My research focuses on cultural and social theories of consumption and the cultural politics of marketing and management practice. Working within the tradition of qualitative social sciences, I study marketing and consumption practices from the view of the actors. My edited collection Inside Marketing: Practices, Ideologies, Devices (with Julien Cayla, Oxford University Press, 2012) highlights the cultural dimension of marketing practice as a product and producer of global and local market ideologies.
Darmody, A. and Zwick, D. (2020), "Manipulate to Empower: Hyper-Relevance and the Contradictions of Marketing in the Age of Surveillance Capitalism", Big Data & Society, 7(1).Keywords
In this article, we explore how digital marketers think about marketing in the age of Big Data surveillance, automatic computational analyses, and algorithmic shaping of choice contexts. Our starting point is a contradiction at the heart of digital marketing namely that digital marketing brings about unprecedented levels of consumer empowerment and autonomy and total control over and manipulation of consumer decision-making. We argue that this contradiction of digital marketing is resolved via the notion of relevance, which represents what Fredric Jameson calls a symbolic act. The notion of the symbolic act lets us see the centering of relevance as a creative act of digital marketers who undertake to symbolically resolve a contradiction that cannot otherwise be resolved. Specifically, we suggest that relevance allows marketers to believe that in the age of surveillance capitalism, the manipulation of choice contexts and decision-making is the same as consumer empowerment. Put differently, relevance is the moment when marketing manipulation disappears and all that is left is the empowered consumer. To create relevant manipulations that are experienced as empowering by the consumer requires always-on surveillance, massive analyses of consumer data and hyper-targeted responses, in short, a persistent marketing presence. The vision of digital marketing is therefore a fascinating one: marketing disappears at precisely the moment when it extends throughout the life without limit.
Carrington, M., Neville, B. and Zwick, D. (2018), "Activism and Abdication on the Inside: The Effect of Everyday Practice on Corporate Responsibility", Journal of Business Ethics, 160, 973–999 (2019).Keywords
While mainstream CSR research has generally explored and argued for positive ethical, social and environmental performance, critical CSR scholars argue that change has been superficial—at best, and not possible in any substantial way within the current capitalist system. Both views, however, only address the role of business within larger systems. Little attention has been paid to the everyday material CSR practice of individual managers. We go inside the firm to investigate how the micro-level acts of individual managers can aggregate to drive transformation of the macro-level business logic. We draw on the strategy-as-practice approach to organize our research. The study reveals two orientations towards the integration of personal ethics into the workplace: abdication and activism. These orientations are supported by managerial practice such as reproductive and coping tactics (abdication) and covert and overt tactics (activism); and, three enabling conditions of activist practice: empowerment and psychological safety, moral shock, and morality praxis. While our findings illustrate the tremendous challenges managers face when attempting to influence organizational practices towards their ethical and environmental aspirations, we also show that under specific conditions, individual managers can become fully engaged advocates and drivers of positive change from the inside. In so doing, our individual-level analysis of intrapreneurship provides a more complex picture of the possibilities for positive change than have been previously put forth by mainstream and critical CSR research.
Zwick, D. (2018), "No Longer Violent Enough?: Creative Destruction, Innovation and the Ossification of Neoliberal Capitalism", Journal of Marketing Management, 34(11-12), 913-931.
My goal is to suggest that it is useful to distinguish analytically between capital’s primal, often direct violence against bodies and a systemic form of violence that is at the same time reproductive of the capitalist system and directed against its own creations. I suggest that this analytical separation allows us to see that on the one hand capitalist violence is intensifying and with it processes of exploitation, class bifurcation, downward mobility and environmental, political and social degradation. On the other hand, however, capitalism appears to be ossifying as it loses its ability to self-reproduce. The violent act of (periodically) destroying its own creation to make room for new production and formation is becoming stifled and nothing appears capable of blowing up the dead weight of capital that is suffocating living labour. Drawing on the work of David Graeber and Mariana Mazzucato I propose that, paradoxically, it is the logic of the market that causes the stifling of real innovation and thus capitalism’s ability to reproduce. It is in this sense that I claim that capitalism is no longer violent enough.
