Marketing Communication Anthropology: Social Branding, Media Machines, Netnography The blog of Robert Kozinets, USC communication/marketing professor

October 27, 2008

Theorizing with Poetry: An Exercise in Transmutability

Filed under: Marketing Research,Marketing Science — Robert Kozinets @ 2:26 pm

Okay, this one is long overdue. In the meantime, as those of you who are following me on Facebook or through Twitter probably already know, I’ve done a bit of air travel and teaching around the world as part of my sabbatical. It’s been awesome fun, hard work, and I’ve enjoyed every single second of it. But it hasn’t left much time for blogging, which is unfortunate.

The strange and wonderful thing is that I have checked the number of people who have come to visit and read this site and guess what? They are increasing. Steadily on the rise. Growing at a good clip.

That’s beautiful. Thank you for being faithful while I’ve been super-occupied.

I’ve got some great stuff coming up for you.

Do you remember in the last posting I was talking about research that is “transmutable,” that translates qualitative research into testable proposition and hypotheses. Now, this is the strong form of the argument, I think. Another assertion might just say that qualitative researchers should come to the table fully prepared to discuss why other researchers should care about their findings, and how those findings ramify into the wider consumer research and other communities. I think that all researchers should be prepared to do this.

I actually don’t think testable hypotheses and propositions are really the cat’s meow, or the pinnacle of the human quest for knowledge. But they are a communications device and for the sake of argument let’s say we see what happen when we try this.

Now, last time I suggested we take a very emotive form of consumer research representation and see what might happen if we were to transmute it into those testable propositions. It’s kind of a weird idea, but let’s try it anyway.

The poem I’m going to offer up was one that I wrote for the CCT Conference held in Boston this year. I couldn’t be at the poetry session in person and so I recorded this poem as an mp3 file and gave it to the chairs of the session. Unfortunately, they couldn’t get it to play. So this is the first time this poem has appeared anywhere, and also the first time that my spoken word version of it is being shared.

Here is stigmatic enterprise-spoken word, the spoken word performed version of the poem. I was working with a pretty challenging microphone, so please excuse the sound quality if it’s not great. I did have some fun with it. Hope you enjoy it too.

Now, here is the written version of the poem:

Stigmatic Enterprise    

by Robert V. Kozinets


Channel Me/ channel my

Desires/ flotation

Devices in a sea

Of mes, of mys, of Other

Needs and faces and wants to


Get into it

Get over it


Get in

Get out


Get on it

Get it


On channels/ in channels/from channels/ I channel it

Raw unfeeling feeling: I

Need it NOW


You like it you like that

I like it

the way I like it


But fade shades possible

and newness sharing doubts


I want your desire


a pure something/



this moment


my disappointed heart





Okay, so that’s the poem. What it actually signifies in this form is pretty open to interpretation, but for the sake of this exercise, I’ll provide the interpretation for you.

In the follow-up blog entry, we’ll finish the exercise by going through it stanza by stanza, and in the course of this interpretation I think we get a clearer sense of what the poem is saying that might lead to something that could feed into the research of other scholars about consumer culture, rather than stop completely at being an act of self-expression.

In the meantime, it would be sort of cool if you would try your own hand at pulling a few hypotheses and propositions from this poem. Then compare and see how similar or different they are from the ones that I drawn from it when I post my next blog entry. Go on, give it a try, and feel free to comment or write me with what you discovered.

I think tomorrow I’ll go right into my overview of the ACR Conference this year, and then we’ll pick up this discussion in a couple of days. 


  1. Robert,

    I will try interpret what you were trying to say through the poem. I think for anyone that does not have english as mother language it will be harder.

    but here I go.

    From the big meanings to the small ones, and then returning to the big meanings.

    I understand that the poem is about the encounter between the interviewer and the interviewee. This is the big story behind the stanzas.

    Channel Me/ channel my -> the way in the encounter, how narrow or wider it could be, how it will be traced…what are going to be my choices during the encounter…what possibilities the other will show me?

    Desires/ flotation -> I looked desires in the dictionary, and came with the entreat meaning. For entreat I understand the questioning process in the encounter. Going to flotation, at the dictionary I came with the chemical process to separate the particles, or in our case, to separate what is interesting (meaningful) to the interviewer and what is not.

    devices on a sea -> here I understood the different questions that you could make, or the different methods that you could use. They are like small parts in a big sea. Like a castaway lost in the big ocean.

    Of mes, of mys, of Other / Needs and faces and wants to -> of my different visions, different identities, different approaches to the encounter, and the different other, who is also a me and my. For the second part, it shows that we are dealing with individuals, with persons, with someone that is also equal to us.

    Get into it / Get over it / Get in / Get out / Get on it / Get it -> the process of coming and going, of understanding and not understanding, of questioning and re-questioning. Different forms of looking the other, the individual who you are trying to make sense…

    On channels/ in channels/from channels/ I channel it / Raw unfeeling feeling: I / Need it NOW -> the different ways, the different choices that you made during the encounter (and not just you, but also the other, how he reacted, how “true” he was..). At the end, the brute data, the data that you need to quench your desire of knowing!

    You like it you like that / I like it / the way I like it -> at the end (the way I like it) maybe shows that even the other having his importance to the encounter, who makes the big decisions is the interviewer.

    But fade shades possible / and newness sharing doubts -> but even after getting the data, quenching your desire, you go back and see that you still have doubts, still doesn’t understand the other.

