Blog: Living Marketing and Consumption

Living gender empowerment

posted Jun 13, 2014, 7:37 AM by Wendy Hein   [ updated Jun 19, 2014, 4:00 AM ]

It’s been some time since my last post. The project mentioned last here has certainly kept me busy until now, but not busy to the degree that I could not write a piece for my blog.

I had a baby in August last year, which meant that I had been ‘wrapping up’ temporarily since about June/July 2013, and returned to work (slowly revving up the engine again) in March this year, 2014.  My little boy is fast approaching the 1-year mark, and I can’t believe how quickly time passes. It is incredible how much these little things learn in their first year – I couldn’t be a prouder mum. 

Having kids has also clarified some things even more than before: it’s not all about us. How selfish are we! We run around, constantly, trying to balance work, home, economic stability and chase life’s little luxuries – whatever they are. Of course, we matter. But we can matter even more in what we do for others, not just for us. I knew all this before, but I have been ‘living it’ much more since having a baby. All of a sudden my own needs are secondary. I also realise the network around me, who depends on me, at home and at work.  Not that I’m important, but I do find that time has become my most precious commodity these days. If I could double up time, I’m not sure I would.

I decided to return to work after 6 months. With some further annual leave that had accrued from the previous year, this brought me back to my office when my boy was just over 7-months old. In some ways I was lucky to have had these 6 months. London mothers are notorious for not taking a lot of maternity leave, which already indicates to some degree the local demand of childcare. Childcare costs have recently been reported to exceed average monthly mortgage repayments in the UK . This gets me thinking about the ‘business of children’.  Considering the recent boom in the UK (London in particular) in the property market, childcare is another property boom!

We were lucky, very lucky. My mother was so kind to stay with us for the first few months, allowing me to focus on returning to work.  My sister, who lives in another European country, gets childcare for free – can you imagine? A colleague of mine recently pointed out how we, in the UK, are benefitting from the childcare system of other countries, as the provisions made elsewhere free up resources that are taken up here. This is certainly the case for us: without ‘generous’ childcare systems abroad, my mother would have had to take care of a lot more grandchildren and could not have helped us in the way she did.  However, this means that she is working ‘for free’.  In fact, I am working for free in so many ways. We have help, yes, but there is still a lot to do in terms of household management. My husband also contributes. But maybe he does not do quite as much as me.

Why am I divulging way more about my personal life than you would normally read in a blog? Well, considering my role in the PRME gender equality working group, I have been reading, writing, and thinking a lot about gender equality in marketing and consumer research these days.  Who am I to talk about gender equality? Conceptualising, theorising, even critiquing – all these are easier than living it.  There is such a thing called ‘easier said than done’. But I’m not doubting my position to talk about gender equality because I may not live it; gender equality is a concept that seems bigger than me. It permeates all our lives, our practices, our spaces.  We are not equal, nor do we want to be. We are different, but should not always be. Equality, I have learned over the past few weeks, is not about theorising, but about acting.

Let me bring this conversation back to marketing and consumer research: we can talk a lot about how advertising images may or may not be sexist. But during the time that we are having this debate, hundreds and hundreds of other images are produced that are equally conflicted. And, I’m hugely reducing marketing to advertising here: what about the kind of products designed for men and for women. How do these establish markets that are entirely unequal? Just go back to our example of the property market vs the childcare market – how are these valued differently? And, am I not completely privileged to be talking about these things, when I am employed, have a home, have childcare and have ‘a life’? What about women in the developing world?

What empowers women? And is there a link to marketing and consumer research? I would argue there is. Think about what empowers you, whether you are a woman or not.

I have seen a growing momentum of initiatives that focus on the improvement of women’s lives across the globe; let me give you some examples:

-          Power Shift 2014: the Oxford forum for financial inclusion for women has taught me that women’s empowerment is connected with access to finance. I am not an accountant, nor a financier, but I have learned that economic capital is still a gender privilege – far from equal. In some places, women do not have access to ‘ownership’ – they are not legally permitted to own; they cannot have bank accounts; and, if you are looking to start a business that does not have a proven record of return on investment, it is fairly unlikely you will get any capital. This also means, that if you decide to run a property business, as opposed to a childcare business, these values are taken into consideration when applying for funds.  In what world is this fair?

This means, that in the first place, in order for women to produce or consume, they must have access to capital, in whatever form (in kind or in funds).  The ExxonMobil ‘roadmap for promoting women's economic empowerment’ provides a framework that has outlined some of these issues.  However, it is important that awareness is generated on grassroots level – THIS MEANS EVERYONE! We have a chance to make a difference – please, sign the petition here and take a stand!

-          When I think of how I manage my daily chaos, I think of my mobile phone. As much as it let’s me take pictures and films of my family, I could not be without it these days. It does not have to be a mobile phone, but access to communication is essential. Well, this is another privilege – in many countries, women are not allowed access to a phone, making it difficult for them to co-ordinate or manage their everyday dealings. Women are said to be bad ‘managers’ – maybe the lack of control that is given to them is one reason for this. Once again, ExxonMobil and the United Nations have confirmed that access to communication technologies is important for women’s empowerment.

But, already at this point, I am starting to think that this is not just an issue for the developing world; other people in developed countries face similar challenges, quite simply because they do not know about the power of communication. Of course, all this has to do with education:

-          Women’s education is essential in their empowerment: ranging from health and sexual education, to simple literary education (I am already empowered by being able to write this blog piece!) – and onwards and upwards from there. Quite simply keeping young girls and women in education is a challenge in many countries. How privileged am I, considering my years of education… the differences are unthinkable.

-          And, lastly, I recently read a definition of empowerment being women’s ability toleave the house if she has to – I would add, by choice, not by obligation.  Women often cannot leave their home, as it is not safe.  On the other hand, women in other contexts often had to leave their homes to work and contribute financially to the family income. In fact, here is a link to education, as young children are often forced to leave school to work. Hence, women often cannot leave their homes, or have to, but the choice is quite simply out of their hands. All this has huge implications on childcare, and all of a sudden we are not finding ourselves a million miles from where I started.

The issue of the valuing of production and consumption as gendered has been the crux of this system. Of course, cultural values and traditions play a role, both historically influenced by men rather than women. In a sense, we need to empower women to take control of the development of their cultures and traditions, as they have thus far hardly been recognised in this system. Hence, marketing, market systems and consumption have been significant throughout this process. 

