Fetishism, Commodity Fetishism, Consumption and Desire
Special issue of Qualitative Market Research: An Intl Journal; Deadline 30 Nov 2106
Qualitative Market Research: An International Journal
Call for Papers
Special Issue: Fetishism, Commodity Fetishism, Consumption and Desire
Submission Deadline: 30th November 2016
Dr. Anoop Bhogal-Nair, University of Northampton
Professor Mark Tadajewski, Durham University
There are many ways we can think about the relationships between fetishism and consumption. These depend on the disciplinary and theoretical tradition we invoke. Fetishism of one form or another has attracted the attention of Marxism, Neo-Marxism and a multitude of variants of psychoanalysis. It merits the scholarly gaze of disciplines as diverse as marketing, consumer research, anthropology, sociology, cultural studies, postcolonial studies, literature and art (e.g. Arnould and Cayla, 2015; Johansson, 1999; Miklitsch, 1996; Schroeder, 2008; Walsh, 2010).
While the concept of fetishism and the many practices aligned with it have been studied by a plurality of specialisms, it is hard to deny that the concept has an affinity with marketing and consumer research. For Baudrillard, the term is indexed to manufacturing and marketing activities (Graeber, 2005). It connotes the idea of the production of an item – however rudimentary the processes involved – that has value for someone (Walsh, 2010); a value that those not involved with the consumption practice, brand community, consumer tribe, or subculture will often find difficult to comprehend (Bohm and Batta, 2010; Graeber, 2005). Fetishism and fetishistic practice consequently exert a curious fascination for many (Pietz, 1987).
Clearly, fetishism can be interpreted in profoundly negative terms. Marxist and Neo-Marxist thinkers are likely to foreground the influence of marketing in distancing the consumer from the production relations that underpin their consumption habits (Pietz, 1985). By virtue of our cognitive and physical distance from these locations, we can thereby reaffirm problematic economic relations (Billig, 1999; Bohm and Batta, 2010; Tadajewski and Saren, 2008). Commodity oriented fetishism thus has a very deleterious or useful function to perform depending on your perspective (Billig, 1999) – it keeps the reality of the production and labour relations that ensure the ongoing operation of the shopping malls, retail parks, and theme parks that the postmodern consumer inhabits firmly at bay (Borrie, 1999). We can inhabit the illusions without being troubled by the backstage industry needed to produce the products and spectacles we appreciate, enjoy and value (Borrie, 1999).
Marketing, then, is a promoter of fetishism and thereby elides the blood, sweat, tears and heartache that are a condition of possibility for our consumer landscape. It can contribute to misattributions of value in economic processes. We neglect the value constituted by the labourer, but emphasise the value added through the manipulation of the sign system. Alternatively, from a psychoanalytic perspective, fetishism can indicate the reversal of power relations between a subject and object, with the latter taking precedence in human relations (Schroeder, 2008). For the fetish-practitioner, there is the potential for the realisation of psychological, emotional or sexual satisfaction through consumption. Sometimes we manifest fetishistic behaviour because otherwise the painful reality of the world would be overwhelming (Bradshaw and Zwick, 2014). We can all be fetishistic in the right context.
By contrast to the Marxist or psychoanalytic inflections mentioned above, the closer we move towards marketing and consumer research the more overt and acceptable fetishism becomes – it is no longer necessarily a means to hide the dark-side of production. It is, of course, this and more. It is a vehicle used to imbue products and services with value, sometimes overtly, sometimes through more subtle polysemic communications vehicles (Schroeder and Borgerson, 2003). From fashion (O’Donnell, 1999) to music (Rossolatos and Hogg, 2013), religion to sexuality (Martinez, 2015; Langer, 2007), art (Monteyne, 2006) and contemporary consumer culture (Fernandez and Lastovicka, 2011), discourses on the fetish, fetishism and desire have often depicted and affirmed the intense and powerful relationship between individual, community and object. Marketing, quite clearly, is an industry that trades in fetishism (e.g. Walsh, 2010). It aims to generate systems of meanings around products and services that make them seem better than real life, that is, as capable of helping us achieve a sublime state of want satisfaction, of taking us beyond this world just for a moment (Schroeder, 2008). Indeed, the marketing communications industry routinely invokes the tropes and imagery associated with fetishistic behaviour to sell us a range of products, often seemingly quite distant from the imagery, photography, and visual world being affirmed (Schroeder, 2008) when we examine it through a more sober eye.
