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Marketing and Agnotology


A key feature of contemporary societies is the role of disinformation (and hate speech) in skewing of policy goals away from equality and secularism towards a fusion of neoliberal and ethno-nationalist agendas (Banaji and Bhat, 2019). Disinformation intentionally confuses the public, fractures social solidarities essential for progressive transformation of societies, and thereby provides a smokescreen for elites to entrench the lucrative structural inequalities (Slater, 2014). Scholars of a relatively new field that study ignorance – agnotology – trace the origins of this serious malaise afflicting contemporary democracies to the field of marketing (Procter and Schiebinger, 2008; Proctor, 2012). 

Agnotology scholars state in no uncertain terms: “Marketing has always involved persuasion bordering on deception...” (Procter and Schiebinger, 2008). The paradigm case is the tobacco industry which for decades manufactured ignorance in order to deflect and scuttle policies that might have adversely affected their profit margins (ibid.). Rather shrewdly, the industry pumped money into pliant scholars (in fields that included history and health) who generated “knowledge” intended for confusing regulators by preventing a consensus on the harmful effects of tobacco. Similar more recent instances of the use of disinformation are revealed in efforts to deny climate change and sell faulty products by Volkswagen and at Boeing; the latter resulting in tragic consequences (Gardiner, 2019; McGill, 2019; McIntyre, 2018). 

The pernicious impacts marketing on vulnerable consumers and counterstrategies have received attention from marketing scholars (Andreasen, 1993; Brekert, 1995). However, serious analysis the role of marketing strategies in the development and perfecting of the mechanisms of disinformation is yet to begin. Contributors to this track are encouraged to submit empirical and theoretical work that deals with questions such as the following: (1) How have marketing strategies manufactured ignorance? (2) How are the pure sciences (such as in medicine, or climate change) used or distorted to suit marketing strategies? (3) Can the counter-strategies to unethical marketing be translated into the public sphere? (4) Can agnotology contribute to marketing research and theorizing? 

Queries related to this track may be addressed to Professor  Prabhir Vishnu Poruthiyil: vishnup@iitb.ac.in

Reference

Andreasen, A. R. (1993). Revisiting the disadvantaged: Old lessons and new problems. Journal of Public Policy & Marketing, 12(2), 270-275.
Banaji, S. & R. Bhat (2019). WhatsApp Vigilantes: An exploration of citizen reception and circulation of WhatsApp misinformation linked to mob violence in India, http://www.lse.ac.uk/media-and-communications/assets/documents/research/projects/WhatsApp-Misinformation-Report.pdf
Brenkert, G. G. (1998). Marketing to inner-city blacks: Powermaster and moral responsibility. Business Ethics Quarterly, 8(1), 1-18.
Gardiner, B. (2019). Dirty lies: how the car industry hid the truth about diesel emissions, Guardian, https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/mar/22/dirty-lies-how-the-car-industry-hid-the-truth-about-diesel-emissions
McIntyre, L. (2008). Post-Truth, MIT Press.
Macgills,A. (2019). The case against Boeing, The Newyorker, https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2019/11/18/the-case-against-boeing
Proctor, R. N., & Schiebinger, L. (2008). Agnotology: The making and unmaking of ignorance. Stanford University Press
Proctor, R. N. (2012). The history of the discovery of the cigarette–lung cancer link: evidentiary traditions, corporate denial, global toll. Tobacco control, 21(2), 87-91.
Slater, T. (2014). The myth of “Broken Britain”: welfare reform and the production of ignorance. Antipode, 46(4), 948-969.