Consumer Consumption Essay Introspective Research Study
February 16, 2012
Journal of Business Research
The emergence of Consumer Introspection Theory (CIT): Introduction to a JBR special issue
BYLINE: Stephen J. Gould *, Stephen.Gould@baruch.cuny.edu
SECTION: Pg. 453 Vol. 65 No. 4 ISSN: 0148-2963
LENGTH: 9949 words
Introspection in its various forms, names, paradigmatic controversies and especially its power for insight has earned its place as a topic for a special issue. Here, I introduce this issue in terms of the introspections it contains and introspect a bit myself mainly through introspective thought exercises. What I find grounded in the texts of the submitted papers as thematic data is an emergent (rebranded) perspective on introspection which I call, Consumer Introspection Theory (CIT). I relate CIT as a paradigm to different forms of research: Consumer Culture Theory (CCT), critical marketing and experimental research.
I also further elaborate how it functions in terms of single versus multiple person introspection, autoethnography and other practice variations; narrative versus metacognitive introspection; grounded versus hypothesis-driven introspection and introspective thought exercises.
Much of consumer research has failed to describe many experiential aspects of my own consumer behavior, especially the everyday dynamics of my pervasive, self-perceived vital energy. (Gould, 1991, p. 194)
This introductory quote represents the most important line I ever wrote (at least to me and perhaps the one that influenced me the most, a form of self-influence) was the first line in my JCR article applying introspection. As things have evolved and introspective and other work has been published that gap has been ameliorated somewhat, but the basic idea of it has not. There are still many things about my and our consumer and other behavior that remains opaque and unexplored. This special issue may be another step toward that amelioration and perhaps you as readers and participants can think about whether it achieves that goal now and over time. Many of the issues I discuss below arose in terms of the papers that came in for this issue as well as being part of the pre-existing Zeitgeist of this introspective project.
I view the issues as they have unfolded like a sort of blog over time in which many of us have laid out our ever changing perspectives. For instance I note that when I wrote my JCR article in 1991 I stated that I was 44. Now I’m 63 and have in that span of years popped up every so often with some new piece on introspection reflecting my own intervening experiences as well as being informed by the introspections of many others.
Paradoxically, if you will, the very personal and subjective introspections of various players have been hermeneutically driven over time by the very personal and subjective introspections of various other introspectors, something I have hoped might happen and which has as this issue illustrates. In some respects, this issue and my introduction in particular may be seen as meta-introspective, an introspection on introspection at this point in time (see also Patterson in this issue who has a slightly different though not unrelated version of meta-introspection).
Introspection has a long and storied, if checkered history in Western academic culture ranging across a variety of disciplines and under a variety of guises. Psychologists, sociologists, ethnographers, behavioral economists and of course, consumer researchers, among others have applied, disputed and otherwise engaged with introspection. We see so many forms including but not limited to introspection, researcher introspection, subjective personal introspection, reflexivity, self-reflexivity, introspectionism, autoethnography, auto-netnography, narrative introspection (also storied), metacognitive introspection, meditative introspection, systematic self-observation, self-experimentation, spiritual, and synthetic. I went back to my own recent writing about introspection (Gould, 2008a,b) and realize these names have continued to proliferate (and/or at least my awareness of them). Indeed, as I reflected about this in the course of editing this special issue, an important question I thought about with this arrival of all these forms is whether we are decreasing the impact of introspection through dilution or are we increasing its impact by deconstructing and extending its range or perhaps some of both?
In this regard and at the pain of not mentioning all those who have influenced me in my framing and experience of introspection, including those who are not academics, I nonetheless want to thank a number of people as it has evolved for me. First, I would like to thank Arch Woodside who writes about introspection himself (e.g., Woodside, 2006) and whose idea for this special JBR issue and my editing of it was. When people echo Newton in terms of standing on the shoulder of giants, I can say that Arch is one of those who saw potential in what I do that I did not see myself. And the list goes on. Leon Schiffman, my dissertation advisor, who did ‘qualitative’ work and introduced me to it long before its various interpretive, critical and CCT incarnations manifested. Sidney Levy is another giant figure who has set the stage for all of us introspectors and who continues to inspire me in just his very being. Elizabeth Hirschman was an early influence who encouraged me to do introspection in the first place. Around that time, Morris Holbrook was a great example to me as he has been to us all. Both of them separately and together further created a context for researching experiential consumption in general and introspection in particular. Holbrook’s (1988) paper on his personal encounters with psychoanalysis and entitled in part, “I Am an Animal”, had perhaps the most influence of all his work on me as I have wrestled with issues of mind, consciousness and personal experience. The late Barbara Stern whom I sorely miss was a tremendous colleague who supported and inspired me early in my career as I undertook this work. I would also like to thank another person upon whose shoulders, I have stood, Mark Tadajewski, for his insight in encouraging me to write about the genealogy of my introspective experience and also for framing it in a critical marketing perspective. I cannot overlook the influence of Stephen Brown on my continued introspective evolution and his novelistic-autobiographic approach in shaping introspective thought and in influencing me to push even more my own boundaries. In particular, I have been inspired to echo his out of the box approach involving his personal perspectives and in particular his ability to bring theatrics, fun and biting satire to both his writing and presentations.
People can talk about experiential and lived experience, but Stephen makes it happen, makes it alive.
