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Modeling in branding: a critical ethnography approach

Ayman El‐Amir (Business Administration Program, Trent University, Peterborough, Canada)
Steve Burt (Institute for Retail Studies, Stirling Management School, University of Stirling, Stirling, UK)

Qualitative Market Research

ISSN: 1352-2752

Article publication date: 6 April 2010



This paper aims to shed light on the potential of ethnography to provide a dialectical approach to modeling the process of branding as its focus widens from managerial to social.


A critical approach to ethnography is adopted and implemented in light of the French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu's ethnographic modeling technique of “participant objectification”.


The paper demonstrates from the customer standpoint, of a case of a grocery retailer, the ability of critical ethnography to dialectically model the branding process as an organic cultural whole, which envelops an intricate set of different, yet interdependent, social and managerial systems, functioning in a coherent and complementary manner.

Research limitations/implications

The empirical evidence is limited to the area of grocery retailing. Thus, widening the application of the technique in other areas would be desirable.

Practical implications

The dialectical nature of the critical approach to modeling yields a rich multi‐faceted view of the branding process that could help remedy the problem of detachment from complex reality, which has often been a criticism of traditional approaches to modeling in marketing.


The suggested dialectical approach to modeling expands the potential use of ethnography within the critical orientation to theory building in marketing generally, and branding in particular through elaborating the process of cultural construction from textual via participant observation to dialectical via participant objectification.



El‐Amir, A. and Burt, S. (2010), "Modeling in branding: a critical ethnography approach", Qualitative Market Research, Vol. 13 No. 2, pp. 189-209.



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