Consumer vulnerability : critical insights from stories, action research and visual culture

Dunnett, Susan and Hamilton, Kathleen and Piacentini, Maria; (2018) Consumer vulnerability : critical insights from stories, action research and visual culture. In: The Routledge Companion to Critical Marketing. Routledge, Abingdon, Oxon. ISBN 9781138641402

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    Critical marketing scholars have been encouraged to consider the experiences of consumers who encounter marketplace exclusion, consumers “whose views are rarely heard by those in positions of power” (Tadajewski, 2010, p. 214). Our focus in this chapter is on consumers experiencing vulnerability. Baker et al. (2005, p. 134) offer the following definition of consumer vulnerability: “[c]onsumer vulnerability is a state of powerlessness that arises from an imbalance in marketplace interactions or from the consumption of marketing messages and products. It occurs when control is not in an individual’s hands, creating a dependence on external factors (e.g. marketers) to create fairness in the marketplace. The actual vulnerability arises from the interaction of individual states, individual characteristics, and external conditions within a context where consumption goals may be hindered and the experience affects personal and social perceptions of self.” Central to Baker et al.’s (2005) definition is the lack of control and power experienced by some consumers, but also that the experience of vulnerability is often heightened due to circumstances beyond the individual’s control (e.g. how other people respond to her/him). This point emphasises the socially constructed and interactive nature of consumer vulnerability. Since the 1990s the importance of consumer vulnerability has been recognised with research exploring its conditions and contexts (Smith and Cooper-Martin, 1997; Gentry et al, 1994; Hill & Stamey, 1990; Ozanne et al, 1998; Morgan et al, 1995; Botti et al, 2008; Schultz et al, 2009; Ozanne & Ozanne, 2011; Cartwright, 2015). This work has been published in a range of outlets, including special issues of Journal of Macromarketing (Hill, 2005) and Journal of Marketing Management (Dunnett, Hamilton and Piacentini, 2016) and an edited collection (Hamilton, Dunnett and Piacentini, 2016). Much of this research stream questions and problematizes experiences of vulnerability within the marketplace.