The Evolution of Consumerism in the Marketing Education: A Critical Discussion Based on Mezirow's Critical Reflection

The Evolution of Consumerism in the Marketing Education: A Critical Discussion Based on Mezirow's Critical Reflection

George S. Spais
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-5880-6.ch003
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The chapter examines how consumerism- one of the primary key themes in marketing and business courses- has evolved the last decade and envisages the shape of these set of courses in the future. From the 1,935 words for 20 key-concepts counted in 141 online course descriptions in English of the last 10 periods delivered by Business and Management Schools or Business/Marketing Academic Depts. of 88 Universities and Colleges, “Marketing,” “business,” “ethics” and “social responsibility” were included in 100% of the course descriptions analyzed, indicating their coverage by all courses. In order to investigate the five (5) research objectives, HCA was adopted for an exploratory analysis based on single-linkage clustering method to reveal natural groupings of the key concepts within a data set of word counts that were not apparent and then multiple linear regression analyses were conducted. The trend analyses indicated prospects for the increasing focus around specific topics. The interpretation of the research results based on the assumptions of Mezirow's critical reflection provided very strong recommendations.
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Consumption of goods and services has risen steadily in industrial countries in the previous century, and it is growing rapidly in many developing countries (Worldwatch Institute, 2013) by a large middle class driving the global economy (e.g., Kharas, 2010). The middle class is an ambiguous social classification, broadly reflecting the ability to lead a comfortable life (e.g., Kharas, 2010). Consumerism, as the new consumption role of the middle class, is majorly emphasized in the economics’ literature worldwide (e.g., Murphy, Shleifer & Vishny, 1989; Schor, 1999; Elfick, 2011). There are now more than 2 billion members of the consumer class—nearly half of them in the developing world (Worldwatch Institute, 2013). The new consumption role of the middle class is the axis of a lifestyle and culture that became common in Europe, North America and Japan and today is going global (e.g., Worldwatch Institute, 2013).

Today’s human economies are designed with little attention to the residuals of production and consumption. WWF’s Living Planet Index shows a thirty-five percent decline in Earth’s ecological health since 1970. The executive Summary (2008) of the “Breaking the Climate Deadlock Report – A Global Deal for Our Low Carbon Future” (a briefing paper by the Climate Group and Mckinsey’s Global institute’s consultants) underlines that without a change in energy policies and consumption behavior, global energy demand and energy-related carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions will grow by forty-five percent to 2020. According to the 2011, Annual Energy Outlook (Energy Information Administration of U.S., 2011) energy-related CO2 emissions will grow by 16 percent from 2009 to 2035, reaching 6.3 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (or 1.7 GtC).

Further, individuals often face personal costs associated with heavy consumption (Wordwatch Institute, 2013): i) the financial debt; the time and stress associated with working to support high consumption; ii) the time required to clean, upgrade, store, or otherwise maintain possessions; and iii) the ways in which consumption replaces time with family and friends. Mass consumption is responsible for the decline in health indicators in western societies.

According to Worldwatch Institute (2013) consumer advocates, economists, environmentalists and policymakers are developing creative solutions for responding social needs while dampening the environmental and social costs associated with mass consumption. In addition, helping individuals find the consuming balance, they stress placing more emphasis on publicly provided goods and services, on services in place of goods, on goods with high levels of recycled content, and on genuine choice for consumers. Definitely, governments can reshape economic incentives and regulations but this is not enough. Without the active participation of the truly marketing oriented organizations, social behavior in the sense of encouraging responsible consumption with ecological imperative is meaningless. Only businesses can radically transform their customers through continuous sensitization and ctitical reflection.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Business Studies: Is the branch of science, which is concerned with the organization, and the market environment of businesses. Business studies uses context-based, multi-disciplinary methods in order to consider the practical issues which affect businesses – both internally and externally – in a scientific manner. At university-level, this means considering the methodology of business studies. However, a business scientist is not only trained to carry out research into all kinds of business phenomena. Designing, advising on, implementing and evaluating policies, solutions and concepts are equally as important in practice, in all types of organizations.

Learning: Is the process of producing a new or revised interpretation of an experience. In Mezirow’s critical reflection theory, there are two key concepts: (1) communicative learning and (2) functional learning. Communicative learning: is the other domain of learning focusing on what learners mean when they communicate. This often involves feelings, intentions, values and moral issues. Functional learning is one of the two domains of learning focusing on learners’ control and manipulation or their environment (through task-oriented problem-solving to improve performance).