Thanks also to the authors and reviewers of this special issue. It has been an exhilarating experience putting this issue together and dealing with all the issues that have arisen? It is truly a contested, negotiated experience in going back and forth with the various actors and trying to come to resolutions if not agreements. Indeed, there are aspects of some the papers here that do necessarily not reflect my own positions and that in some cases I actually disagree with. Introspection is not one thing or understood by people in the same way. That is well to the point in a poststructuralist perspective in which everyone is a site of meaning. To the degree that we listen or mutually share experiences, we may mirror each other but this is by no means certain. An irony as I went through this process is that while I felt exhilarated in engaging with everyone involved, I also felt more solipsistic in the sense that my own view though not totally alien and certainly sharing much with the introspectors in this issue and elsewhere is nonetheless quite different, informed as it is by my adult life-long contemplative experience which both predates and coevolved with my scholarly experience and training. I think one reason for this is what I have referred to in introspective versus extrospective terms. For the most part, most people are extrospective most of the time meaning they focus on the outside world around them.
They see people, trees, objects and so on. They think about what they are going to do today and tomorrow in that outside world. But suppose they were to introspect or focus on their inner world of thought, feeling and sensation as though they were looking at trees and objects. In other words, explore and pay attention to your inner space in way similar to how you pay attention to your outer spaces. After some experience, deconstruct those spaces or perhaps better notice how they deconstruct themselves. What do you identify with?
2 The emergence of Consumer Introspection Theory (CIT)
2.1 Basic introspective thought-watching exercise
The most basic exercise is just to watch your thoughts. You can just let them come and go. At times, you can link into their content and meaning. Other times don’t even do that.
For those interested in the issue of automatic versus deliberative thought, note what arises automatically and how. Then note what happens when you try and focus on something. Play with this in various ways. Now you can extend this to emotions and bodily feelings and sensations – embodied cognition. Note how they arise. Or pay attention to some part of your body and note the sensations that arise when you do that. Do you in your reader response experience introspective resonance or empathy with this exercise? Can you apply it as a practice?
Thus, while I do envision CIT as very much driven by the very personal experiences of each individual introspector, I also construe it is an evolving self-referential or reflexive system which constitutes itself in the continuous flow of communal-cultural development, negotiation and debate. This issue is a part of that evolution. We see herein how various people have construed introspection. CIT is also inscribed in and by larger bodies of interpretive thought, critical marketing thought and CCT. These in turn are inscribed in and by consumer research and other academic disciplines, not to mention our larger existential plane. Perhaps it should be said as well that all these dimensions can be inscribed in CIT as parts of it. For those involved with CCT in particular, it may do well to consider CIT as the more encompassing vehicle for excavating the dynamics of self-culture liminality and co-creation, since it valorizes the self as much or more than culture though always in a relational mode. In this special issue, we have embodied a number of perspectives which can be said when merged meta-introspectively with other prior work to constitute a critical mass for construing and developing CIT. This also reflects the idea advanced by Stephen Brown in this issue that a rebranded paradigmatic perspective is necessary to further advance the use of introspection. In the next sections, I consider CIT in this issue in terms of single person and then multiple person introspection before elaborating further on CIT, itself.
In presenting this special issue, I will share my own take on introspection as it stands at the moment and situate the other papers relative to that, to each other and to the broader fields of consumer research and other social science disciplines. Thus, I will not just list the papers in this issue and say what they are about but I will apply them as data to reach further meta-introspective understandings and insights. In many respects, this constitutes an emergent grounded theory and hermeneutical approach in that while I had a priori expectations I also have expectations about the unexpected. In that regard, my expectations about who would submit and what would be submitted are partially confirmed but a number of surprises emerged as well. For instance, while I expected single researchers introspecting, I was greatly surprised by the great number of researchers collaborating to report their joint introspective efforts. I realize that for the most part, I was surprised because I mostly tend to think of and do introspection in terms of doing it alone, as Barbara Olsen, Stephen Brown, Sidney Levy, Peter Earl and Seth Roberts, as well as Rob Kozinets and John Sherry in their poems, did in this issue.
However, several papers took a multiple researcher or person perspective, reflecting some of the early work by Gould and Stinerock (1992) who applied such a perspective and Wallendorf and Brucks (1993) who elaborated on this approach in a conceptual way.
They all applied research introspection though with a hermeneutic reflecting each of their own views. In “Researchers’ Introspection for Multi-Sited Ethnographers: A Xenoheteroglossic Autoethnography”, Yuko Minowa, Luca Visconti and Pauline Maclaran and in “Sustainable Consumption: Introspecting across Multiple Lived Cultures”, Catherine Banbury, Robert Stinerock and Saroja Subrahmanyan reflect on sustainable consumption by conjoining separate points of view. Amina Beji-Becheur, Nil –§zaglar-Toulouse and Sondes Zouagchi in “Ethnicity Introspected: Researchers in Search of their Identity” apply introspection to deconstructing ethnicity. Three papers vary the research role by having one researcher introspect and another one comment or at least contribute in the background (Amy Tiwsakul and Chris Hackley “Postmodern Paradoxes in Thai-Asian Consumer Identity”; Markus Wohlfeil and Susan Whelan “Saved!” By Jena Malone: An Introspective Study of a Consumer’s Fan Relationship With a Film Actress”) or in the case of Fiona Sussan, Richard Hall and Laurie Meamber, “Introspecting The Spiritual Nature of a Brand Divorce”, two other researchers comment and help shape the work of the introspector. Others applied introspection or forms of it in studies of consumer informants: Anthony Patterson, “Social-Networkers of the World, Unite and Take Over: A Meta-Introspective Perspective on the Facebook Brand,” and David Mick, Stephen Spiller and Anthony Baglioni in “A Systematic Self-Observation Study of Consumers’ Conceptions of Practical Wisdom in Everyday Purchase Events.”
As can be seen, I have tried to encourage a multiplicity of views and perspectives to be included. This is well reflected both in the papers and reviewers. The state of introspection may on the basis of this issue be seen to be alive and flourishing. Previously introspective work was scattered here and there although it is growing and evolving. This also drove the emergence of what I designate as Consumer Introspection Theory (CIT) as a possible organizing, meta-introspective paradigm. In organizing this thought here, I will provide some introspective reflections on how I construct what I see here. Because publishing in a linear order is required no matter how I might want to let things fall out I need to decide an order. There is no single sculpture in this unformed stone but many. I also want to look at this body of work and see if it tells us anything as a whole, by itself and relative to other work on introspection, not to mention Consumer Culture Theory (CCT; Arnould and Thompson, 2005), critical marketing and other research. This is a unique opportunity so let’s see what we can do with it.