As much as is terribly wrong in the developing world, I cannot stop thinking that we have not come as far as we may think in the developed world.  Women’s work is still undervalued and often ‘free’, women are still paid less than their male counterparts in paid employment, and women are still not represented institutionally, structurally, and culturally – and this includes media and advertising – to a degree resembling reality. We need to work on our own mess as well as helping others who are in much worse positions than us.  This is a huge task that is well beyond my own powers. Hence, who am I to talk about gender equality?  Let me turn this around: who am I NOT to talk about gender equality? How can I allow myself to not see what is happening to women across the globe?

The issue of ‘gender equality’ and empowerment as bigger than me, also results from my own lack of knowledge of what these terms actually mean. Some would say we can find them in action, as we can see in the examples above; others would say we cannot neglect women’s strategic silence (Parpart, 2010), as survival in certain contexts depends on silence.  I can relate to this: am I in a position to give women voices, universally? Can I even understand the consequences of this, from my own context, that is so different, yet also similar? Or should I aim to empower women in other ways, to help themselves? I don’t know, is the answer.

Across the empowerment and gender equality debate, I can’t see men’s responsibility in this.  Reports consistently claim that empowering women means entire communities are empowered. Surely, these ‘communities’ include men. Then, surely, it is men who should also recognise their responsibility in striving for women’s equality. How come then, that any event I go to these days is dominated by women?

I am worried that empowerment initiatives are mainly directed towards empowering women to manage all the activities – or practices or roles – they have been traditionally expected to perform.  This, to me, follows a sense that women are responsible for gender equality; women can have it all, family, work, security – but they have to do it all too. Empower them, give them products and services (link to BCG report), and this will empower them to do it.  If women are responsible for ‘actioning’ gender equality, does this mean they are responsible for inequality? Surely not!

If we have a think about where and how gender inequality originates, we are likely to start our search in histories of cultures or institutions, and find the development of hierarchies, based on power structures. Women were excluded from most of these histories, institutions and power structures – how can they be responsible for inequality? And, men are inheriting the positions in these cultures by default – how can we blame them? They may not even know that they are part of cultures that are unequal?

We need to re-think gender equality in terms of gender relations that are formed by men and women in various contexts and positions.  There is no one universal ‘equality’ we can theorise and pursue, but rather each context produces its own power structures where (in)equality needs to be considered. What is important is THAT it is considered.  This also means not only working for equality in developing economies, but thinking about institutions such as childcare, education, household duties, etc. as gendered responsibilities that have thus far contributed to inequality. How can we overcome this?

It means that each organisation, including the Coca Colas, the Exxon Mobiles, universities and educational institutions, and private lives at home, need to be re-negotiated in terms of equality. As mentioned before, ‘living’ gender equality is often easier said than done. If we were to all open our doors and remove the silences (Ryan-Flood and Gill, 2010) that form part of our own lives and institutions, we would see how far away we all are from equality.

Let’s do it, I’m all for it.     


Parpart, J.L. (2010). Choosing silence: Rethinking voice, agency and women’s empowerment. Ryan-Flood, R., & Gill, R. (Eds.), Secrecy and Silence in the Research Process: Feminist Reflections, London: Routledge, 15 – 29.

Ryan-Flood, R., & Gill, R. (Eds.). Secrecy and Silence in the Research Process: Feminist Reflections. London: Routledge.

The Gender Agenda in the Business Agenda: of Women’s Empowerment Principles Events and gender equality in marketing

posted Mar 20, 2013, 5:49 AM by Wendy Hein

How to increase women’s leadership positions and empowerment was central to the recent UN Global Compact Women’s Empowerment Principles (WEP) Event which I attended earlier this month. These principles are an initiative, mainly adopted by private sector organisations, to work towards equality based on seven fundamental guidelines. The conference brought a range of leading companies, policy-makers, non-profit organisations and business educators together. The WEP’s main message for equality is that it ‘means business’. Equality is, in fact, seen to drive growth and potential within organisations. There is a resulting importance in retaining talent and maintaining women within the value creation process, to enable them to reach ‘the top’. This certainly touches on some important issues of contemporary work life. In this particular event, the need to mobilise men to participate in the necessary changes was also heard loud and clear. If we are looking to change existing gender dynamics and structures, we should incorporate those who are occupying ‘top spots’, who tend to be men.

Measuring talent, value and work

Yet, more fundamental challenges of how we measure talent, what we perceive as ‘value’, what constitutes ‘work’, or of the cultures that some companies are built on remained implicit. The language in the above paragraph already reflects a culture of organisations that exist from the ‘top’; that are competitive and fast-paced. Leadership and empowerment are indeed terms that some feminists would disagree with, which already bears the question of how gender-aware initiatives such as WEP are. Rather than seeking to integrate women into organisations that often represent masculine values, and asking them to embrace these, is there not more that women can and should do? Also, when it comes to women’s working lives, all too often it is not just about ‘business’, but also about the ‘personal’. Men’s private lives can certainly play a role at work, but particularly when it comes to maternity and motherhood, women’s families and their commitment to a home life often enter the work arena. Considering the blurring of these lives, and a call for companies to support women and men at work, shouldn’t there also be further support of home life in a similarly equal way? Shouldn’t a mother, father or partner be as valued as the worker? Then we also come to think of those who do not have a job, either in any of these great companies, or those who do not work – what kind of support can they hope for? And if you were thinking of organisations in the UK, change the context into emerging and developing countries – what support do women and men have there for receiving an education, getting work and managing a ‘home’? It just shows how our society can be perceived to value and privilege those who are in ‘producing’ positions – but is being a mother or father not some type of ‘job’ or ‘production’?

The intersection of work culture and private lives

From my own perspective as a marketing and consumer researcher, I find the issues of work cultures and organisations meeting private lives all the more interesting. As we become involved in programmes and projects through our roles as business researchers and educators, we recognise that marketing is one area where the public blurs with the private, business with the personal, and production with consumption. Think about it: the marketing industry has its own cultures – whether we are looking at marketing departments within certain companies, marketing entrepreneurs or advertising agency culture. Marketing ‘produces’, and in very gendered ways. This becomes even clearer through initiatives such as those by Kat Gordon that seek to create a contrast to the well-documented male ‘locker room’ ad agency cultures. Kat is founder of the “3% Conference” (3% being the number of female creative directors in advertising agencies) and founder of the marketing agency ‘Maternal Instinct’, which specialises in marketing for mothers, by women. She has built her reputation on understanding female consumers (who some would argue form the majority of consumers), based on her experience that marketing for these consumers is often produced by men.

