to refer to the "tragedy of Foucault".

Like Adorno, it often seems that Foucault has been overtaken by representations. With such thoughts and divisions in mind, it is interesting to refer to Marshall Berman's impassioned perspective in All That is Solid Melts Into Air (recently re-issued by Verso), worth reproducing at length:

 Marshall Berman, author of All That is Solid Melts Into Air

Just about the only author of the past decade who has had anything substantial to say about modernity is Michel Foucault. And what he has to say is an endless, excruciating series of variations on the Weberian themes of the iron cage and the human nullities whose souls are shaped to fit the bars. Foucault is obsessed with prisons, hospitals, asylums and what Erving Goffman has called "total institutions." Unlike Goffman, however, Foucault denies the possiblity of any sort of freedom, either outside these institutions or within their interstices. Foucault's totalities swallow up every facet of modern life. He develops these themes with obsessive relentlessness and, indeed, with sadistic flourishes, clamping his ideas down on his readers like iron bars, twisting each dialectic into our flesh like a new turn of the screw.
Foucault reserves his most savage contempt for people who imagine that it is possible for modern mankind to be free. Do we think we feel a spontaneous rush of sexual desire? We are merely being moved by "the modern technologies of power that take life as their object," driven by "the deployment of sexuality by power in its grip on bodies and their materiality, their forces, their energies, sensations and pleasures." Do we act politically, overthrow tyrannies, make revolutions, create constitutions to establish and protect human rights? Mere "judicial regression" from the feudal ages, because constitutions and bills of rights are merely "the forms that [make] an essentially normalising power acceptable." Do we use our minds to unmask oppression - as Foucault appears to be trying to do? Forget it, because all forms of inquiry into the human condition "merely refer individuals from one disciplinary authority to another," and hence only add to the triumphant "discourse of power." Any criticism rings hollow, because the critic himself or herself is "in the panoptic machine, invested by its effects of power, which we bring to ourselves, since we are part of its mechanism."
After being subjected to this for a while, we realise that there is no freedom in Foucault's world, because his language forms a seamless web, a cage far more airtight than anything Weber ever dreamed of, into which no life can break. The mystery is who so many of today's intellectuals want to choke in there with him. The answer is, I suspect, that Foucault offers a generation of refugees from the 1960s a world-historical alibi for the sense of passivity and helplessness that gripped so many of us in the 1970s. There is no point in trying to resist the oppressions and injustices of modern life, since even our dreams of freedom only add more links to our chains; however, once we grasp the total futility of it all, at least we can relax. (p34-35)

Badiou, Alain. 2009. Pocket Pantheon. London: Verso.
Berman, Marshall. 2010. All That is Solid Melts Into Air. London: Verso.

Saturday, 12 November 2011

Has the ASA gone crazy?

Marketing ethics is a recurring feature of our MA. I like to follow the UK Advertising Standards Authority rulings, and this one strikes me as very strange. A Marc Jacobs perfume ad has been banned by the ASA for being too sexualised. The story is on the link below. I can't see that interpretation at all- am I naive? Or has the ASA just gone crazy?

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Vera Hoelscher, MA Marketing Student 2009/2010

Hello everyone! My name is Vera Hoelscher and I am a graduate of the MA Marketing 2009/2010 class. I would like to share some of my Royal Holloway experiences with the readers of this blog.  What made this course so unique was how it combined a focus on consumer collectives and social media with critical marketing theories and ethics.  This was supplemented with lectures held by special guests talking to us about topics such as completely turning around a major Russian airport from a marketing services perspective, or awareness of different cultural contexts in marketing.

Although students worked hard, there were plenty of opportunities to enjoy the lightness of being on our beautiful campus and in close by London.  Such included culinary evenings with friends, Founder’s Dining Hall dinners, the legendary Summer Ball as well as partying in London.  For me, one of the most important aspects of life at Royal Holloway was the friendships I found within its international student community.

The most strenuous and yet rewarding experience during my MA was working on my dissertation. In order to keep pushing through months of research, analysis and writing, the key was to choose a topic that I was truly dedicated to.  Befitting the summer months of dissertation writing, I combined three previous research interests of mine – Generation Y, services marketing and luxury consumption – in my dissertation, which came to be titled Marketing Luxury Holidays to a Young German Leisure Class.  The most exciting parts of this process were carrying out the primary research and seeing how my results formed findings that were beyond what I had anticipated. 

Together with my supervisor, Dr Sameer Hosany, I was able to take this dissertation further and publish it as a conference paper at the Travel and Tourism Research Association Conference in Archamps, France in April this year.  After my presentation, fellow academics congratulated me on my research and encouraged me to keep going.  This experience was made yet more special by a Gala diner, which took place at the Cesar Ritz College.  After a Swiss wine tasting session, we were served exquisite courses cooked by the students of the prestigious hotel school all while enjoying the view over Lac Leman.

