Desertification and Problematization

This is the fourth and last post in a series on consumerism. Here are links to Post 1, Post 2 and Post 3. I would like to thank Savage Minds for being a gracious host and to all of the commenters who have poked and prodded me in productive directions. Thanks!

One of the most rapidly growing retail forms today is the farmer’s market, a transitory gathering of local farmers who set up tables under tents and provide access to locally grown fruits and vegetables. There are many different types of farmer’s markets, some limiting what a vendor can sell to only produce grown on the vendor’s own farm, while others allow more leeway and may include prepared foods. In California, where I live, farmer’s markets were made legal about 25 years ago. The original intent was to provide access to locally grown fruits and vegetables to lower-class neighborhoods. The idea was that by cutting out the middle-man of grocery stores, farmers could sell produce at a profit but below market rates. Anyone who has been to one of these new farmer’s markets knows that it hasn’t worked out this way. Instead, many farmer’s markets are specifically targeted to the emerging and rapidly expanding “foodie” audience. This is certainly an interesting turn of events, not only because of the original intention of cutting out the middle man, but also because of the way that we can read and interpret the farmer’s market, as well as the way that these symbols of the farm and the farmer’s market have since been appropriated by major food retailers, including Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, Safeway and others. The farm has long been a potent symbolic context in which to sell food—the roadside fruit stand, grain elevators, barns, etc—and you’ll notice at many farmer’s markets that vendors often go out of their way to merchandise their produce using special details, like wooden boxes left rough and chalkboard signage that lets you know the sign was written by hand. Over the course of the last 5 years, Safeway Inc. (a $40 billion dollar chain with 197,000 employees) has renovated nearly its entire chain of almost 2,000 grocery stores across the country, employing a “lifestyle” design that has transformed the “perimeter” of the grocery store into a more organic and food-friendly environment. Their produce section now imitates many elements of a traditional farmer’s market, with wood floors and produce in wood boxes (except no nails sticking out).

While farmer’s markets are growing rapidly, we shouldn’t expect this to create a revolution in food just yet, at least not for the majority of Americans. These vibrant markets, while gaining steam, still feed a relatively infinitesimal percentage of the population, unfortunately. As the head of one of the most prominent farmer’s markets in the nation explained to me several months ago, if, at some point, these markets grew too large, agriculture lobbying groups could step in to reinstate laws banning or restricting them—perhaps in the name of food safety. In addition, the logistics of making this work from a business perspective is a daunting challenge. The more time that farmer’s get away from doing the actual work of farming, the more they would need to rely on creating their own distribution systems to get produce to each of the markets. Soon enough, middlemen organizations would have to step in to help make this work happen, which might then change the farmer’s market experience. More importantly though, most Americans have grown so accustomed to cheap prices for food that it would take a massive shift to get people to consider both buying more fruits and vegetables (staggering numbers of people cannot cook and have no interest due to lack of time), and also, paying perhaps as much as twice the cost for this food that they don’t even know what to do with yet. Food philosophy movements have great momentum right now (and I am an admitted “foodie”), but we shouldn’t turn a blind eye to the larger portrait of our food environment.

I’m thinking, in particular about food deserts, which starts to take us full circle back to the original intent of the farmer’s market. Food deserts are geographic areas with limited access to the full range of food options typically found at the traditional grocery store—including fruits and vegetables, as well as dairy and even frozen or canned foods. Now, as many of us are aware, the majority of Americans are overweight today and a third are classified as obese. Multiple causes to explain this epidemic exist, and the problem is too complex for me to fully account for here. One of the most interesting findings to emerge from the study of our national weight problem is the correlation of food desert areas to obesity. We could debate the nature of the correlation, because it is certainly complex, but we do know that food deserts are largely found in lower-class urban and rural areas of America. By and large, these are areas that have few traditional grocery stores, but instead have access to fast food chains, corner markets and convenience stores.

An entire non-profit advocacy sector has rapidly grown up to tackle this massive social problem, with pop culture celebrity figureheads that include Michelle Obama, Alice Waters and Jamie Oliver, among others. Their messages are largely two-fold. First, people need to eat better. And second, everyone, but especially lower-class people, need better access to a wider range of foods.