Marketing as an educational tool

Now, think about this: most ads that tell women how to be beautiful (‘you’re worth it’), successful, slim, attractive, or taking care of family, house and home, are made by men. On the other hand, these men also tell other men how to shave, how to ‘fool the missus’ into believing they are vacuuming the house (when really they are in the pub), and how a regular teenager can be chased by a herd of super-model women. Of course, I am exaggerating and these are not all the images that advertising and popular culture produces… but, there are quite a few of them. Considering the number of ads and messages that we are exposed to on a daily basis marketing is placed in quite a powerful position to educate mass audiences on gender. This then is another characteristic of marketing – it does not just address the workers of one company or organisation, but can spread much wider. Wouldn’t you think that gender equality plays a more central role here? Then again, what does gender equality mean in marketing?

We started this excursion from the marketing producer side, but clearly marketing also plays a role on the consumer side. Women and men struggle on a daily basis to live their lives through and around stereotypes often perpetuated by marketing discourse, popular culture, and social structures influenced by these. Marketing pervades our public and private lives. It tells us how to be good/bad mothers, good/bad partners, good/bad men and women, often through a creation of norms based on inclusion and exclusion. Doesn’t this clash with our understanding of equality?

Gender in management education

It is surprising to see then how some companies have focused their efforts on creating gender equality as part of internal structures or policies, when our surroundings and homes are often filled with images, discourses and practices that are frequently far from equal. What’s more, if we understand the centrality of gender in business and management (as advocated by UN principles), it is also surprising to see how often gender is (not) taught as part of management education. This however, we can change.

As part of a group of academics from across the globe who cover different business and management disciplines, I am involved in collating material, research, experiences and perspectives on gender education, in my case within the marketing discipline. To view the growing repository of teaching material that members of the PRME working group on gender equality have put together, please visit this site. This work is open to ideas, support and external contributions, so please feel free to share stories, practices (both from marketing producers and educators) or resources.

We hope this initiative leads to a re-thinking of business and management schools, and to placing gender in a more central place across all of its  these disciplines. We also hope to inspire both women and men to challenge existing structures they may encounter in their work AND home lives, and to create new images, discourses and practices that can be gender aware.

Let’s not let this gender agenda fade, for the sake of both women and men, home and work lives, in emerging and developed countries. Whether it’s business or personal, men’s or women’s day, this is too important for all of us to ignore.

Let’s join the fashion club; or how ‘Rihanna’s horror show’ may represent retail avant-garde

posted Mar 20, 2013, 5:35 AM by Wendy Hein   [ updated Mar 20, 2013, 5:36 AM ]

I have been terrible in keeping up this blog, mainly as other (writing) duties have taken over. However, I have been busy writing for our Birkbeck blog during March. So it's only fair to publish the posts here too, especially since I am taking the liberty here to post appropriate pictures (with all sources rightly acknowledged).

We are still recovering from the glitz and glamour of London Fashion Week (LFW). Arguably, fashion is becoming the ‘big consumer sport of today’ – a participatory sport allowing us to virtually and materially reinvent ourselves. However, it is still an elite space – only those in the front row or the red carpet can legitimately claim their rightful place. There are a select few who seem to be in ‘the know’, while others are desperately trying to join this ‘club’.

New technologies ‘democratising’ fashion

The importance of fashion enthusiasts has not gone unnoticed in the haute couture circuit, and its doors are ajar to participation from outsiders. We could view this as a ‘democratising’ trend. Thanks to new technologies, we can now experience live shows streamed over the internet; we can select our favourite pieces and create an expressive collage of our ideal ‘me’ on Pinterest/Instagram/Tumblr, and can share it with others on Facebook, Twitter, and the many forms of digital exchange. Understanding the importance of these experiences and the size of the growing fashion industry helps us understand its gravity in today’s society. The good news may be that the trickle down from runway to reality is faster. Yet, the divide between the real insiders and outsiders persists. The magic of the front row may not be the same if it wasn’t for its exclusivity. On the other hand, ‘insiders’ would never be recognised for their competence and taste if it was not for fashion’s many fans.

Fashion collaborations

All of this takes place at a time when retail is struggling. With youth unemployment continuing to hit record figures in the UK, the list of retail closures appealing to youth markets is extensive.  High street fashion has, however, recognised the desire for design from the ‘common crowd’ and numerous collaborations have paved the way towards letting some of this fame and fortune rub off:  Karl Lagerfeld, Stella McCartney, Lanvin, Versace or Marni for H&M; Valentino or Pierre Hardy for GAP; or Mary Katrantzou for Topshop.  The power of celebrity and popular culture has equally been tried and tested by retailers; think Topshop and Kate Moss, New Look and Kelly Brook, or H&M and David Beckham. Rather than a claim to design, these celebrities use their star power to lure customers into the shops.  While some retailers have made inroads to high fashion through collaborations, others have gained their own legitimate place in fashion show lineups. TheUS retailer JCrew has earned its place as a stable contributor toNew York fashion week, and the Olsen twins, as well as our very own Victoria Beckham in theUK have claimed their places amongst the fashion glitterati.

Fashion bargain: Cult Italian label Marni is coming to High Street chain H&M

Rihanna and River Island

At London Fashion Week AW2013 we see similar scenarios and even a new mix of the above tried and tested formulae. One of the big surprises came with Rihanna presenting her new designs in collaboration with the UK retailer River Island. Her show certainly received marked attention, but not always positive. Of course, this may have been due to the ‘brand’ that Rihanna seeks to represent – rebellious, untamed and youthful (on a good day) –but may have also been linked to reactions of the high fashion club. The Daily Beast labelled it a ‘horror show’ and a ‘tiresome, underwhelming and uninspired marketing exercise’.  We may go along with the mantra that even bad press is good press, but despite these controversies, the deliberate nature of connecting Rihanna’s developing brand and River Island with the runway certainly found its critics. Serious fashion enthusiasts were quick to comment that this show was, once again, not part of the official LFW lineup. I was fortunate to be asked about my views in an interview prior to the show  and I clearly saw a potential mismatch between high fashion,RiverIsland and Rihanna. The homogeneity of audiences and their expectations may not have worked to their advantage. While there may certainly be promise in connecting the high street with haute couture, and pop star kudos with clothes, bringing all three together without extensive previous record may or may not have paid off. Rihanna and Versace – yes; Rihanna andRiverIsland – yes; but could there be a missing link between Rihanna,RiverIsland and LFW?

