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Non-western contexts: the invisible half

Jafari, Aliakbar and Firat, A. Fuat and Suerdem, Ahmet and Askegaard, Soren and Dalli, Daniele (2012) Non-western contexts: the invisible half. Marketing Theory, 12 (1). pp. 3-12.

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Like many other disciplines within the broad area of social sciences (e.g., anthropology, gender studies, psychology, sociology, etc.), consumer research is also highly navigated by scholars from Western countries. This, however, does not mean, by any means, that consumer research is devoted to studying Western contexts only. As evident from the ever-increasing number of regional conferences (e.g., Asia-Pacific and Latin American conferences of the Association for Consumer Research) and non-Western students' enrolment in doctoral programs at Western universities, there are many more researchers (from non-Western countries) who are entering the field and enriching it by their colourful contributions. Yet, given the low number of publications on consumer research in non-Western contexts, it seems that our current knowledge in these societies has a long way to go to flourish. More specifically, and in the domain of consumption culture research, this gap is even further widened by the fact that the culture of consumption in such contexts is largely interpreted with reference to the 'grand narratives' of Western scholars (e.g., Foucault, Mafessoli, Bourdieu, Deleuze, Baudrillard, Nietzsche, Durkheim, Derrida, etc.). Therefore, from an ontological perspective, it seems that our existing knowledge about non-Western societies lies heavily on the 'theoretical structures' that are 'constructed' by Western philosophy as a set of ideas, beliefs, and practices (Said, 1978). As Belk (1995) reminds us, consumption culture always existed in all human societies. What makes contemporary societies different from that of our predecessors' is not the fact that consumption culture did not exist in those societies, but that consumption culture has become a prevailing feature in modern society (Slater, 1997; Lury, 1996; Fırat and Venkatesh, 1995; McCracken, 1988). Therefore, the nature and dynamics of consumption culture in each society should be studied not only against the sociocultural, historical, and economic background of a given context (Western or non-Western) but also with reference to the philosophical and epistemological viewpoints that analyse and interpret cultural practices of that society from within that culture. Addressing such issues, this paper discusses some of the key reasons for lack of theory development in the field from non-western contexts. The paper invites scholars in non-Western contexts to introduce the less articulated, and sometime hidden, body of knowledge from their own contexts into the field of marketing in general and consumer research in particular.