Marketing, the literary & the logos of cool
: A poststructuralist enquiry into the appropriation and impact of literary theory on marketing discourse and its implications for the re-presentation of consumer dispositions of characterised by cool.

  • Glyn Fry

    Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


    This Dissertation offers a poststructuralist critique of cool across the discourses of marketing and consumer culture.

    The starting point for this study was an exploration of the ways in which postmodern marketing's engagement with the literary helps consolidate interpretive approaches that claim to offer a deeper understanding of the more nuanced needs of the sovereign consumer. I challenge this Whiggish version of a 'progressive' marketing by problematising its deployment of the literary, with its focus on the use of irony as a mode of subjective knowingness, but which occludes its disruptive 'other'.

    I draw on Foucault and Belsey to highlight the discursive practices and techniques entailed in the articulation of subjectivity and knowingness. I also highlight the implications of Derrida's challenge to Western culture's dependence on the logo-centric in its inscriptions of the knowing subject that ultimately effaces the play of textuality and the materiality of the signifier. Consequently, it is proposed that recognising subjectivity as a function of signifying and discursive practice, and not simply as the manifestation of a logocentric rationality or some deeply embedded psychological need or impulse, has profound implications for consumer sovereignty and choice.

    This study maintains that the shared logocentric assumptions between articulations of ironic knowingness in relation to literary and postmodern theory 'conspire' to valorise the subjective configurations of the sovereign consumer, most notably promoted as cool.

    While a poststructuralist mode of research is not without its methodological difficulties it proved particularly apposite in offering a reading of how marketing achieves its effects. A key feature of poststructuralist enquiry, as with the uses of irony configured as a challenge to, rather than a manifestation of, knowingness, is to draw attention to the unsettling, disruptive, decentring, tendencies implicit in the linguistic process. But while this makes for a degree of discomfort and frustration, such critiques also constitute a source of creativity and innovation for configuring the world differently.

    In this regard, a deconstructive cultural history shows marketing to be divided against itself. Marketing both seeks to specify and satisfy clearly determined needs, desires and aspirations, but at the same time constantly effects to unsettle and reconfigure desire. Those deemed to have a cool, percipient sensibility effectively operate as a conduit for this unsettling of desire. The consequence is that almost before consumer satisfaction can be [re]articulated it is running up against a new unsettling of desire. What the study of the discourses of cool indicate is that this unsettling effectively constitutes a 'creative' strategy by which cool maintains its exclusivity over early and late majority consumers, and in driving forward new 'consumer' priorities. This Dissertation argues that it cannot be inconsequential that the material signifying practices entailed in promoting this unsettling also have the effect of achieving a particular resonance with the priorities of late consumer capitalism - the creation of an ever increasing cycle of demand for products and services.
    Date of AwardDec 2009
    Original languageEnglish

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