Marketing milestone or misplaced experiment?

Whether this experiment goes down as the new ‘retail avant-garde’ that will be adapted by others (possibly more experienced), or whether it will be remembered as a marketing experiment, is questionable. What is clear is that fashion continues to seek its share of the desire and exclusivity produced by art     & design, but success may increasingly depend on how this is managed. Whether it was achieved in this instance is now up to consumers to decide.RiverIslandlargely depend on the technologies that have facilitated ‘fashion as a new consumer sport’, and the success of its campaign could highlight to what extent these are embraced by the broader (youth) public. It may also be interesting to observe the potential strategies of the fashion elite in creating a division between insiders and outsiders. As argued above, without this distinction, the exclusivity that outsiders crave may not exist.

Lastly, success may also depend on the price of this exclusivity. Rihanna’s line will hit the shops today (5 March 2013) but as I write this piece, prices are rumoured, but not confirmed byRiverIsland. With a youth struggling to find work, yet a retailer looking for fame in high fashion, I for one can’t wait to find out how this pans out. 

Would you camp outside RiverIsland’s store to get your share of Rihanna’s River Island designs?

Rihanna for River Island at LFW

(picture sources:
Daily Mail, Friday 9th March 2012,;
Guardian, Sunday 17th Feb. 2013,

The greatest show on earth: reflecting on the London 2012 games

posted Nov 29, 2012, 6:32 AM by Wendy Hein

How could I not have written during this mega-event. Well, let's just say there was a lot to take in. Let me see if I can collect some of the thoughts and experiences of what was, and hopefully continues to be, London 2012.  After all, we have reached a point where it should all be about legacy... no?

The day after the closing ceremony of the 30th Olympiad in London, a somber mood surrounded the city. As before the games, the roads were blocked up, and the previous nights' 'glorious' celebration of British music (and athletes achievements, isn't this what the whole thing was about?) was turning into a frantic analysis and discussion. What happened here? Was it any good? Who were the 'winners', and the losers? I can't answer these questions, but, as always, let me to provide some perspectives.

Firstly, how did a relatively normal person like me, living in London (whether there is such a thing is questionable), experience these games? Answer: a good few of us, in front of the TV or computer. Even before the games, the extensive 'Get Ahead of the Games' campaign by Transport organisations and Mayor of London office meant that in some parts the city did in fact feel like a ghost town. Example, we were told about the media hub that would be established around Russell Square, close to our offices. Avoid coming to work - work from home, take holidays, but, whatever you do, DON'T COME IN. I dared to travel, and my way to work had never been calmer. True, we all work at different times, and the event locations changed, but I can empathise with some businesses who prepared for large crowds - who never came. Here's another anecdote: a journalist friend from Sweden had booked his team into a place at Battersea, fearing that no accommodation would be available in the city centre. He did the commute to East London twice and then found a much cheaper hotel in precisely this feared city centre. Something certainly did not add up here.

Another thing that did not add up were tickets. As mentioned, I spent a lot of time in front of the TV or the computer. Speaking to friends who did go, there were a lot of empty seats. However, even if that was the case, who was able to pay for these tickets? As news of further tickets being released every day flooded the Locog pages, I regularly searched - finding a bargain for £95 per ticket - and then being unsuccessful as the tickets had already gone. A) I thought we were in a recession, and b) aren't the Olympics part of a non-profit event?

I could start commenting on the various sponsors and all the wonderful ad campaigns which were released on-and-offline, as I already did here, but I'll leave this for another time. For now, I think we can assume that the Games may have been more for the 'privileged consumer'. As much as sports are institutionalised, so are the people who get access to it. But those who still wanted to follow the coverage always had TV (as well as those who had decided to 'escape'). This brings me back to the beautiful BBC coverage that we experienced during this summer...

You may agree or disagree with whatever Morrissey said, one thing is certain, we surely did see quite a few British flags around. Whether the BBC issued a statement to their news teams to 'curtail' coverage of TEAM GB is not clear, but in as cosmopolitan a city as London, you had to be online to find out about 'your' country. The imagined community that is Britain was alive and well during the summer, and developments of Scottish devolution seemingly suspended during this period. What does this mean for sports? It certainly shows how powerful an institution it has become.

Not only do the Olympics therefore provide us an insight into the kind of capital that consumers are expected to possess, but also into the relationships that are produced - relationships within a nation and to other nations. I was always under the impression that the Olympics showcase peoples' sports abilities as a way of building connections with others, but it seemed this time there was more of a desire to congeal 'internally' within the UK. This however may have left others outside... and rather than telling stories of atheletes from different countries as experiencing their struggles and overcoming obstacles, these Games became a national celebration - to me at least. Were they any different before?  Were other countries the same? In this increasingly global world, how can we still be interested in how 'my' country is doing? Hmmm.... And, never mind that there is no controversy over Adidas as the official sporting kit sponsor, when they are a German company? Well done Adidas, you tapped into an imagined community in need of resources. I say GO TEAM GB!

Lastly, the whole 'non-profit' aspect of the Olympics is also an interesting point when it comes to the kind of sports that are favoured. Ever wondered why football is not of interest in the Games? At least we could argue that football organisations may be true to themselves in their pursuit of 'making money', when this is more cloaked in other ways in other disciplines. But, no doubt Mo Farah and Jessica Ennis have managed to make a few bob these days. How can we argue then that the Olympic Games are a charitable, non-profit organisation, when they may be putting on 'the greatest (marketing) show on earth'? Here is a site where marketers are fighting over valuable space, where Visa is 'delighted to be the only provider of payment options' and McDonalds is the only on-site provider of french fries. How can that be?

One thing is clear, even after the dust has settled, you can come across people who are either very positive about London 2012, or those who are very critical, possibly cynical. Even within my institution, you will hear those who are strategising around the Games when creating models of medal forecasts, others who believe in the pursuit of Olympic ideals; those who are celebrating student success, and others who are critiquing - you can hear Jules Boykoff's podcast on the 'Celebration of Capitalism' here.

I think it is important that all these perspectives are taken into consideration, as they will impact sport as an institution, and how marketers participate in shaping messages to us as consumers. But I do have a suspicion that so far the critical voices have been muted by the enthusiasts. I commend anyone for not being one-dimensional.

Whichever side(s) you choose - I leave it up to you, take your pick!


