CCTC: Presidential Newsletter (October 2018)

October 17, 2018

Dear CCTC community,

To quote Merleau-Ponty (1962), “we must understand time as the subject and the subject as time.” At this precise moment, my prevailing subjective experience of time is an anxious awareness of being very late in fulfilling my promise to write a presidential letter soon after CCT-2018 (Odense). So, over three months after the fact, I offer some reflections on that magical conference, conference registration fees, CCTC, our membership drive, an important CCTC initiative (the Recent Research webpage) and some suggestions for improving our reviewer culture.

 

ACR and CCT

Before looking ahead, a quick return to the past. In my previous newsletter, I made a case that members of CCTC needed to re-establish a critical presence at the annual Association for Consumer Research conference. The CCT community has maintained a strong foothold in the videography track (formerly the ACR film festival) but our intellectual contributions to the broader program are also important. At ACR 2018 (Dallas)—admirably co-chaired by our very own Rob Kozinets—we had a definite uptick in participation. Let’s keep this positive momentum going for ACR 2019 (Atlanta).

And on the ACR front, I am very, very pleased to announce that CCTC’s past president, Eileen Fischer, is now president elect for the Association of Consumer Research. Eileen will assume the president’s role in 2020. Also in regard to CCT’s contributions to ACR, Linda Price has been named an Association of Consumer Research Fellow (Linda will be a member of the 2019 Fellows group that also includes Bill Bearden and Chris Janiszewski).

 

CCT-Odense and CCT-Montreal   

Due to the dedicated efforts of past conference organizers and the great support of those in the CCT community, we have a remarkable legacy of conferences that are intellectually rewarding, hedonically satisfying, and socially enriching. This year’s conference co-chairs Domen Bajde and Dannie Kjeldgaard, with the invaluable assistance of conference coordinator Mikkel Nøjgaard, brought this past into our experiential present and set the stage for another great conference in 2019 (more on that later).

CCT-2018 offered a diverse conference program that addressed issues ranging from materiality to the digitization of consumer culture, punctuated by three fascinating, interdisciplinary key note speeches by Franck Cochoy, Fred Wherry, and Richard Wilk. Other highlights included Rebecca Scott winning the 2018 Sid Levy award for “Selling Pain to the Saturated Self “(Scott, Cayla, and Cova 2017); Jennifer Takhar winning the best poster for her “Post-truth Fertility Consumption in Ariel Levy’s ‘The Rules Do Not Apply””; The best conference paper was awarded to Benedetta Cappellini, Vicki Harman, Elizabeth Parsons and Alessandra Marilli for their “Intensive Mothering in Hard Times: Foucauldian Ethical Self-formation and Cruel Optimism.” The Per Ostergaard award for the most critically reflexive and philosophically inspiring paper went to Stephen Brown’s “Duck, it’s a Raven! Writing Stirring Stories with Andersen’s Sinister Shadow.”

And in a moment that those in attendance will never forget, John Sherry delivered a deeply moving and heartfelt tribute to the great man whose legacy will always carry forward into CCTC’s unfolding future—the inimitable Sidney J. Levy.

Looking ahead, the 2019 Consumer Culture Theory Conference will take place from July 17 to 19. The conference will be co-chaired by Zeynep Arsel and Marie‐Agnès Parmentier.

  • The conference will be hosted by the John Molson School of Business, Concordia University (downtown Montreal).
  • The call for papers will be released in late October. The conference website should also go “live” at that time.  Deadline for all submissions will be Jan 15.
  • An online conference proceedings will be published for the first time (an innovation that CCTC plans to continue for all our future conferences)
  • The Qualitative Data Analysis workshop will also be held before the conference. Please contact the QDA chairs for details (Ashlee Humphreys, Linda Tuncay Zayer, and Markus Giesler)

Based on my knowledge of some of Zeynep and Marie‐Agnès’s (still tentative) plans, I am very confident that we have another fantastic conference on the way.

 

CCTC and You:

As an institution, sponsoring and organizing the conference is one of the most important, and certainly the most visible, activities undertaken by CCTC.