Much of what Arnould and Thompson (2005) said about Consumer Culture Theory applies here as well in that CIT is not one grand (meta)theory or reductionistic metanarrative but rather includes a variety of perspectives and practices that rely on some form of introspection or other. The touchstone of this CIT framework as embodied in this issue is shaped in one aspect in terms of who is doing the introspection: single researcher introspection, joint researcher introspection and informant introspection.
Further, as this issue suggests, CIT is not even strictly methodologically determined as interpretive or positivistic as my own construction of narrative versus metacognitive introspective practices including those which stretch across more domains than explicit, narrative introspection signifies (Gould, 2008a,b). Narrative introspection consists of telling a story, notably one’s own story while metacognitive introspection involves observing one’s own thoughts and feelings in various ways akin to everything from cognitive response to meditation. In consumer research, such a division may seem to imply a paradigmatic gulf in that narrative (although not exclusively) is associated with poststructural, CCT or Critical Marketing type approaches (e.g., Arnould and Thompson, 2005; Tadajewski and Brownlie, 2008; see for introspective examples Brown, 2006; Gould, 1991, 2008a; Holbrook, 1995) while metacognition and related approaches are more though perhaps not entirely associated with various psychological and behavioral perspectives (see for introspective examples Earl, 2001; Gould, 1995; Roberts, 2004) – for both also see the papers published in this issue. While to some degree that division may be the perception, I generally do not make such a clean, unliminal break. And that is a large part of what CIT is about, namely how we can jointly employ the two, i.e., narrative introspection and metacognitive introspection, for greater self-insight, as well as applications in terms of research and even social insight in terms of social metacognition.
In that vein, Stephen Brown in this issue refers to his own pragmatic writings as being “introspectionesque”. I want to extend and apply that term to all work that researchers do with autobiographic, autoethnographic and or self-experimentalesque approaches drawing on their own experiences to derive ideas and theories, either explicitly or implicitly. Moreover, I think they reflect at least implicitly modes and processes of self-observation (cf. Mick, Spiller and Baglioni, this issue), reflexivity (Olsen, this issue), self-experimentation (Roberts, this issue) and self-fashioning (Banbury, Stinerock and Subrahmanyan, this issue; Gould and Stinerock, 1992; Tiwsakul and Hackley, this issue).
In this regard, CIT involves more than passive self-observation such as applying that self-observation in self-experimentation and self-fashioning practices. Add in all the various processes of mind, consciousness, phenomenology, personal and macro culture and self.
And reflecting all this mixing can be introspective exercises (Gould, 1995; Gould, 2008a,b) and poems (Kozinets and Sherry, this issue).
Here for my part, I especially want to emphasize the introspective exercise approach which I believe encompasses or can be made to encompass just about any form of introspection or autoethnography that is done. One point is that instead of me reaching metanarrative-like conclusions about anything we should or should not think, conclude or decide, I leave it wide open for each of you. This allows you the reader to actively participate in the process of meaning construction and not be dictated to by me as omniscient narrator (Stern, 1998). True enough you might say I am framing a discourse (discursive practice) or narrative in terms of the words and construal of the exercise itself.
But once out of the bag, you can perhaps experience introspective resonance or empathy or even derive your own exercises. In any case, let me illustrate with a thought-watching exercise that is the basis for all others that we might apply.
3 Single-person researcher introspections in this issue
Stephen Brown in “Wake Up and Smell the Coffin: An Introspective Obituary” provides his narrative on the state of introspection through an introspective retrospection.
Recounting the grim story of his own mother’s recent death, he likens the fate of introspection to her story and says it is on a “Pathway to Death”. As is the case with CCT which Stephen indicates is a revivifying rebranding of the thought it encompasses, he goes on to suggest that introspection is similarly in need of such rebranding to ameliorate its apparent rush death. He opts as he says “for something like Pragmatic Marketing. This reflects the “real world” tenor of our writings, which are more true to life than the fatuous model building and futile grand theorizing of the marketing mainstream.” He buttresses this idea in part in that in our post-industrial age, playfulness and fun are now more or less privileged in business. Based in part on Stephen’s call for rebranding, as well as the bird’s eye view of introspection that emerged to me from this issue, I came to derive CIT.
His use of the term, “introspectionesque” also aided me in coming to this perspective. I consider in that context that pragmatic marketing at once stands in its own right as well as fitting into CIT as one form. For example, Sidney Levy’s contribution to this issue provides a shining example.
In “INTˆGRAPHY” A Multi-method Approach to Situational Analysis”, Sidney applies introspection in a way I think more researchers in various marketing disciplines could do, namely reflecting on their own experiences and drawing lessons from them. I treasure such insights and am so pleased that Sidney took this opportunity to situate introspection in variety of contexts: historical, academic, and business. He suggests to me as he illustrates from ‘long-ago’ writers and his own broad experiences that we should perhaps be more humble before we make bold claims about our own original thinking. I think another interesting point is that inadvertently Sidney has stepped into the debate between Stephen Brown and Morris Holbrook over the role of business and materialism for consumer researchers. In Sidney’s work, it is so abundantly clear how the business and academic spheres inform each other in his own work. While, there is room for all kinds of thinkers in this regard, Sidney illustrates how valuable connecting to the real business-marketing world and introspecting on that experience can be. Finally, I think we can all be informed by the process of what he calls, int¨graphy involving the four stages of the research process: observation, annotation, investigation, and implication. These we might think of in terms of CIT and CCT, as well as enabling introspection through a career’s worth of experience as Sidney has done for us.