Time flies... but read on, this is important!

posted Apr 30, 2012, 1:55 PM by Wendy Hein   [ updated Apr 30, 2012, 1:59 PM ]

... when you're having fun (and that includes teaching and research - less so marking, which is what I'm doing right now).

It's been a hectic start to the year, hence my silence for some time. I've received a gentle reminder today that this blog hasn't seen much life recently, my apologies. Although now's not the time for a full post (and I've started and abandoned lots... and will finish them very soon, promise), this is a very important message to get out there:

I recently got involved in a UN-related project on management education (PRME), specifically, the working group on gender equality, where I'm contributing to the subject area of marketing. We are currently compiling a repository of any educational material that promotes gender education (in my case, in relation to marketing).

While I certainly have some idea of existing resources, I was told the UN don't do 'small'. This is a global project, so we are looking for GLOBAL information. We cannot possibly do this on our own, which is why I am asking for help from YOU- all of you teaching, having a sound knowledge of (academia and practice), and working on topics related to gender & marketing. If you know a good case study, video material, book (chapter), (journal) article, syllabus, course, module, website, blog, wiki - anything at all - that you would like to bring to our attention, please e-mail me (references or documents): (anything with large attachments) or

I will of course issue further calls in relevant groups (and apologise for cross-posting in advance). However, if you would like to draw my attention to any group or community, please also send me relevant information. Finally, if you know someone working or researching in the area of marketing & gender who has not come across this, please pass on the message

For further information about the project, please visit the PRME website (and find the working group documents) here!

This is serious stuff, so please contribute your knowledge and expertise. Let's put our heads together and create something we can all benefit from!!

I'll be back with more of the usual (non)sense soon, but in the meantime, thank you very much for all your help in advance.

All the best,

Dr Wendy Hein

Happy 2012

posted Jan 3, 2012, 8:11 AM by Wendy Hein   [ updated Jan 4, 2012, 6:23 AM ]

You know it's been too long since the last blog post when a) you can't remember what it was about (not true in this case, I'm still laughing) or b) two seasons have passed in between (no sports seasons, proper seasons). Well, it's not spring yet, but we are in the midst of a bleak mid-winter and the rugby world cup was at the start of autumn. Although it's been busy, this has to change. We've had such a good run in 2011, let's build things from there.

Now that we're ringing in a new year, let's look ahead - although we can't really do that without looking back, can we? Then let's look back/ahead and ahead/back.

Looking back/ahead we hear that we are celebrating the bicentenary of Charles Dickens this year (pretty close to my own birthday in February actually, mind you, not in 1812, I'm not that old) and all that was good and bad about Dickens is flooding the media waves. Personally, I was always very fond of Dickens since he wrote for the masses, when this was quite an unpopular thing to do - excuse the pun. Writers at the time were apparently intellectuals who wrote for each other, but not really for Joe Soap on the street. Yet, Dickens' characters were often far from simple. Always a little shifty, never quite good or bad and rather three-dimensional, Dickens wrote as much of fun and frivolities, as he did of crime and death. The bad of course is that he has become very popular nowadays, maybe a little too popular - like Christmas - to the extent that all we remember is often the very two-dimensionalised 'Scrooge'. So, let's look forward to giving that a brush-up.

Another one looking back/ahead is the centenary of the Titanic, which is sure to dominate popular culture in April this year. No need to be reminded again of how much the Titanic has gained in prominence in consumer culture since Stephen Brown's fascinating description of the 'Hustler Business School', and the mysticism and cultural capital that it has shaped in countless places. Whether you find yourself in Southampton, Belfast or Cobh; or you dive into the narratives of the fathers of the American golden age (and you can start discussing now when that was), in constant pursuit of peerage and heritage, where the British connection often came in handy; or you move into the lower compartments of the ship where you would have found mere mortals like you and me - you cannot get away from the Titanic. And no doubt, they will all come back to life this year, no thanks to Julian Fellowes once again.

Looking ahead/back then, 2012 has often been predicted as the year of disasters... let's hold our breath whether the world is going to end, but maybe we'll have a Titanic on a grander scale. No panic though, it's not like I can tell you anything about it - I'm a consumer researcher, not a psychic. But since Lynx has brought out its 'final edition', it is fascinating to see how even these themes that are taken advantage of by marketers (careful, some ladies may hold Unilever to it - isn't it brave to call a product the 'final edition'? Cheeky. Or maybe not?). It may just be the ultimate feeble attempt to have the last man on earth get 'lucky'. If you ask me, it's not for everyman. Just shows you how the world's end can be perceived differently - resting on gendered perceptions no doubt - and marketed as men's success rather than his demise. Let's see about that then.

Another ahead/back: it is also the year of the Olympic Games in London of course, where sports will be mixed with politics, finance, and the attempt of boosting cultural capital yet again - yes, we are talking East London. Let's see how the past year of riots and demonstrations are going to catch on. Maybe we'll see a few tents in the middle of the Olympic stadium appearing (a la St Paul's). There will certainly be lots to report as our campus will play host to the media centre for Olympic broadcasting. Goodness, with all the fears of syndicate betting already in circulation I'm sure the excitement won't stop and we'll be right at the source of information. It couldn't get any better. Watch this space.

Apart from that, for me personally this year will be filled with lots of exciting work, fingers crossed a lot more research activities (hey, if you have something to say, you better say it, right?), conferences, teaching, and the starting madness of a young academic. Bring it on!! We may as well go for it if the world is going to end tomorrow, or the day after.

On a more serious note, I hope this year will bring everyone the happiness and joy in life they are looking for, through consumption or otherwise. Or, as my favourite New Year song goes 'may we all have our hopes, our will to try, if we don't we might as well lay down and...' - nahh, let's not do that just yet.

Happy 2012!!! Ready, steady, GO!!!

Rugby 2011 world cup coverage - or the funny side of mediated nationalities, culture and sport

posted Oct 13, 2011, 6:46 AM by Wendy Hein   [ updated Oct 24, 2011, 10:20 AM ]

And we're back to the topic of sports. How can we ignore all the shenanigans of the rugby world cup, both on and off the pitch, whether you live in England, Ireland, Scotland or indeed Wales.

