Poverty and Subsistence Marketplaces
Consumption in a state of poverty is a harsh reality for a majority of human existence. While this has always been of concern to social agencies, recently the lives of impoverished consumers have become a subject of growing scholarly interest in business schools. Much of this interest stems from the surge of activity by multinational firms attempting to market products for mass segments in impoverished regions. Yet, despite the attention, consumption in a state of poverty largely remains an enigma for consumer researchers across the world. Given the field's historical focus on consumers with discretionary income and conditions of abundance, scholars face questions such as: How are the psychological antecedents of consumption for impoverished consumers similar or different? How do impoverished individuals conceive and co-construct value in their consumption and experience marketplace relationships? What are the cognitive, motivational, and affective dimensions that inflect upon impoverished consumers' capacity to consume and thrive as human beings? What coping mechanisms help them navigate the marketplace including those that are increasingly globalized? How might a culture of poverty affect consumption patterns of the poor in various contexts? Furthermore, must we necessarily think of impoverished consumption as a sad intractable reality? Conversely, are there insights within impoverished consumption that might offer promising possibilities for human consumption in general, e.g., sustainable living, simplicity, shared or communal consumption?
Fortunately, these and other important questions are increasingly being asked within consumer research. Calls to action such as the 2004 presidential address at SCP (subsequently, Chakravarti 2006) and novel forums for exchanging ideas, such as the Poverty Track at the 2009 TCR conference, have been key catalysts. Innovative contributions to advance the understanding of impoverished consumption continue to gain an audience in journals such as JPP&M, JM, and JCR. To illustrate, scholars are observing trends such as the fact that impoverished consumers everywhere are working more, paying for childcare, and becoming increasingly urbanized –deviations from previous ways of life; such work is often entrepreneurial in nature, operates within informal sectors, and compels impoverished individuals to balance their consumption and entrepreneurial activities and self-concepts in concert with relational systems of family, customers, and suppliers. The expanding reach of the formal economy is also blurring informal and formal markets to stimulate an emergent order. Yet, it remains to be seen how impoverished consumers will navigate this environment. We believe the time is ripe for reflecting on emerging ideas, taking stock of this nascent research stream, and establishing benchmarks for the future that can exert a transformative impact on consumer theory, practice, and policy.
We solicit the best thought leaders representing multi-disciplinary perspectives on the topic of poverty in consumer and marketing research – ranging from the psychological to community-centric to market-based views and interpretive to quantitative methodological approaches. There is a rich diversity of perspectives that can be brought together in this dialogical format. In the short term, we as track chairs would commit to leading a collaborative effort to generate deep, fruitful conversations among scholars within the TCR 2011 Poverty Track, and subsequently, disseminating collective essay(s) to highly regarded journal(s). The longer term goal would be to help inspire a stream of projects and publications having a truly transformative potential for consumer research and the lives of impoverished consumers.