Ever since I enrolled on MA Marketing course at Royal Holloway, the outlook of having to write a dissertation weighed heavily on me, as I were expected to produce something, if not unique and original, then definitely deep, thought- provoking and coherent. The best advice I was given when preparing for writing was to choose something close to my sphere of interests, not academic, but life ones.
When I looked inside of me and grasped the thoughts that were swarming in my head, all I could think of was luxury. Yeah, what can I say? Guilty. Colour me shallow if you want, but as a person, who hadn’t experienced much of it in the past, I was naturally attracted to everything that was deemed luxurious and hedonist. Private jets, exclusive locations, expensive cars, branded clothes – who does NOT think about them from time to time? So I decided to go with the idea and examine closely the reasons that make people want luxury.
The revelation came when I started doing research and drafting my piece. It turned out that interests, whatever they might be, occupy a special spot in individual’s mind and make it accumulate information that goes far beyond the narrow part that I could call an active interest. In my case, I discovered that although I acknowledged the idea of a luxurious and hedonist life, I had much to say on adjacent topics of the ethics of luxury, the reasons of consumption of luxury or the choice of luxury brands. I involuntarily distilled and absorbed information from talk shows, paper articles, books, so the only task was to simply access and use it. In this vein, my advice to any readers is to remain true to oneself, not be afraid to look inside of oneself, to research something that lies within one’s scope of interests and get rid of the thought that someone might judge him or her on the basis of those interests. Only the beginning will be rocky and uncomfortable, the rest, though, will be a breeze!
When I was struggling with my topic, what caught my attention was the sequence of thoughts, internal monologues and feelings that individuals have when buying something very expensive in comparison to their income. Think of it: when we buy a pack of candies we think and feel differently from when we are getting ready to spend a pretty penny on a branded bag or a piece of clothing. Buying a luxurious item is similar to dying: our life runs by before our eyes, we think of our friends, family, and then we face our torturer – our conscience. If we stay strong, survive and buy the item, we usually end up in paradise, filled with glee and positive emotions. The promise of this paradise encourages people to pass the mental hell of doubt and fear and to consume luxury again and again. I found it genuinely curious to study what people feel when consuming luxury. What I feel... And why...
Remarkably, I had not discovered much coherent knowledge on the process of consumption and consumption emotions, so I had to research several sub-topics in my work. The topic of my dissertation, supervised by Dr Sameer Hosany, sounded as “Emotionality of consumption and the concept of consumption emotions in marketing theory: A critical review”. I regarded the whole dissertation as a “Lego” kit, with which I built a composition, although it was an unusual construction kit, as I had to carve out single pieces by myself.
I figured that for my topic I should research relevant theories that would be then joined together in one construct.Consumption theory became the axis of my work, as it was all about consumption. The self- concept in marketing, another part of the work, was dedicated to examining how consumers were affected by how they saw themselves in the eyes of others. Indeed, although to some extent we can say that we buy for ourselves, this part proved that we mainly consume for others and derive pleasure from meeting society’s expectations of us. In this capacity, the self-concept served as a link to connect consumption and emotions, which constituted the core of the dissertation.
To protect the work at least from some academic criticism and ensure better validity, I also had to review the hedonist consumption, which I saw lying in opposition to the self- concept, as hedonism implies consumption for own pleasure, and the consumption of counterfeit goods, a polar opposition to hedonism, where items are consumed conspicuously and without the regard for “the self”. These poles balanced out the whole dissertation, allowing a glimpse into how well the topic fit with the “extreme” cases of consumption.
Once I carved out and connected all the pieces together, I was very surprised to see what foundation my dissertation provided for criticizing the ways marketing knowledge is built and handled nowadays. Do not get me wrong: I anticipated the results, but when they came, I was still surprised.
Joining consumption, the self- concept, emotions and hedonism allowed me to demonstrate that employed marketing concepts are far too limited to convincingly explain some real life phenomena; that consumption itself is too complex a concept to throw around in marketing, describing all the range of activities that imply the use of a product. Consumption practices can be very different in terms of how products are consumed and to what avail, therefore we need to define them before we proceed to research.
Finally, consumption emotions are far more complex than they are portrayed in the marketing literature. We need finer measurement tools that Likert scales, as emotions are multidimensional: buying a luxury item, we can experience both anxiety and anticipation of pleasure; guilt for buying and determination to do so.
All in all, the dissertation proved to be, and you will not believe that, a cool and exciting experience that for me personally crossed the line of being only a formal assignment. I lived it, I breathed it and I dreamt it.
So this is my advice to you: do not take it as a burden – enjoy it by picking a topic that you could relate to. Use all three months to write it properly, instead of doing in hastily the last month before submission (you simply cannot party or sleep day and night – use free time to do some reading and writing up). Start writing something as soon as possible, preferably the next day you are given a green light for the dissertation. I does not even matter what you write, as long as it is relevant for your work, just do it: write a plan or some thoughts that you could expand on later. The focal point here is to begin, which is more a psychological matter than any other. Talk to and consult with your supervisor as often as you need it and do not treat him or her as only a tutor. Cross this line and treat it as a person who is there to help – a respectful, easy and constructive relationship will get you far.
Last, but not least: the dissertation is your exit out of Royal Holloway – make it spectacular for everyone to remember and not blasé to forget.