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Consumer Behaviour: a Literature Review

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Abstract:

In order to develop a framework for the study consumer behaviour it is helpful to begin by considering the evolution of the field of consumer research and the different paradigms of thought that have influenced the discipline. As described in this article, a set of dimensions can be identified in the literature, which can be used to characterize and differentiate, the various perspectives on consumer research. It is argued that consumer behaviour itself emerged as a distinct field of study during the 1960s; and is characterized by two broad paradigms, the positivist and the non-positivist. The positivist paradigm encompasses the economic, behavioural, cognitive, motivational/trait/attitudinal, and situational perspectives; these perspectives are referred to as the traditional perspectives as they pre-date the development of the non-positivist paradigm. The positivist paradigm, which is still the dominant paradigm, emphasizes the supremacy of human reason and that there is a single, objective truth that can be discovered by science. This paradigm regards the world as a rational and ordered place with a clearly defined past, present, and future. The assumption of rationalism is therefore fundamental to the traditional perspective.

The opposing, non-positivist paradigm, envelops the interpretive and postmodern perspectives, which have emerged more recently during the period post-1980 to date. The proponents of this emerging perspective argue that positivism overemphasizes the rational view and the ideology of a homogenous social culture and thereby denies the complex social and cultural world in which consumers live. This paradigm instead stresses, the importance of symbolic and subjective experience and the idea that consumers construct meanings based on unique and shared cultural experiences, and thus there can be no single unified world view.

Unsurprisingly, the two paradigms differ in their views on the benefits derived from consumption and the objectives that underscore consumer research. The traditional, positivist perspective takes a very utilitarian approach to the benefits from consumption. While the non-positivist perspectives place much greater emphasis on the symbolic dimensions of choice. The objective of non-positivist research endeavour is to achieve a better understanding of consumer behaviour with no specific intent to influence consumer processes. Conversely, outcomes of positivist research are directed toward advancing the goals of marketing practice. By identifying the paradigmatic shifts within the field, this article aims to identify different streams of thought that could guide future consumer research.

Keywords: AL; ATTITUDINAL; COGNITIVE; CONSUMER; CONSUMER RESEARCH; CONVENTIONAL; EVOLUTION; NON-POSITIVIST; PARADIGM SHIFTS; POSITIVISM; SITUATIONAL; TRADITIONAL PERSPECTIVES; TRAIT

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1362/1469347012569896

Publication date: September 1, 2001

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