Peter Earl is an economist who uses introspective methods to deconstruct economics. In “An Experiential Analysis of Automotive Consumption” he reflects on his own experiences of 30years of motoring with 18 cars in the UK, Australia and New Zealand to explore and find gaps in conventional economic theory. From a methodological point of view being able to longitudinally draw on a lifetime of experience is one of the great qualities of introspective research that is largely, if not entirely unapproachable in most other forms of research. He exposes the limits of traditional economic ideas by applying introspection “as a reality check and starting point for conventional kinds of consumer research.”
I ‘ve always felt such work was critical to his field, just as I opened this paper with the idea that my own consumer behavior was not accounted for by conventional theories and ideas. Peter’s description of path-dependence in terms of his own seeming life-chaos and personal experience add up to a holistic account of decision making and choices that no model can capture although elements of many economic and consumer models surface, albeit in fragmented and disjointed ways in his accounts. Over the years, Peter has served to help me map introspection and now as I think in terms of CIT, we can see that work such as his constitutes a critical approach which can be applied to deconstruct many, if not all theoretical areas of social science research in holistic fashion.
Seth Roberts links researcher introspection and his self-experimentations as ways to uncover findings that were difficult or impossible to study in any other way. Here he recounts his experiences with self-experimentation which also echo some of my experiences with introspection in terms of reception by the field. In fact, there are some many echoes of his work and career and mine that he is almost a doppelganger. I too have self-experimented most of my career (e.g., Gould, 1991) as Seth has. I too had promotion issues similar to those he recounts here. I too have had some satisfaction in seeing my work appreciated by many, both inside and outside of academe. That said, I also want to recognize the genius in Seth’s work in terms of his applying scientific method while turning the scientific establishment on its head. His method has differed from but complements mine.
I have been more post structural while Seth has been more in the vein of theoretically driven psychological research. This I say that only to position his work which I regard as extremely powerful in its facilitating of insight and discovery. I urge you to read his work here and in Behavioral and Brain Sciences (2004) which is an absolute tour de force.
Finally, I ask how can consumer researchers in particular ignore Seth’s approach which similar to introspection (and which we can link to self-experimentation) brings together the insider and outsider research combination he describes here? When I was first invited to put this issue together, Seth was one of the first people I thought of as a potential contributor.
Barbara Olsen in “Reflexive Introspection on Sharing Gifts and Shaping Stories” personalizes as much as anyone her introspections and reflects on a major part of her life in doing research and living in Jamaica. Her work complements Rob Kozinet’s look at the ethnographic research process and contributes in terms of applying reflexive introspection and retextualization of her own narratives and diaries. In so doing, she is able to draw on her training as an ethnographer and reflect how that experience engages with her personal narrative. Anyone thinking they are doing ethnography or autoethnography should consider the issues Barbara raises in relation to both her informants and herself. We are all embedded in such personal, historical and cultural situations but we do not often situate our work in this way as Barbara has. Would it not be useful as Barbara has, to say who we are, how we got where we are, how that situates what we are studying and how that affects our interpretation at least as far as we can determine, whether we are formally introspecting or not?
As another surprise, a big one to be sure, I came to appreciate the poetics of researcher introspection in the poems of Rob Kozinets and John Sherry. While for the most part, I will let the poems speak for themselves, I will comment on a few germane points. First, I consider poems, such as theirs, as a close cousin to the introspective exercises I have developed, in the shared free flow of all aspects of consciousness. Thus, in many respects, their work comes closest to the ideals I have for introspection, especially in the rich and thick description which they employ so reflexively, vividly and almost if not entirely as an automatic stream of consciousness. They are composing songs of the self and the world with less deliberative mediation perhaps than other writing might afford other authors. While that is not an entirely new idea, experientially through reading their work I came to appreciate this more deeply. For example, in “Chicago South Shore Window Seat Late April 2009”, John Sherry takes an “I” stance which introspectively and reflexively looks extrospectively and across voices, that is first, second and third person (cf. Stern, 1998): I stake my spot. Before me A tired black man,
Later, John switches person in reflexively making inferences about others as part of his own mindscape: And somewhere behind me A small girl, Off-key, off-season, sings Away in a Manager To her best recollection. A channel in the window, A membrane stretched between Their world and ours,
And again, he switches person in a line I especially resonate with: And lucid dreaming seems A small audition for our day.
In “Abatement” he refers to 2nd person you as part of his “I” experience of sandblasting Sandblasting was more fun, … More like inside An Etch-a-Sketch Where you’d direct A strike Against the image Striking you,
Rob Kozinets mystically introspects in his poem, “Me/My Research/Avatar” on his consumer ethnographer experience through deploying a number of inner voices. He constructs his introspection by driving through a number of issues (e.g., objectivity versus subjectivity) which animate as well as I have ever seen the research process recounted as an inward process liminally engaging with the external, extrospected world.
I think Derrida (1991) would love Rob’s explicit erasure as a tip of the iceberg of all the erasures we all make whether explicitly or implicitly, including erasing who we are even as we say something about who we are. is he different from the writer writing the work?]
4 Multiple person introspections in this issue
Yuko Minowa, Luca Visconti and Pauline Maclaran start with multi-sited ethnography as a research tool for linking the local to the global. However, they find what is missing in such ethnographies are the multi-sited ethnographers, themselves. Drawing on their own field work experiences with all the attendant difficulties of their own cultural differences (heteroglossia), they develop what they call xenoheteroglossic autoethnography (XHAE).