This is one site, among many, where I believe that a more complex and nuanced portrait of how retail environments work can help us work through some thorny issues. In other words, I’m suggesting that simply throwing apples and broccoli inside of inner city markets and rural convenience stores is not nearly as simple as it seems, for a wide range of reasons. And while I recognize that this may seem like a directly application-driven use of ethnography, I think it also speaks to a larger purpose of continually problematizing how business, consumerism and capitalism operate in relationship to culture, more generally. One thing, among many, that anthropology does well is problematizing seemingly straightforward issues. I was just reminded this the other day while re-reading part of Kim Fortun’s ethnography Advocacy After Bhopal. Regular people don’t analyze events with nearly the depth and complexity as anthropologists on a common basis. They should.

While the food desert issue is a big one that requires more space than I’ll grant it here, let me try to break down some of the intersecting and contradictory levels of this problem. I’ll talk mainly about convenience stores as a kind of proxy for the type of stores that exist in food deserts, both because they are ubiquitous and because I know this industry pretty well.

On a corporate level, where we buy our food is big business, and many powerful organizations hold influence over this. One issue that the food deserts campaign will need to keep in mind is that these companies are not going to willingly cede territory inside of stores without a fight. In other words, if stores inside food deserts are going to convincingly and successfully merchandise produce to shoppers on a large scale, they will need a retail strategy that helps shoppers “think” about the new (in that retail format) products. For example, we simply don’t expect to see produce inside of a convenience store. Changing expectations is challenging work, and it needs to include an element of changing store design—especially after we understand that retail is good to think with. Additionally, this campaign will have to be prepared for push back. Wallets are finite. A lot of companies with a lot at stake have a more than compelling interest in selling everything from Flaming Hot Cheetos to Marlboros inside of convenience stores.

Big tobacco is one of several interesting industries to consider in this equation. Pushed out of most retail channels because of its negative perception and demonization, nonetheless smoking percentages have plateaued at around 25% of the American population (ironically, many of the anti-smoking non-profits are now having budgets slashed because their funding sources have started to give charity dollars instead to anti-obesity campaigns). I need not remind you that that selling cigarettes to tends of millions of people adds up to a boatload of money. So, which retail channels do cigarettes get sold in nowadays? Convenience stores, more than anyone else. Why do I think this is relevant? Because grocery stores and drug stores stopped selling cigarettes not because it wasn’t profitable—it is very profitable, though not a growth industry—but because it wasn’t good for their brands, collectively. You can’t sell healthy food to healthy families on one hand, then push “cancer sticks” on them at the checkout aisle. If convenience stores in food deserts start trying to communicate a more healthy image and identity message in their store, tobacco might be pushed into the background. Now, consider also that tobacco companies are not allowed to advertise on television and only in limited ways in print and in public due to legal restrictions. Where do all of their advertising dollars go? They market in-store. How much sense does it make to have a giant Camel ad next to zucchini and pears? This creates a kind of cultural dissonance that is problematic.

Another level to consider is who owns these stores and how do they make money. At some point, it might be possible for some kind of non-profit retail form to emerge to help tackle the food desert problem—and I have read about compelling experiments in, among other places, New York City with produce carts—but for now, the idea that I have heard most about is selling produce inside of these existing markets and convenience stores. These stores make money through volume. While chains are the most recognized kind of convenience store, of the approximately quarter of a million convenience stores nationwide, the majority are independently owned (even if they have a national brand attached to them). And of the majority of these small companies or families that own these stores, most own fewer than ten. This means that these owners have a different kind of business mentality than, say, the Wawa convenience store chain found in the Northeast US. The more independent minded owners, in particular, tend to see their convenience store more strictly as a profit source and investment. In other words, they don’t eat there. As counter-intuitive as it may sound, larger chains like Wawa tend to be more responsible and sensitive to the kinds of food they sell. But at the same time, it would be difficult to get a large chain to reconsider their product mix and start featuring produce more prominently in their store.

Keep in mind also that so much of what gets sold inside of convenience stores is well-preserved. A bag of chips can sit on the shelf for weeks or months before it goes bad. Bananas go bad daily. The concept of a small business tossing away profits on a daily basis runs counter to the purpose of their investment strategy. These preservative foods will not only last longer, but they are hugely popular, too—and research suggests that they are one cause of our expanding waistlines. I would be careful about simply demonizing the act of preserving food, because this is an age-old practice, used in everything from pickles to confit to Twinkies. But there is an expectation that convenience stores mainly sell this kind of food, which is important.