I know, Ireland lost... again. But a) don't tell me expectations were very high this time after their poor performance in pre-cup games, and b) in light of that, they did pretty well, no? Not everything was lost, as beating Australia was certainly a sight for sore Irish eyes. And best of luck to Wales who seem to be getting all the support from English fans these days. No wonder, as there is not much to celebrate in their camp. Interestingly, a few weeks ago I was going to write about how Manu Tuilagi was very close to being deported from England for being Samoan, and illgally resident after over-staying his holiday visa. When they found out that he could play rugby pretty well, his visa decision seemed magically overturned. We can find a similar phenomenon in the German soccer/football team: isn't it interesting to see that one Boateng brother plays for Germany, the other for Ghana? And, if you listen to the majority of players in the Irish soccer/football squad, you may have trouble finding an authentic Irish accent there too. In fact, Aiden McGeady is Scottish... who are probably not happy at all for not making it into Euro 2012 when one of their players was helping Ireland to qualify, nor are they celebrating for being beaten by England in the rugby world cup. Chin up Scotland, the only way is up. Yet, the point is that national and cultural borders and boundaries seem to blur with ease when it comes to sport - if your team is winning at least. It just shows us again how much sport matters, and how political and contradictory it can get, as when it comes to issues of immigration and national diversity in other contexts, blurring boundaries can lead to so many problems. Not in sports.

One area where this blurring of boundaries does not translate very well is in the media, particularly the sporting media. As I said before, I love the BBC, and I have to respect ITV for putting on Downton Abbey. On ITV is also where UK residents watch the rugby coverage. And, as I said before, as an outsider I am not very fond of the sports coverage on either station. Without a doubt, talking the game is a skill, but also one that requires a certain cultural awareness that seems to be lacking here and there. But, thank god for the empowerment and negotiation through cultural discourses of humour which can help us overcome any of the tension that this sports coverage often produces. Echoing some of yesterday's talks on the marketing of comedy and the comedy of marketing I came across the Irish interpretation of the ITV rugby world cup coverage. Clearly, this shows so well how humour and sports are both culturally situated, but also how you need to be culturally aware for understanding both. It also shows that talking fun and sport can be a skill not possessed by everyone. And, if you feel offended by any of this, it's only for a laugh, but certainly more conscious and directed than some of the offences in UK sports broadcasting. At least these are jokes, whatever that means. Is there a point here for reflexive distance? Maybe supporting the outsider Wales this time will sort out a possibly hegemonic sense of entitlement - I'm only joking.

Here it goes, the power of humour - and go on Wales!!


Carpe diem - and all that...

posted Oct 3, 2011, 9:02 AM by Wendy Hein   [ updated Oct 3, 2011, 11:58 AM ]

Ok, it’s the start of term and instead of writing something heavily political and theoretical, let’s start things with a mild wake-up-call to get us thinking – and this time I’m not going to rant on about gender, at least it’s not my intention. And, I'm not going to talk about sports either for a change...

I'm indulging in my fair share of popular culture as you may have noticed - TV, books, cinema - we have to be informed, right? So, I've been reading 'One Day' by David Nicholls which I didn't find particularly breathtaking, but never mind. I’ve also been following the popular TV programme ‘Downton Abbey’... and this is probably where I’m losing the respect of some of my consumer research colleagues. Not to worry, I can handle it – I can always argue that it’s for ‘research purposes’.

Although both of these stories then – ‘Downton’ and ‘One Day’ – seem to have little in common, they got me thinking about time: how we allocate time, prioritise, waste, procrastinate (as I’m doing right now), schedule, structure, etc. You have to understand this within the context of me joining an evening education institution, and I’m delighted to say I already had the pleasure of meeting our new cohort of bright and keen students. I’m absolutely serious when I say that I have utmost admiration for all of them acting on a belief that the day is not enough, and that they still have enough energy left in the evening to add something to their life when some of us think the work is done. Who can say that they still learn about something previously unknown after a full day’s work? Brilliant I say!

Going back to my two examples, life in early 20th century Downton used to be very structured: everyone knew when and how to be present for breakfast, lunch, cocktails, tea, etc. In other words, your day was ordered according to social expectations of rank and class. Now, this also meant dressing and ‘consuming’ according to these daily schedules. Both upstairs and downstairs, everyone had their prescribed appearances and there was little they could do about it. There was a correct time and place for everything. As Julian Fellowes so beautifully shows us however, amongst all the badness of the two world wars, an indirect result was also the erosion of class systems... at least in some parts of the world. Never mind though, we didn’t want to get political again. Therefore, as we move towards modernity and post-modernity, things become terribly unstructured – and when I indicated that this was a good thing, maybe it wasn't? Again, never mind. Clear is that today we don’t have exact times for breakfast, in fact we have the possibility to have ‘all day breakfasts’. We can pretty much choose what to wear for specific occasions, and when it comes to cocktails ‘it’s five o’clock somewhere’, isn’t it? As Giddens would say, the modern self has an increase in choice, but also an increase in existential anxiety. We can do anything at any time – but wouldn't it be easier to know our role in life, to be much more conscious of our limits as to what we can and can't do? Now we wonder whether something is ‘right’ and we may even be looking for someone who can tell us what is ‘right’. When the answer is: nobody. We can live into the days without one day being the same as the one before. Now, for some that is a welcome change, others are happier with the safety of a routine.

This is where I’m getting to ‘One Day’. As much as I thought David Nicholls was just a little too eager to make me cry when the poor woman in the end... I won’t say what happens to her... anyway, he says his novel is about love and regret; about a guy who is boozing his life away, having the girl he loves and loves him back in front of him all this time without realising it until it’s too late. Anybody else thought of ‘Love Story’? No? Never mind. This girl on the other hand is just so idealistic and wants to be all ‘goody two shoes’ and in the end makes a wad of cash on some books - but never mind that either. She’s always on about ‘seizing the day’, carpe diem - which she doesn't do either of course. I’d say, seize the day by reading the last three chapters and think of the preceding approx.300 pages as mundane, describing the mediocrity of day-to-day living. But this is what got me thinking. David Nicholls is making us out to be a bunch of wasters, when he seems to be addressing Giddens modernity-related increase in choice – we can end up chasing something for the thrill of the experience when what we want can be in front of us. Happiness can be so simple. However, what he doesn’t write about is the possibility of us not being miserable with mediocrity, but actually happy to find out about what we like, embracing choice, looking at life from different sides if we are self-critical enough. We can recognise that in day-to-day life we can experience special things, meet special people, we only have to choose to see it as such.

