SS05. From Growth Boosters to Growth Busters: Critical and Transformative Marketing approaches meet the Degrowth Movement

This special session calls for a radical overhaul of consumer research and marketing practices and pedagogy to fit a post-growth world. Open to degrowth-minded scholars and practitioners, the session will delve into critical marketing, transformative consumer research, consumer culture theory, macromarketing, and beyond. And conversely, it will examine how these disciplines can inform degrowth strategies, ensuring a mutual enrichment of knowledge and application. Therefore, if you are green-blue-inclusive-sustainable [insert your favourite growth-washing adjective] growth advocate, then this session is probably not for you. We encourage participation from those ready to explore and enact a deep, systemic shift away from traditional growth-centric approach to marketing and consumption, while eschewing cliched and simplistic characterizations of marketing and sustainable consumption for a more nuanced understanding.

  • Expected proposals format: conventional panel contributions
  • Keywords: Degrowth, critical marketing; transformative consumer research; macromarketing; anti-consumption, consumer culture theory
  • Related track(s): 12. Transformative businesses and organizations in a postgrowth context
  • Organizers: Lloveras, Javier (Universidade Vigo, Pontevedra, Spain); Vandeventer, James Scott (Manchester Metropolitan University, Manchester, UK)

Full description

Marketers and consumer researchers are often cast as the not-so-secret agents of the growth paradigm, masterminds of capitalism behind the curtain, zealously oiling the cogs of economic expansion. The Mad Men pulling the levers of consumer craving and fanning the flames of consumerist desire. However, while it is important to recognise the prominent role that marketing plays in shaping consumption within advanced capitalist economies, it's equally important to not overstate the case. The depiction of marketers as omnipotent puppeteers of consumer behaviour is a flattering exaggeration that overlooks the complexities of consumer decisions and market forces. We must also acknowledge the critical insights provided by marketing scholars and practitioners who deviate from the mainstream. Indeed, it is equally important to acknowledge the critical insights provided by marketing scholars and practitioners who deviate from the mainstream: Critical marketing (e. g., Saren et al. 2007; Tadajewski et al, 2018; Hill and McDonagh, 2020), alongside other epistemic communities working from alternative perspectives such macromarketing (Kilbourne et al., 1997), social marketing (Peattie and Peattie, 2009), anti-consumption (e. g., Cherrier, 2009), or transformative consumer research (e. g., Mick et al. 2012), have long challenged the marketing mainstream by placing the promotion of environmental and social wellbeing at the centre of consumer policy and business praxis.

More recently, degrowth ideas are gaining traction, with an emerging wave of marketing scholars advocating for a radical overhaul of consumer research and marketing's practice and pedagogy to suit a world that rejects the necessity and desirability of unending economic growth (Lloveras et al., 2022; 2018; 2017; Vicdan et al., 2022; Chatzidakis et al., 2014). As Lloveras et al put this: "Historically, modern marketing thrived in a world dominated by expansive capitalism and its promises of boundless consumption. In such a world, considerations of ecological limits to growth have been an afterthought at best, and, at worst, were simply absent. Nevertheless, in the 21st century, environmental sustainability is contingent upon the implementation of a coherent set of degrowth-minded policies and broad institutional changes in the Global North. These changes would enable the necessary reductions of material/energy throughput in a socially sustainable and equitable manner, while we gain time to build the foundations of a post-growth political economy" (Lloveras et al. 2022:2071)

This special session’s purpose is to build upon these efforts, promoting further work that explicitly seeks to both critique and reimagine marketing theories and practices from a degrowth perspective. Such positioning comes with a necessary caveat: if you are green-blue-inclusive-sustainable [insert your favourite growth-washing adjective] growth advocate, then this session is probably not for you. For degrowth activists, this special session is an opportunity to move beyond the usual caricatures of marketers and mainstream consumers, challenging the view of marketing as a singular growth-centric force, and revealing its capacity for meaningful change. It provides a platform to dissect and understand the intricate dynamics of consumer culture (Arnould and Thompson, 2009), revealing how marketing and consumer culture dynamics can be both a contributor to and a potential solver of issues tied to unsustainable growth. We seek to create a fertile ground for exchanging ideas, where a meeting between the theoretical underpinnings of degrowth and critical marketing/consumer research sets the stage for advancing towards a sustainable and equitable future beyond growth. We are interested in the following topics, although this list is not exhaustive:

