Market Studies

The group has strong links to the wider Market Studies community and a number of like-minded colleagues across a number of European institutions.

At Lancaster there are connections with the work of colleagues in other departments, namely Professor Elizabeth Shove in Sociology. The group organises a biennial interdisciplinary workshop on market studies, special tracks at the annual IMP Group Conference and hosts its own website.

What are Market Studies?

The current definition of marketing offered by the American Marketing Association is: “Marketing is the activity, set of institutions, and processes for creating, communicating, delivering, and exchanging offerings that have value for customers, clients, partners, and society at large.” (Approved October 2007)

A striking aspect of this definition is the absence of an explicit reference to markets. Instead, the definition follows the trend set in the mid 1970s when marketing defined itself as addressing generic rather than economic exchange. The rise of neoliberal discourses advocating market-based solutions to social problems and market-oriented reforms that has taken root since the 1980s coincided with marketing’s attempts portray itself as a social technology applicable to markets and non-markets alike.

The primary purpose of the market studies approach is to reconnect marketing to markets, and recover its original roots in economic exchange. It argues that exchange should not be confused with markets. For exchanges to turn into markets they have to achieve a degree of spatial and temporal continuity. 

But how do exchanges acquire this degree of spatial and temporal continuity?

A market studies approach emphasises the socio-material character of this enterprise. Markets rely on a variety of infrastructures such as rules and conventions as highlighted by institutional economists and organisational theorists. But these infrastructures also involve technical devices such as metrological networks and spaces that structure the encounter of agents and enable the valuation of goods. Similarly, exchanges depend on the voluntary exchange of property rights and the rules and devices that allow goods to be appropriated and traded is an important aspect of the study of markets.

In short, markets contain a variety of calculating agencies involved in multiple and often contested efforts to shape markets. These agencies are equipped with a variety of tools emanating from a  number of backgrounds. Supply side agencies such as commercial firms depend on varied expert knowledge embodied in management tools and procedures (e.g. accounting and budgeting systems, marketing plans). Demand side agencies such as other firms can often count on complex calculating tools such as vendor rating systems, procedures for analysing and negotiating quotes and so on. Consumers are often portrayed as having weak agency – which may often be the case - but they can often enlist the help of consumer associations, specialist purchasing guides, the advice of critics and reviewers as well as playing active roles in movements promoting particular forms of trade (e.g. Fair Trade). Other actors may prove equally influential in configuring market agencies. Regulators, competition or antitrust commissions, consumer protection agencies, mediators such as distributors or resellers, specialist agencies (e.g. advertising, PR) and consultancies are all examples of other types of calculating agencies in markets.

A key aspect of the study of market practices is the role of knowledge in shaping markets. Put simply, ideas, models, techniques and methods deployed by lay or expert actors alike, do not simply represent but actively perform markets. In some cases, this knowledge is closely associated with particular forms of professional expertise (e.g. advertising), in other cases it emanates from lay actors or consultancies whilst in others still, it combines aspects of both. The important argument is that knowledge about markets helps perform markets rather than merely represent them from afar. 

One interesting question that flows from this argument is: what type of knowledge does marketing generate and how does this knowledge contribute to the shaping of particular market forms? What types of ideas, tools, techniques, and methods are deployed in formatting market agencies, methods of valuation and so on? Also, when do markets represent a poor solution to economic coordination and more pertinently, when do markets become noxious?

How might Market Studies have an impact on the world?

By understanding how markets work, the roles of actors that shape them, the tools and techniques that transform them and bring about change, we are putting ourselves in a much stronger position to develop the types of markets our society wants - ‘good markets’. We will have a deeper understanding of how to disrupt markets we don’t want, such as human trafficking, or black markets. And we may even be able to recognise contexts where markets are not likely to work such as in certain parts of the National Health Service (NHS) or the provision of education or welfare. Similarly, identifying types of markets that need work differently or suit specific contexts better, such as markets at the base-of-the-pyramid, designed to reduce poverty or digital or knowledge intensive markets that are not geographically bound, is likely to transform the type of marketing practices we develop. Getting society working and recognising market practices as a fundamental part of the way we live has important implications, not just for marketing theory, but for practitioners and policy makers too.