What I’m saying is that we have a choice to live every day as though it’s our last – but then who can do that. Rather, should we not see the special in the small accomplishments of everyday life? Let’s not cramp it all in ‘One Day’, but we can get there little by little. Yes, of course, recognise the wonder of life each day, bladibla, and, in my personal opinion, isn’t it great to have choice? Of course, let’s make the most of it. But, it’s ok to make the most of little too, it doesn’t always have to come with a big bang. Whether you get through the day with a ‘Downton’ scheduled routine or a ‘One Day’ crescendo after chasing a bunch of nothingness (which it doesn't have to be), it’s up to you find out. Just as long as you do exactly that! We are still limited enough in our choices. Marketing, society, structures, expectations, obligations - they can all limit us enough. As long as we recognise that what we do during our 24hrs makes us and those around us happy, that's what matters. If that's not the case, change! You have the choice! LIVE!

In that spirit, let’s follow the fantastic example of our students who can make their studies happen alongside everything else in their life, and who will have to make the most of every spare minute between work, grocery shopping and changing nappies, etc. Maybe you will also find some reflection time and theoretical implications in popular culture, as per my poor examples of ‘Downton’ and ‘One Day’. Never mind, whatever you do, without being patronising, and in your own unique way, CARPE DIEM!           

The masculinised workout – about recreational sport, the gendered body and gendered measuring in the public sphere

posted Sep 22, 2011, 8:19 AM by Wendy Hein   [ updated Oct 3, 2011, 11:57 AM ]

It’s been a long and eventful summer and I hope everyone’s enjoyed themselves. Maybe you still have bit of a tan (for those of us from Northern Europe this can usually be assessed by whether you can still see your swim-wear marks, lovely feeling that!); or maybe, like me, you were bitten alive by mosquitoes and you couldn’t stop itching which has now left a lasting visible mark too. Well, welcome back to the trot of everyday life which I’m sure is agonising for some, for others it comes as a relief.

For me this time is quite exciting as it’s back to school in a more literal sense. I recently started my post as lecturer in Marketing at Birkbeck, University of London, where I will continue my research, and will also teach consumer behaviour and public relations. It’s already been an exciting month filled with new impressions to reflect on. But before going into any of these in more detail, the turbulent summer has left a lot of experiences unprocessed that may be worth sharing. Plus, this gets back into the habit of writing more regularly, another big bonus of having a blog. I have been mulling over a number of thoughts/ideas/experiences for weeks whereas my new experiences may require further grounding, also keeping in mind that my audience may become more demanding from now on... ooh, pressure.

Therefore, while I could write about my summer in Germany where news of economic ups and downs were contrasted with reports of German birth rates as rather fixed to the bottom (and here I could comment on German industries, technology, engineering and cars seemingly privileged over what some described ‘softer’ and social issues, which may possibly be also reflected in how a lot of Germans approach marketing, sadly appearing to dismiss a wealth of socio-cultural and philosophical history) it may be more difficult to be either critical or uncritical of your own country – which may be a good methodological question for ethnographers. Instead, let me start with a lighter topic.
With the rugby world cup in full swing, all eyes are yet again on sports. One particular phenomenon receiving more attention these days is the growing participation of women in the sporting arena. In this context we could certainly look at female sports supporters in this context, or female athletes (consider this year’s football world cup in Germany for example – congratulations Japan!) and female sports managers, not to mention educators. In addition to these, some research has focused on females participating in recreational sports practices, such as surfing. My own attention was recently drawn to more mundane exercise routines of individuals. I used to be keen about exercise but writing and research has a tendency of grounding your bottom for long periods of time which doesn’t always work in favour of your figure. Nevertheless, after seeing several training groups around London parks and craving movement and fresh air, I was excited to participate in a session. You may have come across these before – the recent film ‘Bridesmaids’ puts a humorous slant on this and other scenarios. Doing some casual research of sports communities (which often have a hefty price tag attached – again, watch ‘Bridesmaids’), I came across diverse running and walking groups, some as obscure as ‘military pilates’, ‘buggyfit’. And I thought tag rugby was tough... Equally tough yet ‘motivating’ was our group training then, which had us running, stopping, jumping, kneeling, rugby tackling, pulling, burpeeing – you name it. Looking at it from an outsider perspective, it reminded me of a dog course at times, although it certainly had its militant moments too. Of course, the gentlemen performed very differently to the women – not just in an athletic sense. The competition was different for the boys compared to the girls. For while the guys were already running up and down the field before the instructor shouted ‘go’, the girls were often equally feisty, but rather appearing to do the exact number of twists and pulls. Me on the other hand, I would have liked to have taken my own time – I did all my 20 reps but was often the only one left on the field, like the last one picked for the team. Instead of being a good workout for body and soul, the training turned into a weird mix of peer pressure and power display, somewhere between exercise and cheating.

What had been perceived as a call for a pleasant training, including my naive expectations of a feminine spirit of boys and girls doing aerobics (which is a nice example of women carving out their own space in sports in the 80s), appeared to had turned terribly masculine. Out there in the park, women and men participated together which was nice for a change. However, women and men were certainly not performing equally. The muscle groups, the mentality, the strength, the competition – women seemed to be training their masculinity as well as their bodies (and learning to cheat too!). I felt a little deprived since workouts had generally been a feminine practice to me which gave me a warm fuzzy feeling, but it appeared that this space and practice had been masculinised. Instead of men learning to ‘do’ femininity, I had to do once again as the guys did. Never mind you say, I’m used to it at this stage and I can always go back to yoga or ballet... but will that give me the ‘power body’ I need to compete in this fierce world, and am I running the risk of producing a feminine body pleasant to look at? And who is looking? I don’t want to be a ‘body’; I want to be valued for my insightful thoughts, no?

The story continues. The importance of sports for public life, clearly losing its recreational relevance, and the display of the results of the ‘trained body’ became more apparent when I learned from a friend in finance that his high-profile investment firm regularly engaged in sporting competitions between employees of other finance companies. In fact, rumour has it that some athletic employees were taken on in the company on short-term contracts so they could represent the firm at these sporting events – clearly reinforcing the importance of beating the competition. Let me get this straight, not only did his job demand several hours of his day for his profession, after his working hours he had to train for a ‘social’ sporting event and couldn’t even enjoy good food and drink. To me, this seemed to go beyond the call of duty.