This approach applies introspection to reflect upon these differences and bring them to the fore from the very outset of any multi-sited ethnography. As such an application, I think it is particularly interesting how their ideas grew emergently out of their own experiences and how they made the connections in developing a methodological contribution beyond their intended substantive studies. I was also especially intrigued by how Yuko, Luca and Pauline crossed domains in an intertextual interweaving, that is visited each other local sites (e.g., New York, Leicester, and Milan) and made that a part of their research and method. I think in the future, we can all consider the possibility of such ‘domain crossing’. We may both extrospectively with reflexivity go to others’ geographic and other external sites, such as their homes, and introspectively through imaginative thought exercises reflexively visit each other’s minds.
The more I thought about it, I realized that Amy Tiwsakul and Chris Hackley operating as a husband and wife team provide a unique extension of researcher introspection. I’m not sure I have thought much about doing what we might call couple introspection though I once attempted a kind of similar thing myself with my wife. Ultimately I never published the paper because of overriding privacy issues and also because I was still experiencing controversy over my earlier introspection. In any case, Amy and Chris capture something very special from their experience over time as they write “Our joint perspective also reflects the fact that Amy’s discovery of her voice has been a gradual journey jointly undertaken with Chris.” Their idea of mutual self-fashioning in which each consciously changed their lives, not only on their own but in their joint experiences is something seldom if ever accounted for in consumer or any research.
Catherine Banbury, Robert Stinerock and Saroja Subrahmanyan and Amina Beji-Becheur, Nil –§zaglar-Toulouse and Sondes Zouagchi take similar approaches in basing their introspective efforts on a common research interest and passion. Catherine, Robert and Saroja look at sustainable consumption in their lives and tellingly note in terms of their approach that while there may be fears that one or another introspector might dominate the findings, this was not the case in their paper. Indeed, their divergent findings about themselves bear that out. They also echo for me the ‘gray’ in green consumption since there are no easy or necessarily agreed upon protocols. By applying introspection they bear out an idea of my own I throw out at people sometimes, “Green on the inside, green on the outside.” I often mean that to say that some people may subscribe to energy saving and the like, but then put stuff (e.g., unhealthy food) into their bodies that make them ‘ungreen’, which is not even to mention our mental pollutions.
Amina, Nil and Sondes introspectively dug deeply into their personal experiences with negotiating ethnicity and found that “Identity construction is related to an individual trajectory that is much more complex than the process of acculturation.” Even though my experience in terms of ethnicity is quite different, I resonated with their paper (Amy and Chris also) since for most of my adult life I have negotiated an identity which mixes Asian and Western culture. Amina, Nil and Sondes deconstruct ethnicity in such a way as to problematize the whole concept which is aided in no small part by their application of various introspective approaches, including introspective exercises. Their introspective work over time and the retextualizing or reappraisal of their own perspectives provides us with a valuable tool for viewing whatever we might introspect on as a life trajectory.
Markus Wohlfeil and Susan Whelan provide an example of introspection in which one person does the introspecting and the other researcher contributes in the writing-interpretation parts. In this paper, Markus introspects about his parasocial relationship with Jena Malone, an American film star. I think in many respects, his account is a tour de force in terms of its sheer audacity and self-revelation. To be sure, Markus and Susan as good academics find in his introspection a way to contradict theory about celebrity in that he was not so much into her glamor as he was into her ordinariness. And they do find support for other theory in the idea of the parasocial relationship he has with Jena. I think the real contribution though is in the description of the actual process of encounter with Jena which maybe we all recognize whether we are in a parasocial or even social relationship. For instance, without equating Markus’ parasocial engagement with Jena to the Facebook stalking in Anthony Patterson’s work, I think both have some bearing on the attraction and relating process. To better empathize with what Markus may be seeing, I felt compelled to Google Jena Malone. She does play many roles as he notes and have many looks as well. I’m interested in where Markus goes from here. This makes a point about introspective work as well: he or other researchers could study other consumers in this regard, or Markus could push on even deeper into this relationship and uncover more.
The paper by Fiona Sussan, Richard Hall and Laurie Meamber revolves around the spiritual evolution of Richard in relation to a single brand, Starbucks. I resonate strongly with this application of introspection to spirituality which echoes much of my own experience. The two go hand-in-hand. I think their approach to this topic in terms of even being able to conceive it, the ability to hermeneutically and reflexively reflect on it over time and the ability to situate the findings in an interpretive framework all benefit from this introspective form. The sharing of the interpretation duties among the three co-authors also deserves highlighting. In this case, Richard’s narrative is framed by Fiona and Laurie who are both marketing academics while Richard has a PhD but is not in marketing. This points to a further introspective application as amplified in Anthony Patterson’s paper in which informants introspect and he interprets.
Anthony does a little introspecting of his own but emphasizes having 134 undergraduate students introspect their thoughts about Facebook. Methodologically, he characterizes his work as meta-introspective in which he synthesizes “the multiple insights garnered from the individual introspective essays commissioned purely for this project.” Part of the process he mentions is that his informants were instructed about introspection and were told to draw on concurrent or retrospective thoughts about Facebook. But they were not given instructions about what to focus on in particular in keeping with the open-ended nature of the project. I think a particularly strong point about his approach is that it gets at what is the introspective and confessional focus of our times as reflected in Facebook narratives and the private material revealed in them.
David Mick, Stephen Spiller and Anthony Baglioni applied systematic self-observation (SSO) by combining qualitative and hierarchical linear modeling analyses. SSO has a sociological heritage and involves multiple informants who are trained to observe aspects of their daily behavior and report on them in written narratives. They compare SSO to self-introspection in which the researcher engages in the personal introspection we generally ascribe to the term and to interactive introspection in which researchers engage in private introspections and then share perspectives. I think the contribution of their paper from the perspective of this special issue and CIT is to help us map how quantitative data is not only not all that foreign to introspective and other interpretive work, even at more macro levels, but that it can provide new insights by interweaving and comparing quantitative analyses with interpretive analyses of texts and narratives (cf. Gould and Kramer, 2009).