And one last dimension—though there are many more, I haven’t even talked about how consumer packaged goods companies and beverage companies pay fees to stores for preferential placement, or the matter of distribution routes and who controls them—is the conflation of shopping and consuming inside of the store. The majority of the products convenience stores sell are consumed instantly. This then gives added importance to the dynamics of shopping, because the two acts are so closely intertwined. In other words, these are not places where people go to buy food for later or for dinner with their families, nor are they places where people expect to really reflect on their food. What is the occasion for people to enter a store like the ones commonly found in a food desert? More often than not, it’s a quick snack, or an “impulsive” kind of food. Changing that occasion would require a radical change inside of the store, because right now, these stores are “thinking” in this mode.

Ultimately, what I think I’m getting at is a kind of anthropology as cultural critique. Without laying sole blame for food deserts or any other implication of consumerism simply on capitalism, corporations or businesses, I would like to explore a productively critical space that might even then extend to a wider audience (the “consumers” and “shoppers”), as well as, perhaps, businesspeople themselves. When we consider giant retailers like Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s, we should actually recognize that these brands contain in the products they offer and in their retail environments a kind of cultural critique, too. Call it just one small case, but why can’t you buy Diet Coke at these two grocery stores? And why don’t they look and feel like traditional grocery stores? It’s not because Whole Foods shoppers aren’t Diet Coke drinkers. Now, a series of other books and films are also critiquing our culture of food, such as the documentary Food Inc. and the writings of Michael Pollan, and these are compelling portraits. But I think anthropology offers another perspective, one that is often admittedly too complex for what most people are willing to tolerate—as Julie, a commenter on my last post, succinctly noted, people are seeking, quite simply, “a formula.” But nonetheless, I feel our critique is one worth pursuing exactly because we have the capacity to break from formulas and consider a unique mixture of perspectives that contribute to understanding important problems in the world today.

18 thoughts on “Desertification and Problematization

  1. You hint at, but don’t quite get at, how the way we structure our time affects our habits of food purchase and consumption. Farmer’s markets only work for those who have their weekends free, the rest of us are straggling into Kroger’s at 12:30am right after our shift ends.
    Likewise, some people grab a bite to eat in the short gaps between work, school, and sleep, while others use meals and the hours of preparation that go into them to mark time, to give rhythmic order to days, weeks, and years.
    At least I think that should be the start of your anthropological approach to retail food, that you can’t understand a 7-11 or a McDonald’s or even a Whole Food’s without understanding how their patrons understand time, their timecards, billable hours, and practiced impunctuality. It’s not just ‘convenience.’

  2. “Call it just one small case, but why can’t you buy Diet Coke at these two grocery stores? And why don’t they look and feel like traditional grocery stores? It’s not because Whole Foods shoppers aren’t Diet Coke drinkers.”

    There’s something about WholeFoods that makes me angry. Having grown up working class in a poor border town, I literally feel like the store feels like it’s too good for me. Like, “this food is too good for you, and you can’t afford to even breath the air in here.” I don’t understand why vegetarian food is so much more expensive, other than the fact that there is an assumption that vegetarians are universally part of the yuppie intelligentsia.

    I get what you’re saying about the fact that there are a lot of factors that go into what people eat, and that you can’t just blame capitalism. That’s true. In poor, inner city places there are few places to get good, fresh food, but even if it was there, a lot of it wouldn’t get bought. I remember one guy that ran a food bank once said that he got in a shipment of organic, multi-grain, artisan bread, and he literally couldn’t give it away. No one wanted it. They wanted the cheap, white bread. Then a group of black residents where complaining to me that another food pantry didn’t carry food that “black folk eat.” It’s a chicken and egg problem, because it’s hard to determine ultimate causation, and how quickly food preferences would change if options were make available. There’s always the fear in marketing that people may say they want something, but then never actually buy it. Like a person that gets a gym membership, but never goes.

  3. I confess that I love Whole Foods, and, yes, I am right smack in the middle of that Yuppie intelligentsia target you mention. There is also, by way of background, the fact that I grew up at the head of a creek that feeds into Chesapeake Bay, on a place big enough for a couple of acres of vegetable gardens along with berry bushes and pecan and walnut trees. Dad worked for Newport News Shipbuilding and Drydock and Mom was a stay at home mom, but the fish and oysters were always fresh, the corn and peas in the freezer frozen at the peak of perfection…you get the image. This Yuppie started out eating right.

