Author:Scher, Philip W.

In tackling Bo Allesoe Christensen's evocative essay I must confess to feeling, at first, distinctly out of my depth. After all, the literature cited and the approaches taken to the idea of agency, intentionality, the economy and consumption are indeed alien to my own work and the literature I am used to seeing. That being said, I was immediately struck by the ways in which Christensen's arguments and the scholars he engages with, are asking very similar questions to ones I am used to seeing. In this brief response I want to focus on a few simple observations I made, almost impressionistic ones, it might be said, while reading the piece.

Christensen does an admirable job of getting to the heart of several scholarly approaches to the issue of, basically, decision-making by consumers. It would seem to me that this is the "holy grail" of advertisers and marketers: what makes the consumer "tick." And how can they position their products in ever more precise and predictably successful ways. The dream of the sales department is to unlock the secrets of buying, take the guess work out of product development and sales and hit a "home run" every time. The bug in that machinery has always been the dizzying array of variables in consumer choices (not the choice of products themselves, but the factors involved in understanding why choices are made). Christensen's intervention into the literature, beginning with Sen's critiques and moving on to Aalborg's attempted correctives, neatly highlights that the advertising departments of the world have put faith in some kind of social scientific approach that might help them. Aalborg's approach is instructive because it attempts to fuse a kind of nature-nurture set of explanations making recourse to biological markers like stress levels in tandem with social norms. Biological explanations such as these (and these are not the only bio-cultural approaches one might take it should be added) always strike me as having missed an essential observation made by both linguistic and cultural anthropologists: perception is not meaning. That is to say, even such potentially objective, biological facts like measurable markers of stress cannot tell us what will produce those responses from one group of people to the next. It reminds me a bit of the attempts to universalize color terms on the basis of the biological fact that humans see color in the 1960s and 1970s. Such efforts were mostly criticized by cultural...

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