5 Elaborating on CIT, CCT and culture
5.1 Culturally driven introspective exercise
Focus on your thoughts and feelings in terms of what might similar to those of other people. Then alternate with focusing on those that may not be similar. Are the latter only concerning particular experiences or do they concern philosophies, general perceptions generalizations, symbolic meanings, cultural rituals, practices and the like. Do you ever feel solipsistic? Unique? When? When not? Track these feelings over time. See how such feelings may constitute your personal narrative regarding yourself and also regarding the people in your life.
As you engage in introspection over time notice how certain meanings, private discourses and discursive practices (e.g., talking to yourself whether by external sounding voice or internally), and ritualistic practices may develop. For example, can you identify ritual introspection in which follow certain mindways in your introspections? In other words, how do you construe what you observe? Does this mark the development of your own personal culture? How does that interact intextextually and hermeneutically with extrospective culture? What is the relationship between you and your extrospective cultures, e.g., gender, age, sexual orientation, lifestyle-tribal, national, ethnic, organizational, and family, among many others you might consider and however you construe them? Also explore the liminal co-creation or gaps between your introspections and extrospective interactions with the world. Explore also how you translate your personal discourse and culture into discourse with others.
You may interrogate what we speak of as personal culture and its discourses through introspection or by what I might also call ala XHAE (Minowa, Visconti and Maclaran, this issue), internally multi-sited introspective authoethnography, across times and spaces. Does this make you better able to relate to others and understand the contexts of their lived experiences or separate you from them (cf. Stern, 1998 on narrative construction and representation of self and other). Examine carefully and fully over time.
Problematize introspection and extrospection as to what is different or not and how culture, personal or otherwise may be self-fashioned, co-created, transformed and transvalued in a Nietzschean sense (e.g., retextualizing or reformulating as a more conscious personal hermeneutic). Read Derrida (1991) on differance and see how these two, introspection and extrospection, can be engaged. Now examine what you think about culture, again and again. Is this co-created introspection? What is the metanarrative here?
How CIT relates to CCT is certainly a crucial issue since the construction of CCT certainly played a role in the spawning of the construct of CIT, if a lesser role in the actual evolution of introspection, itself. As this issue has unfolded in front of my eyes, I initially framed the whole framing, positioning and review process in terms of interpretive, CCT approaches. However, I soon realized that something qualitatively different was emerging. If CCT focuses on issues that cannot be answered by various other research approaches, such as experiments or modeling, CIT adds another level in that it extends the reach of CCT and other paradigms by going where they cannot fully reach. For instance from my own introspective, CIT perspective, one critique that I would apply to CCT is that there is a hegemonic flavor to it because it seems for the most part to privilege macro cultural issues at the expense of related micro issues of the senses and individual psychology even as some cultural theorists have decried this narrow approach (cf. Featherstone, 2009; Schroeder, 2002). My (our) own embodiment as an introspected upon experience is a manifestation of both personal and macro-cultures. Thus, as those papers in this issue which overlap with CCT explicitly or at least in approach indicate, culture and explorations of it are not separate from introspection.
As one indication, in my original introspection (Gould, 1991), I did tie part of the method I used into existential-phenomenology (Thompson et al., 1989) in considering my own lived experience on an individual basis. I’m not sure this link has been fully explored either in individual researcher or collective consumer studies. As I read various studies using existential-phenomenology, I see introspection in the interviews. What interviewees are doing is introspecting in response to the questions they are being asked by digging into their minds. Of course, the introspection could be more directive in instructing consumers to focus specifically on some inner function such as thinking or feeling. But the boundary between methods in terms of narrative and self-referencing and examination is something constructed in the mind of the researcher, if even thought about.
Furthermore, the interpretations in existential-phenomenology tend to follow a certain protocol in terms of hermeneutics which may equally apply in introspective texts. So I pose this as an issue to be clarified. The reason it is important is that in constructing theory and methodology researchers examine them under the lens of various approaches and draw on various disparate literatures. For instance, introspection might inform existential-phenomenology by focusing interviewees when relevant on sensation and emotion to draw out different types and framings of narratives and meanings than have been used in the past. As another example, Stone (2009) provides a very interesting illustration of introspecting on his application of existential-phenomenology in which he discusses how introspection helped him gain insights regarding the interviews he conducted as well as to deal with the negative aspects of his own research. Gavira and Bluemelhuber (2010) suggest a further enriching perspective in their discussion of existential hermeneutics and self-interpretation which I would link to one’s own personal culture and how that interacts intertextually within itself and with external culture.
I have also noticed that while in interpretive studies of multiple consumers most of the methods applied have involved existential-phenomenology, others use some form of collective introspection. A precursor of much of this collective work may be seen in Gould and Stinerock (1992) in which we accounted for our personal consumption in terms of convergences and divergences of ethnographic self-fashioning, i.e., we fashioned our identities in terms of consumption rooted in our cross-cultural experiences.
It should be noted we engaged in a joint introspective project before that was written about by Wallendorf and Brucks (1993) and we applied it empirically by discussing our own experiences and looked for convergences and divergences in them. While Wallendorf and Brucks deserve credit for thinking about different ways of applying collaborative or joint introspection, our work made no ideological claims about this being the only way to do introspection. In other words, we did not look for positivistic validation but instead used a comparative, hermeneutic process which did not require any final resolution of differences or validity test. We stopped when we reached a point of no more conclusions (at least at a certain point in time), not when we reached a point of reduced averaging or agreement. How can you reduce or average experience? That is also why a resonant introspection by a single researcher may also stand on its own and cannot be averaged into someone else’s experience as much research tries to do. It may or may not resonate but the criteria should not be whether it predicts anyone else’s behavior, unless it so claims.
