Received September 1993 Revised May 1994
Marketing in a postmodern world
A. Fuat Fırat
Arizona State University West, Phoenix, Arizona, USA,
University of Rhode Island, Kingston, Rhode Island, USA, and
Graduate School of Management, University of California at Irvine, Irvine, California, USA This article begins with the premiss that we are in the midst of an epochal transformation from the modern to the postmodern era. Although this is a premiss and therefore need not be dwelt on at length, we believe a short introduction to the concept of postmodernity is necessary because of the intellectual controversy surrounding it and the relatively sparse discussion of postmodernity in marketing and business literatures (for exceptions see[1,2]). The bulk of this article, however, focuses on the relationship between marketing and postmodernity. The next section, entitled “The postmodern age”, discusses the major characteristics of postmodernity, especially from the perspective of those interested in marketing and consumption phenomena. This is followed by a section entitled “Marketing and modernity”, which explores some of the tensions that arise because marketing practice has become postmodern while marketing theory continues to be developed in a modernist mode. The final section, entitled “Marketing and postmodernity”, focuses on the growing nexus – indeed an identity – between these two phenomena and explores some themes that characterize the nature of postmodern marketing. The postmodern age Modernism versus postmodernism Possibly the main defining difference between modernism and postmodernism is postmodernism’s rejection of the modernist idea that human social experience has fundamental “real” bases. To the contrary, postmodernism posits that social experience is an interplay of myths that produce regimes of truth[3-6]. According to postmodernism, many of the fundamental modernist idea(l)s regarding the individual, self, freedom, agency, and structure are arbitrary and ephemeral rather than essential and fixed. The existence and European Journal of Marketing, Vol. 29 No. 1, 1995, pp. 40-56. © MCB University Press, 0309-0566
The authors wish to acknowledge the very helpful comments by an anonymous reviewer.
persistence of such ideas, therefore, depend on the continued dominance of the mythical system – the imaginary. Any community (including of course the community of researchers in marketing) which values these idea(l)s must, therefore, constantly defend this myth system against others and cannot find refuge or solace in the belief that these idea(l)s are either “natural” or “eternal”. The political position of postmodernism is that different myths ought to be allowed since they are products of the different “realities” of communities, and that each myth system ought to show respect and tolerance to the presence of others. Postmodernism posits that the culmination of modernity renders this multi-mythic position both advisable and inevitable. The possibilities and potential alternatives that modern technologies have created on the one hand, and the cynicism and frustrations resulting from the crumbling modern experience on the other hand, result in the fragmentation of experience and the growth and efflorescence of multiple, often highly incompatible, lifestyles, ideologies, and myth systems. If humanity were to try to resolve these differences through war, violent confrontation, or political subjugation, the results would most likely be catastrophic – especially since modern technology has also succeeded in decentralizing the means of destruction. Postmodernist positions arise from several key insights into the history of modernity and modern thought as well as into conditions that were at once reinforced by the modern experience yet suppressed by modernist ideologies and rhetoric. Students of culture, especially Western culture,...