    But I’d like to underline something Michael has noted, the business side of what gets stocked and the way in which technology has transformed the product-selection process. At the same time that convenience stores were becoming valuable shelf space, POS systems started provided CVS chain owners with daily data on what is selling well and what isn’t. It isn’t irrational fear that something won’t work that stops CVS from stocking more vegetables, it’s a hard-nosed, data-driven decision that if, for example, you want to add fresh veg to the offerings, you have to be able to show that it will produce a revenue stream at least as big as the items it replaces.

    Impossible? No. Given intense enough competition, CVS chains will try anything to get an edge on other chains. Here in Japan, Lawson’s, the CVS chain owned by supermarket giant Daiei, is experimenting both with “Natural Lawson’s,” which offer a selection of more upscale, yuppified, ostensibly healthier and more ecological items and “Lawsons 100” stores that stock lots of fresh vegetables packaged in a way that every item costs 100 yen (now aboutUS$1.25). Will either experiment shift the standard Lawson’s approach? Hard to say.

  4. How do discount retailers like Aldi fit into this? With the exception of lettuce (which is only iceberg), you can generally get good quality produce there like tomatoes, peppers, bananas and apples. There might be less variety than bigger chains but it is fresh produce. Aldi is targeted at people in lower income brackets and in my experience is generally in areas that would be considered food desert areas if not for Aldi. It’s true that Aldi also has a lot of food that is “bad” for you, but it’s not in greater proportion than most mainstream grocery chains.

    I do know that in Europe there has been some criticism of Aldi’s labor tactics and I don’t know if the criticized policies have migrated to their US branches but this doesn’t really have much to do with the consumption side of things when it comes to consumers on the ground (only in so far as it drops the price of food). Obviously, Aldi is making enough money on produce to continue to stock it in stores. I wonder if the issue is that retailers which target a wider range of consumers don’t see Aldi’s market as one worth competing over.

  5. I don’t know a thing about Aldi and can’t respond directly. We might, however, want to consider the implications of the retailing maxim “Location, location, location” and its implications for local factors that may effect stocking decisions and the fates of different types of businesses as much as corporate strategies envisioned on a global or national scale.

    In a previous message, I described the transformation of our local shopping street in Yokohama as the fishmonger disappeared, the butcher’s attempt to become a general purpose grocery failed, the vegetable seller hangs on and the liquor store on the corner has been replaced by a 7-11 that appears to be doing pretty well. Chains driving out mom-and-pop shops is a global story that lends itself to generic explanations. That said, how the global story works out in particular places may depend on local factors. Our dry cleaner told me, for example, that the fishmonger, butcher, and vegetable seller had been severely affected by the addition of a city bus line with stops around the park at the top of the hill where our apartment is located. Before that bus was available, shopping at Yokohama Station and taking a bus that stopped nowhere near where people at the top of the hill live made it more convenient to shop for groceries on the shopping street and shorten the walk home. The new bus means that shoppers can now take advantage of the greater variety available around the station and catch a bus that is, in effect, much closer to door-to-door service—and they don’t have to carry their groceries up the hill. The shopping street merchants may offer to deliver; but that still means having to negotiate the delivery and wait for groceries to be delivered. Might have worked in the days when full-time housewives did their daily shopping in mid-afternoon and deliveries left them plenty of time to cook meals for their families. Doesn’t work so well for working women who need to grab something on the fly.

  6. Aldi is an interesting case because it is expanding into these markets very rapidly—it’s interesting also that Aldi also owns Trader Joe’s. Both of these formats are much smaller than the traditional grocery store, which is a smart cost-saving measure. The size of the traditional grocery store (which then became the supermarket, and now the big box) continues to grow in order to create efficiencies. These changing sizes have created a dynamic that explains a lot about food deserts. In more rural areas, for example, Walmart stores ate up a lot of the smaller regional chains and local chains by under-cutting their prices. Grocery store profit margins are so small that even a 10 percent cut could send them under permanently. As a result, there are plenty of Walmart stores on the outskirts of food deserts, but they are simply not as convenient to shop at on a more daily basis. The concept of a smaller, more flexible format, like Aldi, could be promising. Fresh & Easy, a Tesco brand, is another small chain that has garnered much interest in this same way.