Now such collective introspection is often framed as autoethnography (e.g., Yuko Minowa, Luca Visconti and Pauline Maclaran and Amina Beji-Becheur, Nil –§zaglar-Toulouse and Sondes Zouagchi, this issue). As these examples illustrate, introspection and autoethnography if the same thing or not (you decide) may nonetheless inform each other in multi-sited research. While certainly and perhaps tautologically it is the case that all introspection is culturally linked, I also would suggest that doing good autoethnography involves doing good, deep, rich introspection. In this respect, it is a shortcoming of current interpretive understanding and practice in CCT that this is not always recognized but CIT offers ways to explore more deeply how culture bubbles down into one’s own consciousness and perhaps more interesting how what one transmits from one’s own experience bubbles up into the consciousness of others, i.e., cultural production. Culture has both micro and macro dimensions that CIT is perhaps best equipped to address. In this sense, autoethnography is an extrospective contextualization that is hermeneutically and intertextually introspectionized to varying degrees. Because in this issue as well as elsewhere there has been much to do about culture and the role of introspection in relation to that, it seems worthwhile to address that in an exercise.
6 Grounded theory introspection versus hypothesis-driven introspection
Now let’s view my-our introspections in theoretical terms we might all recognize. As this issue evolved and I looked at the papers in this issue, as well as my own continuing introspections, I realized that there are two basic approaches which may at times dovetail with my narrative-metacognitive introspection approach. One can be called grounded theory introspection (or grounded theory autoethnography for those applying that label) in that one watches what arises as introspective watching and interpreting it theoretically.
The other, hypothesis-testing introspection (hypothesis-testing autoethnography) involves forming a hypothesis and testing it in some way, either just to see what happens or more purposefully self-experimenting and manipulating some aspect of self (cf. Earl, 2001 and this issue; Gould, 1991; Roberts, 2004 and this issue). These are not necessarily black and white divisions, but are indicators of how CIT can be constituted. Nor are they the only ways to do or characterize introspection as some people may tell a story or provide autobiographical accounts with neither a grounded or hypothesis-driven approach (e.g., Stephen Brown, this issue and beyond).
As to grounded theory introspection, do I just watch my sensations and inner visions and then try and interpret them (if I interpret them at all)? This would constitute a grounded theory approach or grounded theory introspection. My visions are changing and I try and look at them and find explanations (only when I find it valuable). I look at the emergent visions, provide emergent interpretation and theorize: I’m getting a little deeper into my unconsciousness and becoming more aware of this. This is likely due to my continuing meditative introspective insights through which hermeneutically I become more and more aware. By focusing on my sensations, vital energy and related cognitions and emotions, I am seeing myself as an embodied being, not only metaphorically but in living flesh.
Moreover, my narrative and major life project concerns how I work with my (un)consciousness. So if I tell you to watch not only thoughts, but also various manifestations in terms of lights, sounds and sensations, I’m telling you precisely what I do. For example, I’ve noticed that lately I’ve observed much more liquidity in my inner visions. By that I mean that they appear and flow if at certain times I just relax and watch.
The liquidity varies so that at times the images become more ‘solid’ and ‘concrete’ such as people or objects and other times they are ‘mere’ lights and colors, streaks of reds, blues, and mixed colors. I find that any interpretation I apply is grounded in what are phenomena to me but which might be epiphenomenal to others – think of lucid dreaming (cf. Sherry this issue) if that helps or perhaps patterns of projection and introjections (Gould, 1993).
Alternatively, I may apply certain introspective or meditative practices embodying or similar to the exercises I have proposed. In this context, I try and generate certain types of experiences with a ‘hypothesis’ or hypothesis-based introspective behavior (cf. Roberts this issue). If I do this action, I will have this type of experience. For example, if I send energy ala various meditative-yogic practices to a particular part of my body, I expect to have a certain experience. For example, I may mentally send heat or energy to certain parts of my body and expect certain healing or relaxing effects.
There is also a hermeneutic between the two approaches of grounded theory introspection and hypothesis-based introspective behavior. For example, many of you may have used the Nintendo WII and specifically WII Fit. When I used this in various trainings and specifically the WII mediation game, I groundedly watched what happened, learned what worked and what did not and then hypothesized how to practice this in keeping my balance so that I could stay still in the meditation state for some minutes. So now I can construct a narrative of that metacognitive, self-aware experience. I would add in a way of cultural critique that this Nintendo practice is born in Eastern culture where experience is not only observed but actively channeled. While cultural change in the West, postmodernism and various globalizing trends have also contributed to this approach and my own introspective path, much of this evolution gets lost in the privileging and sedimentation (Derrida, 1991) of Western thought.
7 Desire and introspective desire exercise
All this issue in its emergent splendor and all my introspections in my career and life including those on energy, matter-materialism and consciousness have led to me reach a concluding element which I want to add into the CIT mix. I want to offer a new exercise which goes to the heart of consumer behavior, as well as CIT. A major component of that theory is thinking of introspection as desire and desire as introspection.
Watch your desires in the form of thoughts and feelings as they arise. What do you desire? When? In what form, that is how do they manifest? How do you materialize them? How does that fit in with or ground your approach to matter and materialism? How do these thoughts and feelings reflect the present context-environment you are in and how much do they reflect some situation or time more distant? Are all thoughts desires and all thinking, desiring. You can situate these arising desires anyway you find, such as culturally, social and personally. How do such constructions even get produced or arise?
For instance, interrogate Markus Wohlfiel’s introspection on Jena Malone in this issue and ask yourself how his particular desires arose since in drawing on my own introspection I don’t so share them with him and surmise many of you may not either. But you and I may have others that resonate with his. See how that works for you. Likewise, try reading some of the other papers in this issue and elsewhere as exercises for you to consider and explore your own desires. For example, follow Seth Roberts in his self-experimentations and try your own while matching them with your inner thoughts, feelings and desires. We often all do this more or less implicitly but here we make it explicit. These sorts of explorations should be a large part of the narrative of consumer research, don’t you think?