    I want your desire / uncovered, / a pure something / else -> at the end, you are just trying to understand the other, not trying to solve their problems, but just your own. You are not trying to change “reality”. You are not getting in “real” contact with the other.

    this moment / passes / my disappointed heart / along, / ever / unfaithful. -> ok, the encounter happened, you got some data, you quenched your desires, but you forgot the other, you haven’t changed anything. The other still suffers the same “problem”, you haven’t modified “reality”.

    so, getting again to the big story behind the poem, I see the difficulties that the researcher has to get back to the others, to help the other to change his reality. You start the research with a lot of energy, needing to understand the other, but at the end, you forget the other, you solve your problems, your research problems, but do not solve their problems.

    for me, the poem starts with a bright view of the research, the beautiful aspect of it, but at the end, it shows problems, it shows how bad the encounter could be to the other.

    I hope that my interpretations aren’t so far away from your intentions 😉



    Comment by rpwagner — October 27, 2008 @ 10:32 pm

  2. Hi Rob,

    I read your blog post yesterday and I am still thinking about the poem. It is powerful and provoking, so I thought I could try to analyse it and do an exercise to check whether my understanding of the poem matches yours at all. But, before I do that, let me just say that I still believe that poetry is unanalysable, or if it is analysable at all, then the analysis is personal and “own” in a away that everybody has his/her interpretation of the poem related to his/her experiences and feelings. But, anyway, for the sake of the exercise, I am writing how I “analysed” your poem.

    First, I thought about the circumstances in which you wrote the Stigmatic Enterprise, and knowing that it was for the CCT conference, I “channelled” my mind in the direction that the poem is about consumers and the way we consume today. When I read the poem, I had a feeling of three segments here.

    How I interpreted it, the first part lasts until the stanza “You like it…” This part raises a question of superficiality of consumption of everything in our life, the rawness of our wants and needs to have everything now, the un-emotional taking and possessing… The meaning of “superficial” comes to me from your “floating devices in a sea of mes, mys and other needs and faces…” Then you have the “raw unfeeling feeling” which I interpret as the un-emotional possessing, the today’s culture of instant consumption, the spoiled consumer and a human who wants everything at the moment s/he desires it. There is no more romance in waiting, in procrastinating; there is no more time for thinking and feeling. People need it NOW!

    The second part, then, introduces “you”, the other side of the equation, the wanted and needed side, the consumed one. That other side also “likes it,” and then I felt the change in “our consumer,” the shift from superficial consumption to the meaningful one, the emotional one: “I want your desire uncovered, a pure something else.” For me, this line is the most potent and the core of the poem. The key words “desire”, “uncovered” and “pure” are the signifiers of the authenticity and our eternal search for the “pure something else,” the search for something true and unspoiled, something that is not afraid to be uncovered, something that does not need masks and wrappings to be prettier.

    And, then, my heart also becomes disappointed as “our consumer” realises that this search for authenticity was just a “moment that passes,” and although the consumer is not happy, s/he still continues the unfaithful play of un-emotional possessions, returning to the reality of the “floating devices…”

    Now, it would be really interesting to see your interpretation, and I will laugh a lot when I realise that it is probably so much different from mine. But again, poetry is the music of a soul, and we all have our instruments that resonate differently in the winds of our feelings…

    It was a pleasure reading your posting and your poem!

    Comment by Kiwi Anchy — October 28, 2008 @ 6:25 pm

  3. Now, I have read Renan’s interpretation and what is interesting is that we both felt the three shifts in the poem. Renan, please correct me if I’m wrong, but apart from the difference in our starting assumptions (I assumed that the poem was about consumers and you assumed that it was about a researcher), our interpretations were same in the following aspects:
    – we experienced the general “mood” of the poem protagonist in a same way
    – we sensed the three parts, the shifts in the mood
    – we both thought the poem was about “an encounter”
    So, maybe it is true that poetry could/should provoke universal feelings and reactions, allowing people to create their own, personal interpretations of the specifics?

    Comment by Kiwi Anchy — October 28, 2008 @ 6:33 pm

  4. These are excellent, detailed interpretations. Both quite different in terms of what they think the poem is about (Renan seems to be be sensing that this is a bit like a puzzle or riddle), but both having, as “kiwi” points out, a number of similarities.

    Renan and “kiwi”–thank you both. What’s interesting also is that these are very astute interpretations performed by non-native English speakers (I know them both) working in the academic field of marketing and consumer research.

    I’m very excited about the way this little experiment is developing. There is obviously no correct or incorrect interpretation, and I wrote my own interpretations of the poem previous to posting it.

    So I invite other participants in. And I’m going to post for a couple of days on other topics, notably the ACR Conference, to keep this one open. What do *you* think? Please let us know.

    Comment by Robert Kozinets — October 29, 2008 @ 1:18 pm

  5. The title got me – I’ve been doing research on stigma and couldn’t read the poem in any other way. In this sense, I guess “it” is the market. Considering the devalued social identity of stigmatized individuals and the way the market acts in reinforcing particular social norms that rule stigmas, I thought the poem could lead to the following propositions:
    Stigmatized consumers want to modify their relationship with the market. They want to be part of the market, while not being co-opted by it; they want to get into the market, while keeping their safe spaces (or “back spaces”) intact; they want to overcome the market (and not exactly by resisting to it), they trust their ability to transform it just by being the way they are.
    Apparently, though, they are asking for someone to guide them on this enterprise, and that could lead to another set of propositions:
    Stigmatized consumers want media to include fair representations of themselves and their preferences. Otherwise, these consumers will channel the message themselves, reinterpreting media products, and actively fighting the stigma.
    The last verses, in my understanding, just reinforce the idea that trying to change their relationship with the market feels like a gigantic, painful effort to stigmatized consumers. While fighting for mainstream insertion they get frequently disappointed and hopeless.
    I just wasn’t able to go from these thoughts to hypotheses :)

    Comment by Daiane — October 29, 2008 @ 7:06 pm

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URL

Leave a comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Powered by WordPress

%d bloggers like this: