At the beginning of May, emlyon’s Lifestyle Research Centre hosted the 10th Interpretive Consumer Research (ICR) workshop. The workshop, which began in 1999, brings together around 100, mainly European, academics to discuss their own research activities in the field of consumption theory, gain insight from their peers and connect with other researchers in this area. The workshop is run under the flagship name of the European Institute for Advanced Studies in Management (EIASM), who have helped to make the workshop more established, legitimate and diverse.

Over the course of two days, around 70 presentations were conducted at the Ecully campus, including a number of the Lifestyle Research Center’s own professors. “Hosting this workshop helps put the business school on the map for its consumption research”, says Joonas Rokka, Director of the Lifestyle Research Centre and co-chair of the ICR workshop, “It puts emlyon and the Lifestyle Research Centre at the forefront, making us even more well-known and credible in this field. It also shows to potential applicants our expertise in this area, and gives our professors the opportunity to meet like-minded academics, who they can potentially collaborate with in the future for research purposes”.

The workshop is small and extremely intimate and this has been the case ever since its conception. “This is intentional”, says Avi Shankar, Professor of Consumer Research at University of Bath, School of Management and co-chair of the ICR workshop, “The whole point of the workshop is to really connect academics together, foster social interaction and allow academics to understand each other’s research work. By doing so, experienced academics can help, advice and guide each other on their practices”.

And this intimate feel is certainly evident at the event. One would imagine that gathering the leading academics in a specific field all in one room would create a somewhat competitive atmosphere, but the ICR workshop is quite the opposite. There’s an evident feel of community, for instance hierarchal titles such as PhD or Professor are not used, and strong knowledge sharing is encouraged between academics who are able to advise each other in this safe environment. “This is something distinctly different to typical US research conferences and unique to the ICR workshop”, says Prof. Shankar. “Conferences in the US tend to have 100’s or even 1000’s of participants, giving them a much less intimate feel. Year upon year, the ICR workshop has proved more popular, and we have had an ever-increasing number of applicants, however, we’ve wanted to keep the actual attendees at a small number, otherwise the workshop loses its charm and purpose”.

The research presented at the workshop follows a specific methodology. It is ethnographic and qualitive, with a strong focus on culture. This means that the majority of the research is conducted by academics going out into the field and speaking with participants to understand the processes behind consumer’s decisions. Though, when discussing consumers, it is not specifically the actual ‘purchase’ per se, that is the centre of this research. It is more the experience of consumption in this context, which involves three stages, “acquisition, usage and disposal”, according to Prof. Shankar, “It is about how and why people consume things, the parts that are at play in the decision to do so, and the experience people have when doing so”.

And of course, the areas which this consumption research focuses on varies widely across the workshop. Whether it be understanding the impact of a name of origin in branding, the impact algorithms have on how and what we consume, or how digital platforms have impacted sustainable and fast-fashion, all research presentations aim at getting into the mind of the consumer and understanding how their values, culture and lifestyle impact on their consumption decisions.

The focus of this research is not something that has changed over the 20 years of the conference, and that is likely to always be the case, stresses Prof. Shankar. However, the methods used to conduct research and the subject matters have changed. Social media and other new technologies have allowed researchers to conduct and collate a lot of their data more efficiently and creatively, whilst research subject matters have also shifted. Researchers are creating theory to understand consumer culture, which have this link to new technologies.

For instance, researching into online algorithms, digital second-hand clothing platforms or fit-bit watches is not something we would have seen ten or fifteen years ago, however the theories behind the consumption of these are not necessarily limited to emerging technology, and could be applied elsewhere. These theories come from the consumer perspective and experience of their consumption, not the technology, product or service itself, it is a “bottom-up theory building process, as opposed to top-down philosophy”, according to Prof. Shankar.

Though technology has had an impact on the actual research conducted, Prof. Rokka believes the biggest impact technology will have will be on the actual presenting of research at the conference. “Though the majority of presentations were conducted in a traditional way, we saw two separate research results presented in the form of film. This is something I think will only increase year upon year, as video content is an increasingly engaging and more mainstream method of presenting research findings — this will likely become more popular in the future”.

Though the popularity of the workshop has made gains over its 20 years of existence, the number of participants has not risen in line with this. “This is certainly a good thing”, says Prof. Shankar “By keeping the number of participants fairly low, it allows us to sustain the quality of the workshop, whilst increasing the number of connections. The workshop keeps its best selling point and also its charm — it is still an intimate, safe environment where academics share their work, whatever stage it is at, and gain advice, guidance and help from their peers”. And this is not likely to change.

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