8 Conclusions and implications
In the experience of editing this special issue, the nature of which appears to be unprecedented in marketing (and other) research annals, I observed several things. Really digging deeper and richer in terms of researchers’ own introspections is difficult and frightening. Just as in other interpretive research, some people have the hang of it better than others. Their work resonates more. So while I had wondered how much ‘actual’ introspection would be done in the course of what people described as introspection, I found quite a panoply of differences. Moreover, there still seems to be a self-consciousness about introspection, what it is and when it should be done. Virtually every paper seems to have to establish that introspection must be justified as a method though in this issue we all tried to play that down. Were we more advanced in this as we have sought here, the method and its genealogy should be discussed more in terms of how the authors apply introspection rather than with a whole debate over science. CCT as a whole seems to have advanced beyond this somewhat but introspection is still a kind of stepchild for many even in CCT. Perhaps that is because there is an extrospective out-hereness to CCT at least as generally practiced that ignores the in-hereness that introspection implies.
However, while we continue to have often fruitless debates about the status of introspection, Consumer Introspection Theory (CIT) constitutes a basis for consumer research in a way that no other paradigm does. In particular, it situates all research, whether CCT or experimental in the reflexivity of the self with extrospective cultural phenomena. As emerged from this issue as I considered it, introspections however conducted are themselves exercises as I have posed them. Moreover, we can read much if not all consumer and other social science research in terms of introspective exercises (e.g., “here is how I savor lived experience in terms of my own thoughts and feelings”).
This is how CIT encompasses and interprets extant research and how through one’s own self-understandings of phenomena, it can drive further research. In many ways, it is not new, only here we make it as explicit as possible. That not only serves to rebrand introspection, but to recognize it as the ‘improved’ product it already is.
Another aspect that CIT might address is an extension of the reflexive introspection of Barbara Olsen and also the various multiple researcher introspection projects in this issue, as well as Rob Kozinet’s poem. One way this might be done and which we currently lack for the most part is a facility for requisite published colleague comments that might illumine our insights and bring the field more into play, especially in interpretive work – see for example Seth Roberts’ (2004) work in Behavioral and Brain Sciences and the related comments that were made. Such comment platforms exist even in everyday life where people review products or other things and on the Internet and others comment on their reviews as well.
There are many introspections, many constructions of them, indeed it seems as many as there are introspectors. While that may be a problem for some, it points to a richness embodied in human existence. I will hardly argue against the uses of generalization when necessary, but will make the case that uniqueness and its recognition by introspection is such an evident and prominent part of lived experience that we should not ignore it. In this regard, I want to again thank all the contributors and reviewers involved in this special issue who made this element of introspection abundantly clear and inspired the emergence of CIT. As my personal contribution, I would suggest that various introspective practices can be linked to the introspective exercises I have proposed as a major component or subfield of CIT. I have already illustrated in a few cases how the researchers’ introspections in this issue could be the basis for such exercises. This is not to reduce them to such but merely to suggest one way researchers can build on and extend their thought. If nothing else consider these and other introspective efforts, not to mention other CCT and behavioral research as well, and see through thought exercises how they resonate for you, including in your own research. Maybe even at least for some research we can incorporate this process explicitly in our written articles since we all do it more or less implicitly anyway.
Stephen Gould thanks the following reviewers without whom this Special Issue on introspection would not have been possible: Wided Batat, University of Lyon; Stefania Borghini, Universit Bocconi; Stephen Brown, University of Ulster; Antonella Caru, Universit Bocconi; Gokcen Coskuner-Balli, Chapman University; Bernard Cova, Euromed Management; Rajiv Dant, Price College of Business, The University of Oklahoma; Benet DeBerry-Spence, University of Illinois at Chicago; Peter Earl, School of Economics, University of Queensland; Giana Eckhardt, Suffolk University; Richard Elliott, University of Bath; Karin Ekstrom, University of Boras; Fuat Firat, University of Texas-Pan American; Eileen Fischer, Schulich School of Business, York University; Guliz Ger, Bilkent University; Markus Giesler, Schulich School of Business, York University; Christina Goulding, University of Wolverhampton; Andreas Grein, Zicklin School of Business, Baruch College, CUNY; Chris Hackley, Royal Holloway University of London; Patrick Kaufmann, Boston University; Rob Kozinets, Schulich School of Business, York University; Sidney Levy, Eller College of Management, University of Arizona; Pauline MacLaran, Royal Holloway, University of London; James McAlexander, Oregon State University; Yuko Minowa, Long Island University, Brooklyn Campus; Albert Muniz, DePaul University; Stephanie O’Donohoe, University of Edinburgh Business School; Thomas O’Guinn, University of Wisconsin; Barbara Olsen, School of Business, SUNY Old Westbury; Anthony Patterson, University of Liverpool; Diego Rinallo, Universit Bocconi; Alan Ryave, California State University Dominguez Hills; Shay Sayre, California State University, Fullerton; John Schouten, University of Portland; Avi Shankar, University of Bath; Lorna Stevens, Ulster Business School, University of Ulster; Robert Stinerock, Howe School of Technology Management, Stevens Institute of Technology; Tim Stone, University of Aberdeen; Darach Turley, Dublin City University Business School; Amy Rungapaka Tiwsakul, School of Management, University of Surrey; Ana Valenzuela, Zicklin School of Business, Baruch College, CUNY; Alladi Venkatesh, Graduate School of Management, University of California, Irvine; Roel Wijland, University of Otago; Markus Wohlfeil, University of East Anglia; Nancy Wong, University of Wisconsin.
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