Category Archives: Consumption


An American senator, Ben Sasse, stole my thunder. Well, okay, not really. But I’ve been observing the hashtag #adulting for a while now, and wondering what it really signified. While I mused in my head, Ben Sasse wrote a book about it.

I’ve just read that book “The Vanishing American Adult,” and while it really isn’t about that hashtag trend, he uses that example to kick off the book. As I read, I found myself thinking things like “exactly” and “hell, yeah” and “I wish I had done that with my kids.”  (The fact that I, as a liberal Canadian, was astonished to agree on many issues with a religiously observant, home-schooling, conservative Republican senator reflects on the deep assumptions of “us vs. them” in our culture right now… a topic for a later blog).

I disagreed with many things, but agreed with far more. My quick summary won’t do it justice (you should read it) but the gist of it is that by “saving” our kids from hard work, letting them primarily spend time with their own age group (both in-person and online), travelling with them as consumers/tourists vs. travellers, buying them too many things, and allowing them to go through life without reading important books, we are doing them a grave disservice that will negatively impact them, but more importantly, American society. I think in Canada as well, we need to better raise citizens, not consumers.

So, what does this have to do with consumption research? Back to the hashtag. What does the repeated use of the #adulting hashtag mean? Is this a continuing trend of infantilizing young adults to see themselves as less than full adults? If so, does this mean they continue to consume as adolescents, with all sorts of macro implications (short-term vs. long-term savings and spending patterns, home ownership, etc.)? Is it shorthand for “I am being ironically adult, and actually don’t intend to grow up at all?” I don’t know. Maybe I will study it more systematically… maybe you should. But at the least, you should read the book!

Failing to See

Okay, so it has been far too long since I’ve written in this space. I blame it on a busy administrative role, and, truth be told, obsessive Facebook use concerning the American election. Enough; back to thoughts.

I was jarred into actual novel new thoughts by reading a colleague’s paper recently. My next-door neighbor at the office, Tima Bansal, has published a new paper with her students Anna Kim and Michael Wood. It is called “Hidden in Plain Sight: The Importance of Scale on Organizational Attention to Issues,” and you can find the paper here.

In the paper, they ask important questions, such as why financial institutions simply missed the signals of the impending financial crisis altogether, or why many organizations fail to recognize the possible impacts of climate change on their operations. They propose that one important reason why organizations miss these sorts of issues is because the scope or extent to which organizations pay attention is disconnected from the scale at which processes, such as climate change, or the financial crisis, actually occur.

There are many other valuable insights in this critical-realist approach to studying organizational attention. But what caught my attention (pun intended) were the obvious parallels to how we study consumption and consumers. As marketers, and academics who study consumers and marketers, we too are “bombarded by numerous external and internal signals that give information about potential issues” (page 5). Big data anyone? But we can’t pay attention to all details all the time. So, if we focus on large macro cultural trends, which play out over a long temporal scale, we can fail to notice very serious signals happening at a much smaller scale within our consumer base. Or, if we focus on the micro signals thrown up by mass datasets of behavioural data, we certainly may fail to see larger social and cultural trends. We must understand that real events and trends are actually happening in the world, even if we fail to see them. A firm may not recognize a massive cultural shift that will have important marketing implications for them, but that lack of recognition doesn’t mean it isn’t happening.

Another implication of this work for me was a theoretical rationale for my own innate unease with generational analysis (millennials, boomers, etc). Focusing on that scale often leads to overlooking what seems (in hindsight) as obvious differences within the cohorts. But that is a topic for another day.

Read this paper; it is dense and difficult, but thought-provoking, as all good scholarship should be!


Paid Caregivers and the Family

When is a paid caregiver, for your elderly parents or your children, part of the family? When is s/he not a part of the family? Why?

These are the sorts of questions examined in recent research I published in the Journal of Marketing Management with Aimee Dinnin Huff and Michelle Barnhart.  We investigated this topic within families using individual caregivers (not daycares, or seniors homes) for childcare or elderly care. Our methods included in-depth interviews with formal family members, care recipients (elderly consumers) and paid caregivers.

Our research really makes three main points. First, we show that the traditional separation between production and consumption doesn’t always work for caregiving as a service. Second, we outline the very difficult position caregivers may end up in, stuck in a sort of no-man’s land between “family” and “not-family.” And finally, we show that the ways in which family members “do family” demonstrates and strengthens dominant cultural values. In addition, our findings strongly suggest that longevity in the family–caregiver relationship is a critical element in family well-being and caregiver job satisfaction.

We also put out a call to other researchers of family issues, namely:

…consumer researchers designing studies of family consumption should broaden their conceptualisation of family to account for the various, perhaps non-traditional constructions of family possible under the particular circumstances of interest.

The article is provided for free until July, so if you are interested, go ahead and download it from the link above; and happy reading! I’d be happy to hear what you think.

And by the way, the article’s unique identifier is: DOI:10.1080/0267257X.2014.933865