The CCT conference is, of course, a forum for intellectual exchanges and gaining productive feedback on one’s research projects. Beyond its functions in building (academic) cultural capital, building community and social capital are equally vital aspects of our annual conference.

On a related note, at the CCT-2018 research poster session, I was introduced to Jeanette Lemmergaard, Head of Department, Department of Marketing and Management, who professed her sheer amazement that so many attended this final event of the day and were so fully engaged in providing feedback to others. We take such communal sharing for granted but it is a treasured resource that is quite rare in many other academic settings.

CCTC also sponsors and underwrites the biennial Qualitative Data Analysis Workshop which provides hands-on training for doctoral students interested in doing culturally-oriented consumption and marketplace research. We also support a large number of educational and training initiatives (see http://cctweb.org/cct-doctoral-training)

More generally still, CCTC aims to represent your interests and ideas. As I noted in my Presidential address during the CCT-Odense conference, if any community member has issues of concerns or suggestions please feel free to contact any member of the board. Our intended structure is that regional representatives serve as the communicative channels but, if for some reason, you would prefer to contact one of the at-large representatives or one of the presidential triad (i.e., myself, president-elect Søren Askegaard, and past president Eileen Fischer), please feel free to do so. A full listing of the CCTC board can be accessed here (http://cctweb.org/about/board).

We also are developing a new community resource. Michelle Weinberger has started an excellent crowd source initiative to help members of our community stay abreast of recent CCT research published across a broad range of journals, books, and edited volumes. It will soon institutionalized as the “Recent Research Page” on the CCT.org. For the moment, however, the resource is located on Google docs:

Here is the original announcement about this project that Michelle made on the CCT FB page:

We are slowly populating the CCTC website with new content (http://cctweb.org/). Currently, we are working on a “Recently Published in CCT” page both as a way for members to keep up with the latest research and as a way for non-members to see the great work that we are all doing.

But, we need your help. Please add your publications and those of colleagues to the temporary google doc. We will transfer these to the website soon.

Just click below, read the instructions, and add your 2017 and 2018 publications:

https://docs.google.com/…/1oCABW0hpa-y3o85pSqhFp4K8Ig…/edit…

Michelle and our webmaster Henri Weijo will integrate the Google doc into the CCTweb.org site by early December (if not sooner). Please, please contribute to and use this resource.

 

Conference Registration Fees:

Per the conference, our constant goal is to keep the conference registration fees as low as possible, while of course covering our costs. For our last two conferences, however, registration fees have crept up because those respective host sites have had higher overhead costs. For any given year, we have a very small number of proposals to host the conference and, in some cases, the size of the conference necessitates that the designated chairs rely on a conference center.  As an organization, we try to negotiate the lowest rates possible but the minimum level for a conference center is still fairly high. The co-chairs for CCT-2017 and CCT-2018 also went above and beyond the call of duty to attain outside funding to reduce registration fees. I am happy to report that costs for CCT-2019 should be lower because we will be able to use Concordia University’s facilities for conference events.

 

Membership:

This newsletter marks the kick-off of our 2019 membership drive. I could provide a list of pragmatic reasons for why you should be a member of CCTC, such as getting reduced registration fee for the conference. But, I think the more important and compelling reason is that your membership fees contribute to the community. Membership fees help us to further reduce conference registration and costs for other events such as the Qualitative Data Analysis Workshop. So, if everyone contributes a little, there is consequential collective benefit for the community at large. Also, having a vibrant and growing organization provides institutional legitimacy that helps to maintain our representation and (place at the proverbial table) for other institutions that are relevant to the professional lives of our membership, such ACR, AMA, MSI, and journal editorial boards. As of October 14, the CCT Facebook group had 3,806 members. Our organization’s official membership is not even 1/10th of that total. The Facebook group is a great platform for sharing information and it, is in some sense, a “free good” –so long as you don’t mind your personal information being commoditized! However, it cannot provide the interpersonal benefits and the sense of intellectual energization that comes from our conference and the nexus of related events that are affiliated with CCTC (see http://cctweb.org/about/cct-scholars). Your membership is a tangible way to support this collective project.