    But again, I think it’s important to distinguish the format and concept from the details of what goes on inside of these stores. Fresh & Easy, for instance, has smaller stores and has expressed interest in going into food desert areas, but the message that their stores communicate is focused on a younger and more hip, foodie culture aware audience. Aldi, on the other hand, seems focused on communicating that everything is cheap. To borrow a concept from other successful food retailers, like a Whole Foods, the point is figuring out and being part of peoples’ symbolic investment in food, and not just its nutritional component. Whole Foods is not for everyone—some people, like Rick, above, are completely turned off by it. But then, doesn’t the same issue apply to different groups of people preferring different foods, as much for cultural reasons as anything else?

  7. You’re written 4 posts on corporate culture during which you seem enthused by it and the whole culture of instrumentalization and “innovation” -without bothering to ask: “Innovation towards what?”- and you end by writing: “Ultimately, what I think I’m getting at is a kind of anthropology as cultural critique.”

    Frankly, my head is spinning. I thought the intellectual life was cultural critique.

  8. “without bothering to ask: “Innovation towards what?”

    That was too simple. But no, I’m not interested in a “formula.

  9. I find this subject interesting, but I wouldn’t say I’m enthused about it. I would agree with you that a formula isn’t what’s called for right now. I’m interested in drawing out some of the many layers of how this retail world actually operates. I also think you’re right that my sense of cultural critique—and of course I’m making reference to Marcus & Fischer’s book—is not yet well drawn out. It still needs better articulation. To start, distinguishing shopping as an act that deserves specific attention in order to really understand consumerism and how this strategy is shaping what so many people do is a start. But I also understand that there are many different opinions out there about what critique is, should be and could be. Opening up a critical space, I feel, doesn’t always have to be an acutely confrontational intellectual smack-down.

  10. My problem with the “analysis” of advertising as with politics is that the language of engineering reinforces the culture of engineering. It’s like talking about grammar as if grammar were synonymous with language. The ethos of expertise is a form of functionalism, and the older model of intellectualism is replaced by one of simple professionalism. And with this we get corporate psychologists and anthropologists, and HTS.

    Designers of slot machines have learned that one of the things that keeps people seated at their machines is the repetitive motion and sense of time, “flow”, and that “flow” is broken by hitting the jackpot. But it can be preserved by paying out less money more often -no sudden shock (defamiliarization)- so that even after winning people stay in their seats and keep playing, and needless to say since slots are a losing game for the player, losing more money.

    There’s an amorality to expertise, as there’s an amorality to numbers and to language as grammar. But the use of language carries a moral weight and a moral responsibility. You can’t speak without expressing value. The culture of academic expertise, as engineering and “theory”, has never come to terms with that or the values behind their own forms of speech.

  11. Actors and critics are in a reciprocal relation. They might not get along but critics are an educated audience and are often the best judges to tell you when you’ve failed to do what you set out to do. Theoreticians on the other hand tell you what you should be doing, supplanting both actor and critic and their reciprocal social/political relation, with a implicitly superior pre-social model for future action.
    And the new scientifically researched architecture of manipulative marketing makes the old culture of Madison Avenue seem like a bastion of humanism.

  12. Nice points. One question: Theoreticians? Or ideologues? Trying to draw a distinction here between theory as spoken from a pedestal and theory as “It could be that it works this way…”

  13. “At the same time that convenience stores were becoming valuable shelf space, POS systems started provided CVS chain owners with daily data on what is selling well and what isn’t. It isn’t irrational fear that something won’t work that stops CVS from stocking more vegetables, it’s a hard-nosed, data-driven decision”

    This is all true, but it gets off the subject of the original post about food deserts. Having worked in an urban food desert, so to speak, and listened to the various sides speak about it, the CVS Point-of-Sale system, or Wal-Mart’s high-speed “on demand” supply chain are only going to become involved once a store is at a place. The issue is that the stores that are there are not national chains. There you’ll have a Jerry’s market, or perhaps a Fiesta (Texas chain) market.
    One of the biggest problems with these issues that I’ve found is a strange narrative of solidarity in food desert communities. There’s a persistent and compelling naivete among many people outside to such communities that there are in fact a singular group of people with similar goals and like interests, beyond basic material goals and interests. In my research I call this the “Paternalism of Poverty,” which transitioned from the “Paternalism of Development” beginning in the 1960’s. The former was a form of paternalism which sought to make the poor like everyone else, while the later conformed to the task of figuring out how to help people simply live in poverty. The whole transition is complex, so I don’t want to get off the subject. I think it’s suffice to say that when a store with fresh produce gets financed and built in a community it is done very differently in poor, urban areas. I don’t think that Whole Foods tries to get together a group of local residents to try to rally them to the idea of the benefits of fresh, healthy food; or, utilizes extremely low interest loans for entrepreneurs to build them. There is no narrative of charity involved. It is a business decision. When a farmer’s market, or something like that goes into a food desert, it is done in a way little different than putting in a community center. There is a paternalistic feeling of charity involved. There’s also a sense that there are community leaders that can speak for a community in implementing this charity in a way that doesn’t exist in middle-upper class communities. For example, no one goes to middle-upper class neighborhoods and ask to take to the communities leaders, yet that’s exactly what they do in low-income, urban communities.