Bradshaw, A., Charitsis, V. and Zwick, D. (2018), "Creating Worlds that Create Audiences", TripleC Journal for a Global Sustainable Information Society, 16(2), 820-834.Keywords
In this article, we draw on theories of biopolitical marketing to explore claims that personal data markets are contextualised by what Shoshana Zuboff calls “surveillance capitalism” and Jodi Dean calls “communicative capitalism”. Surveillance and communicative capitalism are characterised by a logic of accumulation based on networked captures of life that enable complex and incomprehensive processes of extraction, commodification, and control. Echoing recent theorisations of data (as) derivatives, Zuboff’s key claim about surveillance capitalism is that data representations open up opportunities for the enhanced market control of life through the algorithmic monitoring, prediction and modification of human behaviour. A Marxist critique, focusing largely on the exploitative nature of corporate data capitalism, has already been articulated. In this article, we focus on the increasingly popular market-libertarian critique that proposes individual control, ownership, and ability to commodify one’s personal data as an answer to corporate data extraction, derivation and exploitation schemes. We critique the claims that personal data markets counterbalance corporate digital capitalism on two grounds. First, these markets do not work economically and therefore are unable to address the exploitative aspect of surveillance capitalism. Second, the notion of personal data markets functions ideologically because it reduces the critique of surveillance capitalism to the exploitation of consumers and conceals the real objective of data capitalists such as Google, Facebook, Amazon and Apple to not (just) exploit audiences but to create worlds that create audiences.
Bradshaw, A. and Zwick, D. (2016), "The Field of Business Sustainability and the Death Drive: A Radical Intervention", Journal of Business Ethics, 136(2), 267-279.
We argue that the gap between an authentically ethical conviction of sustainability and a behaviour that avoids confronting the terrifying reality of its ethical point of reference is characteristic of the field of business sustainability. We do not accuse the field of business sustainability of ethical shortcomings on the account of this attitude–behaviour gap. If anything, we claim the opposite, namely that there resides an ethical sincerity in the convictions of business scholars to entrust capitalism and capitalists with the mammoth task of reversing, the terrifying reality of ecological devastation. Yet, the very illusory nature of this belief in capitalism’s captains to save us from the environmentally devastating effects of capitalism gives this ethical stance a tragic beauty. While sincere and authentic, it nevertheless is an ethical stance that relies on an “exclusionary gesture of refusing to see” (Žižek, in Violence, 2008, p. 52), what in psychoanalysis is referred to as a fetishist disavowal of reality. We submit that this disavowal is fetishistic because the act is not simply one of repressing the real. If it was, we would rightly expect that we could all see the truth if we only provide more or better information to fill the subject’s lack of knowledge. The problem is that the fetishist transfers a fantasy of the real as the real. In the case of destructive capitalism, the fetishist disavows that particular reality by believing in another, thus subjectively negating the lack (or gap). Therefore, from the perspective of psychoanalytic theory, we submit that the gap between attitude and behaviour is best understood not only as an ethical flaw, but also as an essential component of an ethics that makes possible the field of business sustainability.
Bradshaw, A. and Zwick, D. (2016), "Biopolitical Marketing and Social Media Brand Communities", Theory, Culture & Society, 33(5), 91-115.
This article offers an analysis of marketing as an ideological set of practices that makes cultural interventions designed to infuse social relations with biopolitical injunctions. We examine a contemporary site of heightened attention within marketing: the rise of online communities and the attendant profession of social media marketing managers. We argue that social media marketers disavow a core problem; namely, that the object at stake, the customer community, barely exists. The community therefore functions ideologically. We describe the ideological gymnastics necessary for maintaining momentum behind a practice that barely exists and we ponder why such ideologies are necessary, and what they allow the marketer to do. Working with such concepts as ‘the wild’, ‘communicative capitalism’, and ‘biopolitical marketing’, we explore a genre of popular business literature that proselytizes for online customer communities and we reflect on the broader implications.
Zwick, D. (2015), "Defending the Right Lines of Division: Ritzer’s Prosumer Capitalism in the Age of Commercial Customer Surveillance and Big Data", The Sociological Quarterly, 56(3), 484–498.
Zwick, D. (2015), "Book Review: Capitalism – A companion to Marx’s economy critique (Routledge) by Johan Fornas", Consumption, Markets and Culture, 18(3), 292-295.
Carrington, M., Neville, B. and Zwick, D. (2015), "The Ideology of the Ethical Consumption Gap", Marketing Theory, 16(1), 21-28.
The growth of contemporary capitalism is producing a broad sweep of environmental and social ills, such as environmental degradation, exploitative labor conditions, social and economic inequity, and mental and physical illness. A growing awareness of these significant consequences by an “ethical” consumer segment has catalyzed a field of research dedicated to investigating ethical consumerism. Of particular academic and practitioner focus is the general failure of this ethical consumer segment to “walk their talk”—the ethical consumption attitude–behavior ‘gap’. In this article, we draw on Althusser and Žižek to critically analyze the ideological functioning of the ethical consumption gap. We argue that this focus inadvertently promotes erroneous notions of consumer sovereignty and responsibilization. We conclude with a call to reimagine the gap as a construct that paradoxically preserves—rather than undermines—dominant and destructive consumerist capitalism. We redirect research toward the underlying capitalist structures that predicate and benefit from the gap.