Our membership fee is quite affordable compared to other academic organizations—$100 for faculty and $50 for student members. And indeed, members earn those costs back with the reduction on their CCT conference registration fee (a classic win-win). If you are a CCT faculty member with a viable research budget, please consider paying for your doctoral student (s)’ membership and they can qualify for the reduced registration fee.

In the very near future, our Executive Secretary, Cristel Russell, will send out information on the membership drive. Current members will receive an email and this information will also be posted in the CCT Face Book page. 

 

CCT’s Reviewer Culture:

During the 2018 conference award’s session, co-chair Domen Bajde made note of the hyper-critical nature of the conference reviews and suggested that our community should try to be less adversarial when reviewing each other’s work. To say that Domen’s comment strongly resonated with the audience would be a serious understatement.

The obvious paradox of this situation is that “we” are the very same reviewers we complain about as authors. How is it that our actions in these two roles can diverge so greatly?

I have had a long run in the roles of being an associate editor at different CCT oriented journals, reviewer, and author. Based on that experience, I believe that far more often than not, reviews are constructively critical, supportive, and offer tangible advice for improving a piece of research. Nonetheless, there are indeed times when CCT reviews become counterproductive by making authors jump through unnecessary hoops or missing the main point of the research, or pushing authors toward orthogonal lines of argumentation. And we can be—as seemed to be the case for CCT-2018—too persnickety when making our evaluations and recommendations.

What are the reasons for such problematic outcomes?

One contributing factor is that we are an intellectually diverse research community. When a manuscript is assigned to a set of reviewers, the match is often paradigmatically appropriate at a global level, and it may even align at a substantive level, but diverge at a more granular level. For example, a study of consumers’ experiences in a retail setting might be framed by an anthropological orientation but assigned reviewers may assess the analysis from sociological, historical. or critical-gender perspectives, to name a few.

On the plus side, such pluralistic exchanges can significantly enrich an analysis and help to imbue it with an innovative interdisciplinary edge. On the downside, this multiplicity can also overwhelm an author who is tasked with becoming facile in diverse theoretical conversations and finding some plausible means to forge a coherent, integrative framework from disparate recommendations. In the worst case scenario, these intellectual differences can lead reviewers to be dismissive of the actual analysis—how could you not cite these works, or make these kind of analytic points?!!—even though those “alternative” arguments may not be germane to an author’s theoretical agenda and underlying paradigmatic assumptions.

When I compare CCT reviews to those from sociology journals, for example, the latter seldom dig into the empirical details of a study or seek to deconstruct and reconstruct the authors’ theoretical framing, nor do they redesign, reposition or reanalyze it. Their typical approach is to provide general assessment of whether the theorization and analysis is worthy of publication. These reviews tend to focus on the extent to which authors’ arguments are well-supported by the data, that the relevant literature is adequately and accurately discussed, and that the methodology is appropriate and competently deployed. Last but not least, sociology of consumption reviews tend to focus on the broad evaluative criterion of whether the argument offers net value (and that assessment is where you see the broadest divergence in opinion). These reviewers will, of course, identify problems that need to be redressed but, their critical directives tend to be more of a request for elaboration or clarification, rather than a demand for a new paradigmatic orientation or a major re-design of the research project.

In other words, the sociology of consumption sphere has a far less interventionist reviewer culture. The reviewers are content to make essentially “a thumbs up/thumbs down” assessment but do not feel impelled to solve the author’s problems or propose a “better” paper idea. They tend to stay within the intellectual frame of the manuscript and assess the merits accordingly.

This less intrusive approach works very well for manuscripts that lie on the ends of the distribution curve; that is, those that just are not well-conceived or those that come in close to publication quality.

This hands-off reviewer culture, however, is far less forgiving for projects that have promise but that also are underdeveloped conceptually or empirically. The CCT reviewer culture is far better for developing works that have latent potential but that the proverbial “uncut diamond.” However, this positive quality can also function as our field’s “tragic” flaw.

This normative/interventionist tendency has, like all things socio-cultural, historical roots. Many of you have probably heard this origin story about CCT; way back in the 1980’s, the early leaders of the nascent intellectual movement felt that quality control, via the review process, was essential to establishing the legitimacy of this research tradition in the broader consumer behavior discipline. The implication is that this hyper-critical tendency has been reproduced across new generations of CCT researcher/reviewers.