Fetish creation, for example, may be deployed in product marketing through the culturally significant machinations of the marketing and advertising system which attempts to inscribe an item with a value far beyond its economic importance. The marketing of diamonds and other natural resources are perhaps the exemplars here. These are ‘commodified fetishes’ that reach into households far and wide (Roberts, 1994; Walsh, 2010). The fetish, as applied not only to material objects, but other people, places and experiences is of particular importance. As the engine of consumption (Schroeder and Zwick, 2004), advertising has aided the dissemination of carefully packaged, eroticised reproductions of real-world identities, harnessing the crucial link between ‘us’ and the Other (Johansson, 1999; Lalvani, 1995; hooks, 1992). As the medium that perpetuates the idea that there is fetishistic pleasure to be found through difference (hooks, 1992), advertising’s ability to fuel the web of desire brings to the fore issues of power and difference (Bhogal-Nair, 2013). So, when we speak of fetishism, it is not just the rubber clad dominatrix or the risqué advertising campaign that is being called forth. It is any number of a vast range of cultural and consumption practices that are worthy of study (Schroeder and McDonagh, 2006).
Although the fetish and fetishism has been alluded to through the discussion of consumer desires, notably by Belk, Ger and Askegaard (2000, 2003), Belk, Ger and Lascu (1993), Schroeder (2002, 2008), Schouten and McAlexander (1995) and Belk and Wallendorf (1990), this special issue serves to cast a wider net over the concept of the fetish and consumption to unearth the myriad of processes and practices surrounding the fetish in consumer culture. We seek to respond to Mick’s (2003) call for research on fetishes and the cross-fertilisation of disciplines (e.g. cultural studies, sociology, psychology, anthropology, folklore, humanities and the performing arts) to develop theoretical, conceptual and empirical synergies that deepen our understanding.
Purpose and Topics
Fetishism, then, is a means of identity building. It provides psychological, sociological and sexual affirmation. Sometimes it can be deeply problematic manifesting itself in an irrational devotion and commitment to a particular person, place, thing or image. It is a central tool in the armament of marketing practice, often being mobilised to sell a diverse range of goods and services. With all of these factors in mind, this special issue seeks to contribute to extant research on fetishism and consumption. Registering the various ways that fetishism, consumption and desire can be conceptualised, in this special issue we do not seek to legislate paradigmatic, theoretical or conceptual boundaries through which these interconnected factors can be explored. We seek contributions that illuminate the central role of fetishism in consumption behaviour – however conceived. We do, naturally, have a methodological fetish that requires attention. All studies have to be qualitative in nature.
Contributions can range from managerially oriented studies that aim to explore the implications of fetishism for marketing management through to more critically oriented research that unpacks the notion of fetishism as an illusion, tracing the constitutive processes of fetish creation and diffusion. To help orient contributions to the issue, we seek submissions (pun intended) including, but not limited to:
- Fetishism and the consumer.
- Fetishism, desire, and lust.
- Fetishism and the production of allure.
- Fetishism and power.
- Fetishism, delusion and delirium.
- Fetishism and the gaze.
- The consumer fetish.
- Consumer stereotyping and fetish practice.
- Fetishism, pornography and coproduction.
- Subcultures and fetishism (e.g. the leather community).
- Fetishism and marketing communications.
- Performing fetishism.
- Fetishism and social construction.
- Fetishism and meaning transfer.
- Race and racial fetishism.
- Occidental fetish.
- Religion and the fetish of extremism.
- The body and fetish.
- Concealing fetish.
Manuscripts submitted for this special issue should carefully follow the Qualitative Market Research guidelines for formatting and referencing. These can be found at:
Please submit your manuscripts by 30th November, 2016 at
Potential submitters are welcome to contact the special issue guest editors regarding the potential fit of their papers with the theme of the special issue.