I also wondered about the women’s participation when these guys were out there running their guts out for the company. Answer: the company did not have any female employees – how convenient. Surely any woman would have been a liability for winning the office cup. Considering this in a broader context, it seems clear again that women and men may be able to participate jointly in certain practices and exercises, but that performances are often still ranked according to our bodily strengths and other certain measures where men tend to outperform women. The fact that one appears to be over-privileged and even the fact that certain performances have to be measured resulting in one winning over the other, the fact that there seems to be constant competition when the winner is often clear from the outset, seems to be forgotten. Why can’t we have more inclusionary practices, or even beyond that, why is it that women have to learn ‘masculinity’ and men can lead a perfectly comfortable life without learning ‘femininity’ (or at least not displaying this in public life)? More fundamentally, why do we have to measure everything and who decides what to measure? Can we not exercise for our health without having to feel inadequate for not running as fast as the other? Can sport not be part of our daily experience that enriches our lives, as something we share as a social or individual activity? And who decides what is measured? Why are body strength (where a man generally tends to be built differently to a woman), profits and sales ranked higher than compassion, empathy and care for one another?

Translating this favouring of one over the other further into relational, political and economic contexts brings me back to one of the many reasons for why German women may not decide to have children, particularly if we consider the gendered economic landscape in Germany which is filled with cars and engineering. Do you really think children are any good as a performative measure? And what about social care, caring for the elderly, the disabled and raising children? Hold on, wasn’t there another topic in the German media during the summer that these professions attract insufficient staff and are underpaid and undervalued? Who is going to care for an ageing society? And if you look at the UK, wouldn’t it be great if we could all do this voluntarily – who exactly is doing this work these days and who will be out of a job? If you ask me, as long as we cannot acknowledge the masculine and feminine as equal and stop our obsession with measuring according to predetermined masculine standards, gendered discrimination and the exclusion of women from a public world that continues to be masculinised will continue, as may be reflected in women’s positions on executive boards and differential pay scales. In short, there’s a lot more to be done to achieve equality. Here’s something to think about during your next workout. Oops, that turned a bit heavy in the end – but maybe it had to be said.
P.S. Ending on a more marketing-themed note, you can connect these sporting ideas with a nostalgic or retro-marketing topic a la Brown, and here’s a good playlist to get you into the spirit: . Thank you fellow blogger. 

Mobile phones - a research tool, a haven for marketers - but what good are they for consumers?

posted Jul 7, 2011, 1:04 AM by Wendy Hein

With the official publication of our paper on mobile phones as a tool for ethnographic research , today's post looks at how mobile phones have evolved for consumers and marketers. In this paper, we tell the story of how the functions of a mobile phone evolved in an ethnographic study and argue that mobile phones have great potential for ethnographers and consumer researchers for their presence in everyday life. Technology developments may in fact allow us to merge traditional ethnography with videography and netnography in the future. Taking a look at how we are now using mobile phones as consumers, I can't ignore so many more functions and mobile phone 'apps' that have come to the fore since this study. I'm finding it tough to figure out whom mobile phones serve more: marketers or consumers. The BBC programme on superbrands (see post below) certainly also provided some insights into this.

Let me start with an anecdote: I went to the cinema yesterday to watch the new Transformers movie. Before the film started the announcement to switch of mobile phones - which has now been turned into a sponsorship message - suggested 'when switching off your mobile phone, why not check in?' Now, I know what 'checking in' means, but I wondered why I would check in to the cinema to have everyone know where I am? Ok, maybe it's due to my limited tech literacy, highly influenced by my bordering to both Gen X and Gen Y cohorts- yes I grew up with technology, but I still have to appropriate a lot more skills than someone born in the 90s. Nevertheless, I don't get why I should let everyone know that I'm watching a film at the cinema. Isn't the cinema a place to be left alone for a few hours? Shouldn't you be in the 'here and now', maybe with your friends, with your partner, with others around you at a push when you're in the cinema, and there alone? Now, I understand you may want to share with others that you have watched a film and maybe even what you thought of it (Rosie Huntington whatshername can't act!). But why not use your usual blog/twitter/facebook resource for this? In fact, if I tell everyone where I am at all times, my first thought was that people know when I'm not at home - giving them an opportunity to clean out my house (here's a new entrepreneurial idea - the 'savvy thieves' app - she's watching a film, we have two hours min.). Of course you may want to brag that you're at a concert, at a sporting event or whatever makes others green with envy. But is it always wise to check in? I'm suspicous.

Now, a quick look into new social marketing tools and a bit of common sense tells me that checking in is highly attractive for marketers. They can bombard you with offers, promotions, vouchers, events in your vicinity and entice you to spend that extra time and money wherever you may be. But if we are complaining that we see too many ads and are constantly influenced by marketing messages (and I certainly didn't ask for Mercedes, Gillette, Cisco, and co. product placements in the film - in fact it reminded me of a known Wayne's World scene, that'll tell you my age), in the case of 'checking in' it is our choice to receive these messages . We are inviting marketers more and more into our lives and the border between what a friend recommends and what google adwords produces is blending further. On the one hand we can argue that we are learning to 'play' with marketers by inviting more choice. We may hear about a bar or a shop we never knew was around the corner and, hey, maybe it's happy hour or there's a sale on. With the example of local promotions and vouchers, mobile marketing could allow us to exert our power to bring our custom to whoever is providing the best value for us, in whatever location we are. On the other hand, the blend of marketing messages with what friends recommend produces the most powerful mix known to advertisers - promotion backed up by WOM. Boom, a star is born. All of a sudden we may not be these independent, savvy shoppers we want to be, but duped into doing something because other people tell us to. Then mobile marketing is not about exploiting the exploiter, but about always chasing what's 'cool', and now having constantly more tools at our disposal to let others tell us about it. I see: he's at a football game, hmm, but I'm at a Bon Jovi concert - and yet another friend is travelling to France. Damn, when will I ever win this race? Why not find out for yourself what's cool, and keep it to yourself? No tweet from your phone, no facebook evidence. Whatever happened to that?

If this is one consequence of mobile marketing, ever noticed how difficult it has become to hold somebody's attention? While in the pub, we are busy tweeting and facebooking about our choice of drink, informing others where we are and who with, so that really when you find yourself in a social setting these days it is not any more only with your immediate company. You are surrounded by all your linkedin, facebook, tweet friends... and of course, their friends and friends of their friends. Mobile apps allow us to receive ever more validation or disapproval from outside. When can I ever just be me? With everyone vying for our attention - and us wying for theirs? - are the centres of our identities constantly fleeting, challenged, displaced, anxious? Maybe now and again it's time for us to 'switch off'.

It's probably me, but I'm most comfortable when only a select few know where I am and where I've been....and I hope I'm not a dying breed.

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