However, I would suggest that the genealogy of our review culture is not characterized so much by a policing ethos but rather a tutorial one.

CCT—i.e., the discipline formerly known as interpretivist consumer research—began as a kind of boot strap enterprise, where many of its early pioneers were self-taught, with a select few having training in base disciplines. As the field slowly took shape, we therefore had a small cadre of reviewers who had relative degrees of expertise and an emergent network of researchers who wanted to work in this sphere, though often with limited intellectual capital for conducting culturally oriented consumer research and little, if any, support from their doctoral programs or home departments. In response, the CCT review process became a prime means for providing direct guidance to budding interpretivist researchers in terms of relevant literature, data collection and analysis techniques, etc.

The non-interventionist orientation exhibited by the sociology of consumption field would not have been conducive to the establishment of CCT in the broader consumer research literature. Rather, more experienced reviewers often provided extensive guidance and directions to comparatively inexperienced authors so that a submitted manuscript’s latent potential could be developed into a publishable form.

Such an orientation requires considerable investment of time and energy on the part of reviewers and it reflects, a passionate commitment on their part to advancing the cause of CCT research. On the downside, however, this passionate commitment can also lead CCT reviewers to become overly vested in their conception of the right or best way to pursue a given analysis.

In the resulting tutorial culture,  reviewers now assume the de facto position of being experts, and critically minded mentors, whereas authors are placed in the subordinate role of mentees, apprentices, and students. How often do reviewers actually ascribe expertise to authors; or acknowledge that the author may have greater knowledge about a conceptual or empirical domain; or regard a submitted manuscript as an opportunity for learning?

This tutorial reviewer culture can, in turn, create some perverse dynamics. If an author draws from a theoretical tradition that a reviewer is not well versed in, a reviewer may, in some subtle or not so subtle ways, demand that an author re-orient a study toward more familiar territories or devalue the importance of the intended theoretical contribution.

The necessary function of the review process is to ensure that high standards of scholarship are maintained so that our literature is not marred by shoddy empirical work, conceptually flawed arguments, or glaring errors of omission. However, the review process should not function as an institutionalized form of hectoring that demands authors conform to a restrictive orthodoxy or that imposes unreasonable demands and standards upon them.

The challenge, of course, is finding the right balance between critiquing, mentoring, and respecting the knowledge and perspective of an author(s). And to reiterate, in most cases I think our community more or less hits the sweet spot in its reviews. However, we can all work to collectively eliminate scenarios where the review process functions in less ideal ways. Toward that end, I offer six suggestions as a way of kicking off a broader discussion on the CCT community can improve its reviewer culture:

  1. When doing a review, think about the kind of review comments that you, as an author, generally find to be constructive criticism (i.e., useful, helpful, and informative) and those that have struck you as frustrating and problematic. When writing a review, strive orient your comments in ways that reflect your constructive criticism ideals.
  2. Approach the manuscript with the presumption that authors know what they are doing (rather than being neophytes who are in desperate need of your expert guidance). Read the paper through in its entirety before making a critical assessment. Often times what might appear as a lack of clarity or a problem at the outset may become resolved later in the paper. It may be that the author needs to add clarity at the front end or that his/her theoretical story has to unfold over time. You can’t make that judgment without a holistic perspective.

Also, I have seen far too many reviews where it is clear that a reviewer started critically counter arguing the author from the introduction and never shifted from this “everything is wrong” mode. Such hyper-analytic line-by-line critiques can lead a reviewer to miss the main points of the submission and preclude him/her from fairly appreciating what the author is trying to do and has done.