A final high point of my master’s programme was being able to attend the graduation ceremony in July together with my fellow course mates, friends and family.  It is hard to imagine a venue more festive than the University’s own chapel for such an occasion.  What made the obligatory picture taking and cap tossing so memorable was being reunited with those Royal Holloway people, who have grown to be good friends.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Royal Holloway Students' Union at National Demonstration

East Meets West

With China rapidly emerging as leading global economy, questions of how East and West encounter one another form the basis of numerous texts such as Martin Jacques' recent When China Rules the World and Scott Lash et al's Global China. Within this burgeoning genre can be found an obscure but potentially seminal text by the consumer sociologist Colin Campbell, Easternization of the West: A Thematic Account of Cultural change in the Modern Age.

Colin Campbell is best known within consumer research for his 1985 landmark The Romantic Ethic and the Spirit of Modern Consumerism. By contrast his more recent Easternization of the West: A Thematic Account of Cultural change in the Modern Age (2007) has yet to exert such impact although, I submit, it holds the potential to be an even more significant work. Campbell returns to the Weberian mode of analysis of the Romantic Ethic but this time the focus is on the Western imagination of Eastern spirituality and its impact in shifting Western ethics.

Max Weber

For Campbell a core conceptual basis for his project emanates from his reading of Weber and the idea of ‘worldview’, a term which Weber used instead of ‘culture’, and relates to a human need to conceive of the world as a meaningful cosmos. Campbell states that no religious worldview can be entirely satisfactory in meeting the basic human need for meaning and this produces tension. Further, there is an inherent drive towards a systematizing and rationalizing of any worldview. Critically, Campbell argues that rationalizing can take one of only two directions and that these are logically, not empirically, derived hence Campbell acknowledges that what is being theorised are ideal-typical religious orientations and that there have always been elements of the East in the West and vice-versa. It is also important to note, as Campbell does, that the social and economic circumstances that people find themselves in will affect the kind of meanings that people need.

Colin Campbell

The first direction that rationalization of worldview can take is that ultimate reality becomes envisaged as a separate form above or beyond this world, which becomes increasingly profane in distinction: “these alternatives tend to result in the first case in the postulation of a personal god who transcends the world he created and who intends the resolution of all discrepancy by establishing a “Kingdom of God on Earth” at some future time”. (p12). This rationalization is identified as being the direction followed by the major western religions including Christianity, Judaism and Islam. The second rationalization typifies religions of the East:

“... the postulation of an immanent divine principle, which working itself out over millennia through a moral mechanism involving the transmigration of souls, will also eventually achieve closure once all life has progressed through to the highest level of unity with the “all-soul”. (p12)

Hence we are provided with two worldviews that give rise to the meanings and ethics that we find with Western thought identified as predicated on the idea of an external ultimate reality whilst the East is predicated on the idea of immanent divinity. An important clarification is needed to say that for Campbell the ‘East’ at stake is actually the West’s image of the East, or perhaps a Western alter-ego available for anybody alienated from the Western system, and is not, therefore, an authentic form of cultural importation. Campbell’s core argument is that a shift in worldview has taken place and that we are now amidst an era of Easternization: “it concerns fundamental changes in the dominant worldview that prevails in the West, and as such changes that are apparent in all areas of life, including religion certainly but also medicine, the arts, political thought and even science. In that respect the Easternization thesis refers to a fundamental revolution in Western civilisation, one that can be compared in significance to the Renaissance, the Reformation or the Enlightenment” (p41). Concurrent with an Easternization of the West is, of course, the de-Westernisation of the West. The import of these claims is huge.

Over the course of Campbell’s text a series of instances of Easternization are provided. An example of the process, at a very basic level, is yoga. At first yoga is imported divested of its spiritual content –merely a means to achieve fitness and physiotherapy - however over time its spiritual dimension becomes re-inscribed amidst a general popularization of Zen,Taoism and other Eastern beliefs. Hence the tendency “to Westernize, that is to secularize it, (is) replaced by an acceptance of its essentially spiritual nature” (p35). Of course the process of Easternization probes deeper than an embracement of yoga and over the course of several hundred pages, Campbell iterates the rise of the New Age as a major cultural transformation to Easternization with enormous consequences. Christianity becomes piece by piece re-packaged as a more Eastern friendly religion; the Devil disappears from theology, as does the idea of God as a “distant, awesome and terrifying judge” (p255) as indeed does the idea of the Bible as a text that needs to be read literally – as Campbell states the “form of Christianity that flourishes in the West today... bears a considerable resemblance to the New Age movement” (p345). Leftist politics are undermined as scepticism of religious dogma and orthodox doctrine spill over and so projects of social transformation turn away from institutional reform towards existentialism. Hence concerns with an excess of materialism, free sexual subjectivity and the notionally emancipated and non-alienated subject become more resonant; a “shift of the focus of radicalism in the West from the political to the cultural and quasi-spiritual realm” (p239). In science the shift is away from “old, classical Newtonian-style scientific worldview” of linear, uni-directional cause and effect towards a more associated holism; a self-organising system that is biological and organic rather than physical and mechanic, a reality that embraces consciousness, mind and intelligence. Across these various channels we see the same general Easternization processes at work consistent with a reconfiguration of culture according to alternative beliefs. For Campbell, this leads to a undermining of authority of the pillars of the West –politicians, scientists and religious leaders - who are forced into transformations in order to accommodate the new ethic. By contrast Campbell identifies rises in discourses that are consistent with immanent divinity and Easternization; the human potential movement, astrology, animal rights, ecology and so on.