  14. I think that Rick is raising a very important problem, one of the issues that has to be confronted when thinking about and critically assessing the ways that various groups are tackling the food desert problem or operating businesses in these food deserts. I have also read about a number of charity-based solutions in food deserts, and one common narrative you hear is that once the subsidies and/or charity money ran out, we went out of business. The viability of a business in these areas is one debate. The strategy behind a potentially successfully business is another closely related issue. I’m intrigued, for example, to read about Walmart’s plans to enter urban markets, which has been in the news this week. They will be creating much smaller stores, perhaps in the 20 thousand square foot range (a typical Walmart is over 175 thousand square feet while a smaller traditional grocery store is at least 35 thousand square feet, going up to 100 thousand). While I’m far from enthused with the idea of Walmart tackling the food desert (and it’s not clear that this is where they’re headed, they could be focused on more middle-class urban neighborhoods), what I’m most interested in is that they will have a retail strategy, a store strategy, a store design strategy and a location strategy. I know that charities ask for mission statements and try to make sure that they give money to good, viable causes, but this is somewhat different than a business strategy—at least, based on my experience working with non-profits that give and receive funding. I’m not trying to defend or promote business strategy over charity, but I think we should recognize the differences and study them—which is what it sounds like Rick might be working on. It’s interesting that when potential new grocery or food retail chains want to raise money, they go to banks and investors, but when food desert solutions want to get off the ground, they more often go to cities and charities.

    Here’s the thing though, I would guess that if a non-profit grocery chain could enter the food deserts and become a viable and profitable chain that would no longer need charitable support, national retailers would soon follow and a battle would ensue. They say in the business world that no profitable market lasts for long.

    Now, we know that money is being spent in food deserts and people are eating a lot of food there—the problem, as you’ll recall, is actually over-consumption. Food desert solutions are going to have to compete with and take a piece out of the market of fast food chains and consumer packaged goods companies—national and international brands that have a lot of experience in crafting successful strategies. That’s a tough challenge for a non-profit.

  15. I think it’s more a question of whether you prefer to define intellectualism as retrospective or predictive/prescriptive. The predictive model has lead repeatedly to action on assumption, defended as pure reason, to ideologies of amoral functionalism defended as scientific and to romantic assumptions about the possibilities of science itself. The biologist Richard Lewontin is very good on this.

    The rest is a bit of a repeat: I’m a craftsman, a “stone knapper of knowledge”. According to my definition of the word there’s more ‘intellectualism’ in the craft of writers, directors and crew behind movies for HBO than in the amoral science of Ph.D’s working for casinos and Tesco.
    Richard Sennet’s The Craftsman, makes no reference to novelists or literature. Most writers know that language in use manifests value and that stated and manifest values often conflict; while science in use is supposedly value free, and scientists imagine their intelligence without subtext.

    Literature is always retrospective, whether authors want it to be or not. No speculative fiction has ever done more than describe the times that produced it. Jules Verne was not an avatar of the 20th century in any way not having to do with technology. Whether Marx was better is still a question worth asking. Authors of speculative fiction see literature as propositional, ignoring the conflicts between stated and manifest values. As theorists, they try to will subtext away. Like scientists, they say their values are the values they claim.

  16. I don’t always fully understand the points that Seth makes, but I hope I’m getting the main gist here. I’d say that this should never be an either or choice. I liken it to having a lot of data and methods to collect it and analyze it, but no theory to bind it together or understand it. I see that these problems do exist either in the academy or in the world of practice, but I tend to think that practitioners tend to be a tad bit better at bringing all the parts together, just looking at it probabilistically.

    For Michael and John, I wanted let you know a new book has just been published from SMU Press, about the creative process and a lot of collected information from successful ad folks. I forget the name of the book.

    I think that perhaps for the amoral, engineering aspect this would be for Seth:

    The article was critiqued here:

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