Emancipatory interpretive consumer research: “the road less travelled by” in islamic societies

Aliakbar Jafari, Eminegul Karababa , Ahmet Suerdem

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review


Long before consumption as an everyday life cultural practice interested Western scholars in the 20th century (Belk, 1995), consumption had been an important part of Islamic scholarship since the 7th century (Jafari and Süerdem, forthcoming). Yet, forming almost one fifth of the world population, contemporary Muslim societies lag behind the rest of the world (particularly the West) in terms of knowledge production in the realm of consumer behaviour research in general and interpretive consumer research in particular. Addressing this knowledge gap in the field, in this paper we examine the potential reasons for this underrepresentation and deem inductive interpretive methods (such as hermeneutics and semiotics) most emancipatory and progressive means of theorisation of consumption in Muslim communities. As the core of our discussion, we argue that consumption in Islamic societies suffers from a lack of theorisation. The majority of existing literature on consumption in Islamic societies is based on the premises of reductionist conventional theories that make general assumptions about Islamic ideation with little attention and relevance to Muslims’ daily life practices. Such conventional theories – that come from two camps outside and inside of the Muslim world – make superficial analogies between Western and Islamic principles. The former is epitomised in Weber’s (1958, 1965) ‘trivial analysis’ (Turner, 1974; Husain, 2004) of Islam, economy and society. Weber’s legacy lies in his theorisation of value systems. For him, whilst protestant ethics is driven by value-based rationality, Muslims’ value systems are based on militant (jihad) instrumental-rationality (short term self-interest and pillaging) and emotional (martyrdom) motivations. Therefore, neither capital accumulation is possible nor worldly pleasures are pursued. As a result, Muslims essentially wash their hands off the worldly blessings. The latter stream of theories, generated from within the Muslim world, also adopts a reductionist approach. Consumption in this perspective is largely analysed within the rigid framework of Halal (lawful) and Haram (unlawful), the Mustahabb (favoured) and Makruh (disliked) (Jafari and Süerdem, forthcoming). Such dichotomous categorisations – which legitimise some deeds and demonise others – prevail in the Islamic discourse as Muslim scholars barely trespass these rigid boundaries to study consumption from other possible angles (e.g., social, cultural, aesthetic). Typically, trenched in an ideologised Islam, consumption culture is viewed as the essence of Western capitalism (and, of course, its subsequent Modernity) which seeks to impose its value systems (socio-cultural and economic) on Islamic societies. In our discussion, we critique these two perspectives for their incapability of extending our knowledge of everyday life consumption practices within Muslim societies. Additionally, contextualising consumer research within a philosophical and epistemological system, we consider ‘sacralisation of Islamic philosophy’ (Sanei Darrehbidi, 1998) a deterrent force before the development and application of new research methods that would break away from universalism and instead focus on localism. Since individual Muslims negotiate multiple value systems in their everyday life consumption practices and values exist in semiotic systems, we call scholars to adopt interpretive methods (such as semiotics and hermeneutics) as effective methods to study consumption in Islamic societies.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 6 May 2011
Event6th Workshop on Interpretive Consumer Research - Odense, Denmark
Duration: 6 May 20117 May 2011


Conference6th Workshop on Interpretive Consumer Research


  • consumer research
  • muslim societies

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