  • Critical Marketing Approaches to Degrowth: Employing critical marketing to question and challenge the traditional paradigms of consumerism and to propose alternative marketing frameworks that align with degrowth.
  • Transformative Consumer Research (TCR) and Degrowth: Contributions may explore ways in which the tenets of transformative consumer research can support degrowth and conversely, how degrowth ideas can redefine the scope of TCR.
  • Consumer Culture Theory (CCT) and Degrowth: Investigating how CCT can provide insights into the cultural drivers of consumption and the potential for cultural shifts towards degrowth values and practices.
  • Macromarketing and Sustainable Systems: Exploring how macromarketing can inform the development of sustainable, equitable economic systems that operate within ecological limits and support degrowth.
  • Degrowth-Oriented Marketing Strategies: Developing marketing strategies that support the degrowth movement, including the creation of campaigns that encourage reduced consumption and sustainable consumer behaviour.
  • Rethinking Marketing Metrics for Degrowth: Proposing new metrics for evaluating marketing success that prioritize environmental sustainability and social well-being over traditional growth-oriented performance indicators.
  • Value Co-Creation in a Degrowth Context: Examining how the concept of value co-creation can be adapted to support degrowth, facilitating exchanges that reflect the principles of sustainability and minimal resource use.
  • Marketing and Alternative Economies: Analyzing the role of marketing in alternative economies, such as sharing, circular, local, and gift economies, and how these models can contribute to a degrowth agenda.

The length of the session will be 90-minute, accommodating up to six contributions. It will be divided in two parts. During the first part, each presenter will have 12 minutes to present their research or theoretical exploration. In the second part, we will allow a moderated debate and Q&A session concerning the content of the presentations. This will involve all contributors and the audience, fostering an interactive and engaging dialogue on these critical topics.

List of references:

  • Arnould, E. J., & Thompson, C. J. (2005). Consumer culture theory (CCT): Twenty years of research. Journal of consumer research, 31(4), 868-882.
  • Chatzidakis, A., Larsen, G., & Bishop, S. (2014). Farewell to consumerism: countervailing logics of growth in consumption. Ephemera: theory and politics in organization., 14(4), 753-764.
  • Cherrier, H. (2009). Anti-consumption discourses and consumer-resistant identities. Journal of business research, 62(2), 181-190.
  • Hill, T., & McDonagh, P. (2020). The Dark Side of Marketing Communications: Critical Marketing Perspectives.
  • Kilbourne, W., McDonagh, P., & Prothero, A. (1997). Sustainable consumption and the quality of life: A macromarketing challenge to the dominant social paradigm. Journal of macromarketing, 17(1), 4-24.
  • Lloveras, J., Marshall, A. P., Vandeventer, J. S., & Pansera, M. (2022). Sustainability marketing beyond sustainable development: towards a degrowth agenda. Journal of Marketing Management, 38(17-18), 2055-2077.
  • Lloveras, J., Quinn, L., & Parker, C. (2018). Reclaiming sustainable space: A study of degrowth activists. Marketing Theory, 18(2), 188-202.
  • Lloveras, J., & Quinn, L. (2017). Growth and its discontents: Paving the way for a more productive engagement with alternative economic practices. Journal of Macromarketing, 37(2), 131-142.
  • Mick, D. G., Pettigrew, S., Pechmann, C. C., & Ozanne, J. L. (Eds.). (2012). Transformative consumer research for personal and collective well-being. Routledge.
  • Peattie, K., & Peattie, S. (2009). Social marketing: a pathway to consumption reduction?. Journal of business research, 62(2), 260-268.
  • Tadajewski, M. (2010). Towards a history of critical marketing studies. Journal of Marketing Management, 26(9-10), 773-824.
  • Vicdan, H., Ulusoy, E., Tillotson, J. S., Hong, S., Ekici, A., & Mimoun, L. (2023). Food prosumption technologies: A symbiotic lens for a degrowth transition. Marketing Theory, 14705931231199962.