Arnould, E.J. and Cayla, J. (forthcoming) ‘Consumer Fetish: Commercial Ethnography and the Sovereign Consumer’, Organization Studies.
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Belk, W.R., Ger, G. and Askegaard, S. (2003) ‘The Fire of Desire: A Multisited Inquiry into Consumer Passion’, Journal of Consumer Research 30(3): 326-351.
Ger, G., Belk, R.W. and Lascu, D.N. (1993) ‘The Development of Consumer Desire in Marketizing and Developing Economies: The Cases of Romania and Turkey’, Advances in Consumer Research 20(1): 102-107.
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Bohm, S. and Batta, A. (2010) ‘Just Doing It: Enjoying Commodity Fetishism with Lacan’, Organization 17(3): 345-361.
Borrie, W.T. (1999) ‘Disneyland and Disney World: Designing and Prescribing the Recreational Experience’, Society and Leisure 22(1): 71-82.
Bradshaw, A. and Zwick, D. (2014) ‘The Field of Business Sustainability and the Death Drive: A Radical Intervention’, Journal of Business Ethics. Published online.
Fernandez, K.V and Lastovicka, J.L. (2011) ‘Making Magic: Fetishes in Contemporary Consumption’, Journal of Consumer Research 38(2): 278–299.
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Lalvani, S. (1995) ‘Consuming the Exotic Other’, Critical Studies in Mass Communication 12(3): 263-286.
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Martinez, K. (2015) ‘Somebody’s Fetish: Self Objectification and Body Satisfaction Among Consensual Sadomasochists’, Journal of Sex Research 51(1): 35-44.
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Monteyne, J. (2006) ‘Enveloping Objects: Allegory and Commodity Fetish in Wenceslaus Hollar’s Personification of the Seasons and Fashion Still Lifes’, Art History, 29: 414–443.
O’Donnell, K.A. (1999) ‘Good Girls Gone Bad: The Consumption of Fetish Fashion and the Sexual Empowerment of Women’, Advances in Consumer Research 26(1): 184-189.
Pietz, W. (1985) ‘The Problem of the Fetish, I’, Res 9(Spring): 5-17.
Pietz, W. (1987) ‘The Problem of the Fetish, II’, Res 13(Spring): 23-45.
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Rossolatos, G and Hogg, M. (2013) ‘Fetish, Taboo, Simulacrum: An Applied Psychoanalytic/Semiotic Approach to the Experiential Consumption of Musical Products’ in The 12th International Marketing Trends Conference proceedings, ESCP, Paris.
Schouten, J.W. and McAlexander, J.H. (1995) ‘Subcultures of Consumption: An Ethnography of the New Bikers’, Journal of Consumer Research 1(June): 43-61.
Schroeder, J.E. (2008) ‘Fetishization’, in W. Donsbach (ed.) International Encyclopedia of Communication, Volume 4, pp. 1803-1808. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell.
Schroeder, J.E. and Borgerson, J.L. (2003) ‘Dark Desires: Fetishism, Ontology, and Representation in Contemporary Advertising’, in T. Reichert and J. Lambiase (eds.) Sex in Advertising: Perspectives on the Erotic Appeal, pp. 65-87. Mahwah: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Schroeder, J.E. and McDonagh, P. (2006) ‘The Logic of Pornography in Digital Camera Promotion’, in T. Reichert and J. Lambiase (eds.) Sex in Consumer Culture: The Erotic Content of Media and Marketing, pp. 219-242. Mahwah: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Schroeder, J.E and Zwick, D. (2004) ‘Mirrors of Masculinity: Representations and Identity in Advertising Images’, Consumption Markets and Culture 7(1): 21-52.
Tadajewski, M. and Saren, M. (2008) ‘The Past is a Foreign Country: Amnesia and Marketing Theory’, Marketing Theory 8(4): 323-338.
Walsh, A. (2010) ‘The Commodification of Fetishes: Telling the Difference Between Natural and Synthetic Sapphires’, American Ethnologist 37(1): 98-114.