Transformative Market and Consumer Research Initiatives for the Refugee Humanitarian Crisis

Social conflict, particularly when systemically violent, is often associated with societal degradation and diminished consumer well-being. At the time of this writing, scores of countries and regions around the world are engaged in violent conflict in the forms of wars, gangsterism, or wanton and systemic thuggery. Every day, these activities have devastating consequences, including horrific human suffering, destruction of marketplaces, and even the complete failure of governing institutions. On 2015, at the TCR conference in Villanova, a group of scholars analyzed consumption and markets linked to social conflicts, and proposed four transition mechanisms—i.e., empowerment, communication, community building and regulation—through which consumers, marketers and policy makers can cooperate and contribute to peace-making (Barrios et al, in press).

For the 2017 TCR conference, we will continue discussing interactions among markets, marketing and consumers enmeshed in social conflict. Specifically, we further analyze the topic by focusing on one of the most nefarious consequences of violent social conflicts: forced displacement. Worldwide, tens of millions of people have been violently displaced by war or other forms of armed hostilities (UNHCR 2015). Among this group, more than 50 percent are under the age of 18; many of these children were unaccompanied or separated from their families (UNHCR 2015). In addition to the inherent, unimaginable suffering endured by vulnerable people who have been displaced, tremendous stresses are thrust upon governments and people in which the displaced take refuge or permanently settle. In short, virtually everyone and every system is affected and distressed, and thus we all have obligations to study this global refugee crisis and to propose transformative policies, practices and behaviors.

The purpose of this track is to discuss alternatives by which markets, marketing and consumer actions can help to assuage refugees’ suffering or perhaps even to contribute via transformative solutions to the global forced-displacement and refugee crisis. We expect to build upon previous insights about constructive engagement (e.g., Shultz and Shapiro 2012), and displaced populations in other contexts such as natural disasters (e.g., Baker and Baker 2014) or poverty (e.g., Hill 1991). We are amenable to collaborate with other scholarly groups, and non-profit organizations with a similar focus on or ethos in this humanitarian crisis.


  1. Baker, S.M. & Baker, C.N. (2014), “Narratives of Cultural Trauma (And Resilience): Collective Negotiation of Material Well-Being in Disaster Recovery,” in NA – Advances in Consumer Research, Vol. 42, J. Cotte and S. Wood, eds., Duluth, MN: Association for Consumer Research, 7-11.
  2. Barrios, A., De Valck, K., Shultz, C., Sibai, O., Husemann, K. C., Maxwell-Smith, M., & Luedicke, M. (in press), “Marketing as a Means to Transformative Social Conflict Resolution: Lessons from Transitioning War Economies and the Colombian Coffee Marketing System,” Journal of Public Policy & Marketing.
  3. Hill, R. P. (1991), “Homeless Women, Special Possessions, and the Meaning of ‘Home’: An Ethnographic Case Study,” Journal of Consumer Research, 18(3), 298-310.
  4. Shultz, C., & Shapiro, S. (2012), “Transformative Consumer Research in Developing Economies: Perspectives, Trends and Reflections from the Field,” in Transformative Consumer Research: For Personal and Collective Well-Being, D. Mick, J. Pettigrew, C. Pechmann & J. Ozanne, eds., Boca Raton, FL: Taylor & Francis, 131-150.
  5. UNHCR (2015), Global Trends: Forced Displacement in 2015., (accessed September 15, 2016), NY: UNHCR.

Tentative track structure

Pre-conference activities

Participants will be selected or invited considering track participants’ diversity in terms of career stage, methodologies, theories used, analyzed contexts and commitment. Prior to the conference, electronic dialogue – e.g., via a LinkedIn group – will be held. Each selected participant will be asked to share materials – e.g., academic literature, NGO reports, TED talks, documentaries, etc., – to help expand our thinking about the subject ad to build a data-base and body of literature. The aim of this activity is to identify common interests and emerging ideas for discussion at the conference, and to posit some possible structures and specific foci for our research paper(s) intended for publication.

Conference activities

Track chairs will summarize the results of the pre conference activities. This will provide the starting point for dialogue. The goal during the conference will be to:

  • Develop a conceptual framework that sketches transformative solutions on ways in which markets, marketing and consumer actions can help to assuage refugees’ suffering;
  • Identify publication opportunities, including topics and outlets;
  • Establish the positioning for the Journal of Business Research, which will feature research-publications that emerge from TCR 2017.

Post-conference activities

Track chairs will set a paper elaboration schedule, including a monthly skype meeting and submission dates for sections of the paper. Participants will work in pairs for the elaboration of the paper’s different sections; track chairs will merge all sections with a defined editorial positioning. All participants will be able to comment on and to make recommendations for each section; big issues or disagreements will be discussed during the Skype meetings.


Cliff Shultz

Loyola University Chicago

Andres Barrios

Universidad de los Andes

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