Back to the roots!: Methodological situationalism and the postmodern lesson for studying tribes, practices, and assemblages

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This article argues that one can revive the critical edge that postmodernist theory has brought to marketing, thinking without subscribing to any particular school of (critical) theory by following the principle of methodological situationalism. The roots of postmodernist critique lie in careful empirical observation of how social reality is being constructed in local contexts. Because knowledge, subjects, power, and value are social accomplishments, they are neither fixed nor without alternative. Many key developments in marketing theory such as assemblage theory, practice and consumer tribes formulate alternative accounts of how precisely constructing social facts occur. When further advancing these and other critical approaches, it must always be taken into account that society and culture manifest in concrete, local situations. Data sets or theories that do not take the local production of social order into account, hence fail to provide sensible insight. I propose the principle of methodological situationalism as a litmus test to the analytical strength of a theory or piece of research. The principle states that theoretically adequate accounts of social phenomena must be grounded in empirical observations of manifest meaning or social order in concrete situations. This does not mean that macro-processes or structures should be ignored, but that their roots and effects in local lived life have to be scrutinized. Critical theorizing does not need to resort to utopian or ideological arguments about the grand scheme of things. Careful empirical work zooming in on social life in concrete situations will provide plenty of novel insight and critical edge.
JournalMarketing Theory
Issue number2
Pages (from-to)149-163
StatePublished - 2017