  1. Accept that an author has the right to write a paper differently than you might. Before demanding a major theoretical revamp, make a good faith effort to assess if the submission has merits in its own right. Are the nexus of different citations you would prefer really essential to the author’s argument and/or are they necessary to redress some fundamental flaw in the conceptualization or analysis. [If you are too unfamiliar with a theoretical frame to make such an assessment, ask the editor to assign a different reviewer].
  2. Fully embrace that there is no single correct way to write a publishable paper. Over the years, much expert advice has been given on how to structure CCT papers for publication—gap finding, use orienting concepts, etc. And those suggestions have excellent heuristic value. However, helpful heuristics can all too easily be codified into a restrictive orthodoxy and that is undesirable outcome we need to avoid.
  3. Fully embrace that the review process has a negotiation component. On the one side, you, as a reviewer, provide directions and criticisms to authors and expect them to make requisite changes. However, there also needs to be reciprocity in this process. Authors can also make a case back to reviewers about the merits of their position; reviewers should be open minded (and fair-minded) in considering these counterpoints and calibrate their respective positions accordingly. The review process should not be a power struggle but a joint quest to advance a line of theorization and analysis.
  4. Last but not least, review you own reviews before submitting them. At such a juncture, you might consider these assessment criteria:

A) Have you grasped the strengths of the paper, as well as its weaknesses and are the positives also acknowledged in your comments in ways that do more than pay lip service (e.g., the notorious, “this paper is well written BUT”….prologue)

B) Are you holding an author hostage to your theoretical preferences? Are you critiquing an author for a glaring error of omission (a legitimate criticism) or because you personally dislike or disagree with the author’s theoretical perspective, even though it is well-established in the broader research literature.

And this distinction can become complicated to manage. For example, in the gender studies literature, significant debates can arise over the question of whether the marketplace is a source of women’s empowerment or if it inculcates a hegemonic, neoliberalized femininity [e.g., McRobbie, Angela (2015) “Notes on the perfect: Competitive femininity in neoliberal times,” Australian Feminist Studies, 30 (83), 3-20.]

A reviewer who aligns with the latter position can (I believe) rightly request that an author endorsing an empowerment position address this complexity by acknowledging the debate and referencing the counter literature in the discussion section (as one option). However, rejecting such a paper out-of-hand for this divergence, even if the study is well-conducted and effectively grounded in the market empowerment literature (see for example Linda Scott’s Fresh Lipstick: Redressing Fashion and Feminism) would be a case of a reviewer acting in a doctrinaire manner.

Other journals, generally outside of the CCT orbit, have a tradition of publishing comments/rebuttals to papers that delve into controversial issues and these comments often hail from reviewers who held competing theoretical/ideological viewpoints. In cases where publish or reject decisions hinge on the resolution of fairly intractable philosophical or theoretical disputes, publishing critical commentaries would be preferable to a paper being blocked due to a lack of reviewer consensus.

C) Are your recommendations consistent and feasible (i.e., a sign of a good review) or incompatible and impractical (a marker of a bad review – e.g., please expand on your theorizations, add a full netnographic analysis to your five year ethnography, and reduce the manuscript’s length by half!)

D) Are the rationales for your criticisms and recommendations sufficiently explained? As an AE and author, it always drives me crazy when a reviewer says something like “there is a major literature you need to cite” without giving the authors any rationale as to why and how that literature relates to their analysis and the key studies to consider. Vague pronouncements like “other people have studied this” or “other people have said something like this” are not constructive criticisms and such comments can often send an author on a proverbial wild goose chase.

E) Building on the proceeding point, ask yourself, if you were an author, would you be able to enact a given recommendation and understand how and why doing so, strengthens or improves the work? If you were the author, would you deem this review to be a fair-minded assessment of your manuscript?

My six suggestions are just some starting points for a broader dialogue (and the community may embrace, reject or transform any of them)

In this spirit, please use the website’s comment section to offer additional thoughts on this important topic. Let’s focus on what we can do better rather than recounting various “horror stories” about the review process. If “we” are the problem, then “we” can also be the solution by taking a forward looking, constructive path. I hope that this nexus of comments can be aggregated into a summary document and then posted on our webpage, as a general resource.

 

 

 

 

President, Consumer Culture Theory Consortium

 

 

 

 

One Comment

  1. Eric Arnould

    A conversation with a current editor at JCR reconfirmed the low number of CCT oriented submissions to that journal. I suspect this is partly an effect of the interventionist reviewing culture Craig endeavours to redress. Let’s follow Craig’s suggestions going forward.

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