On the 'Pre-History of The Panoptic Sort': Mobility in Market Research.

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Adam Arvidsson

Abstract

This article reviews the history of market research to argue that that discipline has seen a paradigm shift during the second half of the 20th century. Originally market research developed as an integral element to the society-wide capitalist control revolution. Its aim was to contain the complexity of an increasingly mobile consumer demand in a number of pre-established categories. Since the 1950s however market researchers developed a series of techniques to observe and make use of consumer mobility. The emergence of these new techniques was coupled to a different conception of the role of marketing. Its role was no longer understood primarily as that of disciplining consumer demand, but rather as that of observing and utilizing ideas and innovations that consumer's themselves produced. This paradigm shift from 'containment' to 'control' drove the development the statistical techniques and theoretical conceptions of consumers that are now employed in the commercial surveillance of on and off-line mobility. Through ubiquitous surveillance contemporary capitalism aims at including virtually all of social life into its valorization process. The conclusion considers the possible contradictions that this might produce.

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