Atik, D., Peterson, M., Shultz, C, II. and Zwick, D. (2014), "My Iranian Road Trip – Comments and Reflections on Videographic Interpretations of Iran’s Political Economy and Marketing System", Journal of Macromarketing, 34(1), 87-94.
Iran is an enigmatic political economy and marketing system. Access to it for purposes of rigorous and thorough research is not easy. Scholars therefore must be creative when studying such systems, and may be limited to interpreting extant findings by others. In this article, the authors share comments and reflections on My Iranian Road Trip, a short film documenting Nicholas Kristof’s 2012 tour through Iran, and an ensuing panel that analyzed and discussed the film during the 39th Annual Macromarketing Conference. The film was sponsored and released online by The New York Times. While it was agreed that some glimpse of Iran is better than none – and that Kristof’s film does contribute to the discourse on political and economic dynamics in Iran – the authors share comments on methodological shortcomings, representativeness, over-simplification, and concerns about some questionable conclusions, which inevitably implies need for more rigorous, thorough and nuanced research if we are to understand Iran’s complex political economy and marketing system.
Denegri-Knott, J. and Zwick, D. (2012), "Tracking Prosumption Work on eBay: Reproduction of Desire and the Challenge of Slow Re-McDonaldization", American Behavioral Scientist, 56(4), 439-458.
Ritzer suggests that we are witnessing the emergence of a prosumer society where early forms of prosumption (the gas station, the automatic teller machine, McDonalds, etc.) are now being universalized across industries, product and service categories, and geographies. This essay presents the results of a qualitative study of the lived experience of “doing prosumption,” in particular, how prosumption work in user-generated media environments is experienced by prosumers over time. For the purpose of this investigation, the authors conceptualize eBay as a space for the social production and consumption of desire, where, akin to the concept of prosumption, the consumer of these experiences is also, at least in part, a producer of the same experiences. The authors argue that the experience of prosumption changes over time even as the frequency of using eBay as a marketplace may not. The data suggest a trajectory from “enchanted prosumption” to “disenchanted prosumption” as, over time, the collective social production and consumption of desires, daydreams, and fantasies give way to a sense of eBay as a place for routine, efficient, and habitual buying and selling activities. In the final analysis, the authors argue that the disenchantment of and through eBay is a function of the routinization of the self and the rationalization of eBay as technological structure. Hence, the authors extend recent theorizations of the de-McDonaldizating effects of user-generated Web 2.0 spaces by suggesting that the dimensions of McDonaldization built into the technological structure of such spaces can encourage a slow re-McDonaldization of the user experience, albeit not universally. In sum, a longitudinal view of prosumption in user-generated online spaces cautions those studying new media spaces, not to underestimate the power of the McDonaldization processes.
Project Title Role Award Amount Year Awarded Granting Agency Project TitleDeveloping Cross-Cultural Competencies for Business Students Role Award Amount$41,200.00 Year Awarded2019 Granting AgencyAIF Project TitleTeaching Innovation Grant for Project titled “Developing a Sustainable Placement Program for iBBA Students Role Award Amount$10,000.00 Year Awarded2015 Granting AgencyAIF Project TitleYork Grant to generate Placements for Schulich Students Role Award Amount$12,000.00 Year Awarded2015 Granting AgencyThe Academic Innovation Fund (AIF) Project TitleInside marketing: Practices, ideologies, devices Role Award Amount$21,000.00 Year Awarded2009 Granting AgencySSHRC Project TitleInside marketing: Critical investigations of marketing practices and ideologies from around the world RolePrincipal Investigator Award Amount$21,000.00 Year Awarded2009 Granting AgencySocial Sciences and Humanities Research Council - Aid To Workshop Grant Project TitleDatabase Marketing: Making up customers Role Award Amount$3,500.00 Year Awarded2004 Granting AgencySSHRC Project TitleDatabase Marketing: Making up customers RolePrincipal Investigator Award Amount$3,500.00 Year Awarded2004 Granting AgencySocial Sciences and Humanities Research Council - Small Grant Project Title RolePrincipal Investigator Award Amount$2,000.00 Year Awarded2004 Granting AgencyYork University - Junior Faculty Fund Project Title RolePrincipal Investigator Award Amount$5,000.00 Year Awarded2000 Granting AgencyUniversity of Aalborg, Denmark - Researcher in Residence with the Computer Science Department