Business Science: The term ‘business administration’ or ‘business science’ underlines the multi-disciplinary and context-based aspect of the field. There is no difference in substance between the two terms – it simply depends which aspect one wishes to emphasise. In most parts of the world, ‘business administration’ is adopted. Adopting a functional view, business science is by looking at its actual function (the problems which business science can help solve). Looking at the practice of business science from the outside as a sociologist or a philosopher, one may derive very different conclusions. A critical reader may see this in the difficulties of a stream of organizational theory known as ‘Critical Management Studies’. In this study, I view business science as an insider (‘business science, as a practically oriented interdisciplinary area of study that can be improved, and this is how’) and not critically as an outsider (‘if business science serves or not and why’).

Marketing Studies: Is the branch of science, which is concerned with deepening the understanding of the customer needs in the market environment of businesses and finding solutions of marketing problems through micro-research perspective. Marketing studies uses scientific methods in order to consider the practical marketing issues, which affect businesses – in a scientific manner. At university-level, this means considering the methodology of marketing studies. However, a marketing scientist with a strong instrumental-technical background is also trained to carry out critical research into all kinds of marketing phenomena under intellectual directions such as interdisciplinarity, praxis, theoretical openness, historical depth, systemic and dialectic for advancing macro-critical perspective of marketing and consumer research through the adoption of macro and critical approaches ( Dholakia, 2012 ).

Meaning Structure/Meaning Perspective/Habit of Mind: Is defined as a broad set of predispositions resulting from psycho-cultural assumptions that determine the individuals’ expectations horizons they are grouped into three sets of codes: sociolinguistic codes, psychological codes, and epistemic codes. A meaning scheme is the constellation of concept, belief, judgment, and feelings that shapes a particular interpretation.

Andragogy: Is the art and science of helping adults learn.

Marketing Science: Is the field that applies scientific methods and scientific experiments to the solution of marketing problems and understanding marketing phenomena and customer needs by building simulation models at the micro level (for each of the marketing mix variables) and the macro level (overall mix of marketing inputs), so that optimal solutions can be derived.

Transformative Learning: Is the process by which we transform problematic frames of reference (mindsets, habits of mind, meaning perspectives) – sets of assumption and expectation – to make them more inclusive, discriminating, open, reflective and emotionally able to change. Such frames are better because they are more likely to generate beliefs and opinions that will prove truer or justified to guide action. Frames of reference are the structures of culture and language through which the individuals construe meaning by attributing coherence and significance to our experience. Individuals selectively shape and delimit their perception, cognition and feelings by predisposing their intentions, beliefs, expectations and purposes. These preconceptions set individuals’ ‘line of action’. Once set or programmed, individuals automatically move from one specific mental or behavioural activity to another, and have a strong tendency to reject ideas that fail to fit their preconceptions. A frame of reference encompasses cognitive, conative and affective components, may operate within or outside awareness and is composed of two dimensions: a habit of mind and resulting points of view (e.g., Mezirow, 2009 ). In simple words, transformative learning is about the critical and reflective learning for living.

Content Analysis/Textual Analysis: Is a methodology in the social sciences for studying the content of communication. Content analysis is considered a scholarrly methodology in the humanities by which texts are studied as to authorship, authenticity or menaing (e.g., Joubish & Khurram, 2011 AU45: The in-text citation "Joubish & Khurram, 2011" is not in the reference list. Please correct the citation, add the reference to the list, or delete the citation. ). This latter subject includes philology, hermeneutics and semiotics. The underlying assumption of content analysis is that the words and phrases mentioned most often in a text or series of texts are those that reflect the salient concerns of that particular discourse (e.g. Muema & Mutisya, 2012 ). McKeone (1995) highlighted the difference between prescriptive analysis and open analysis . In prescriptive analysis, the context is a closely defined set of communication parameters (e.g. specific messages); open analysis identifies the dominant messages and subject matter within the text. A further step in analysis is the distinction between quantitative approaches and qualitative approaches. Quantitative approaches set up a list of categories derived from the frequency list of words and control the distribution of words and their respective categories over the texts. While methods in quantitative content analysis in this way transform observations of found categories into quantitative statistical data, the qualitative content analysis focuses more on the intentionality and its implications.

Critical Reflection: Reflection is a “looking back” on experiences. Critical reflection is the process of analysing, reconsidering and questioning experiences within a broad context of issues. The process can be broken down into four (4) dimensions, which address the different activities and levels of reflection (a. comprehensive observation, b. comprehensive description, c. making meaning and d. adding depth and breadth to the meanings). Difficulties are resulted by the subjective nature of emotions involved in each experience. Mezirow underlines the role of habits that are determined by sociocultural, mental and epistemological distortions.

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