The question, then, arises which forms the basis of Campbell’s text – how does a major cultural transformation take place? Intriguingly for consumer culture scholars, the cultural change takes place in popular consumption and he identifies England during the 1960s as the critical time which finally brought about, in real terms, a transformation that had been coming for centuries. For Campbell, transformation becomes possible when the existing system is no longer sufficient for a large group of people and so the case proved to be in the 1960s amongst divergent youth subcultures. To all-too rapidly summarise Campbell’s expanded argument, a convergence took place between disaffected youth subcultures in a 60s counterculture that was predicated on alternative philosophies of radical Eastern spirituality and Romanticism. Campbell argues that such was the explosive impact of this convergence – marked by the radical uprisings of 1968 (generally retrospectively understood as a youth culture war against alienation) – that the process of Easternization became entrenched.

Zizek, in bed

Campbell seeks to pre-empt critiques of Easternization as simply re-labelling postmodernity by arguing that, to the contrary, postmodernism is a misreading of Easternization. As he argues, much of the defining features such as ontological dualism, an emphasis on the orderliness and rational comprehensibility of the cosmos together with a distinct historical sense” (p361) are distinctive of the West rather than of modernity itself therefore a more accurate description would be post-Western rather than postmodern. Critique is indirectly provided by Zizek (2001) who seems to pre-empt Campbell by imagining Weber writing a book entitled The Taoist Ethic and the Spirit of Global Capitalism - arguably the closest possible thing! For Zizek such a phenomenon is entirely reconcilable with the postmodern – in fact it represents the “ultimate postmodern irony” in that at the very moment that the Judeo-Christian legacy is threatened within the European space by the onslaught of the “New Age Asiatic thought”, Taos itself is establishing itself as the hegemonic ideology of global capitalism; a “perfect ideological supplement” (Zizek, 2001:p12). As such this “recourse to Taoism” offers the solution to coping with the acceleration of technological progress and social change. In this way Western Buddhism functions, according to Zizek, as a fetish: it does not resolve any problems raised by Western modernity but displaces the critique. Hence, the West continues in its productive and destructive capacity but rather than respond to the crises generated, the subject can “fully participate in the frantic pace of the capitalist game while sustaining the perception that you are not really in it, that you are well aware how worthless the spectacle is – what really matters to you is the peace of the inner Self to which you know you can always withdraw” (p15). Of course as Campbell is working within a Weberian mode, the truth of such critiques are beside the point – the task is merely to arrive at a sociological analysis of practice rather to evaluate their intrinsic goodness; as Weber himself nicely put it “whoever wants a sermon should go to a conventicle” (p29).

In any case for consumer culture theory, in particular, the implications of Campbell’s thesis are immense. Not only does the text provide a systematic analysis of the contingencies of the sacred and the devotional but it locates such a fundamental transformation in culture at the very front-line of issues of interest to consumer researchers – hence the radical individuality, hedonism and experientialism, the return to nature, ritual, magic, drug consumption, aesthetics, ethical and green consumption, new forms of community and tribalism, the recurrence of romantic mythology, the idea of brands that are iconic, the identification of servicescapes as utopian, the sacred dimensions and more besides can be located within a larger system or worldview; arguably Campbell presents consumer culture theory with its missing link! Overall however, the import and relevance of Campbell’s text locate the spiritual dimension of consumption to be of critical importance to understanding the world and culture that we inhabit.

Campbell, Colin, 2005. The Romantic Ethic and the Spirit of Modern Consumerism. London: Blackwell.
Campbell, Colin, 2008. The Easternization of the West: A Thematic Account of Cultural Change in the West. London: Paradigm Publishers.
Weber, Max. 2003. The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. Mineola: Dover Publications.
Zizek, Slavoj, 2001. On Belief. London: Routledge.