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The labors of the Odysseans and the legacy of the Odyssey

Russell Belk (Schulich School of Business, York University, Ontario, Canada.)

Journal of Historical Research in Marketing

ISSN: 1755-750X

Article publication date: 18 August 2014




The purpose of this paper is to review the 1985-1991 project called “The Consumer Behavior Odyssey”, including a retrospective assessment of its context and role in influencing consumer research paradigms.


The study is based on personal recollections, introspective fieldnotes from the Odyssey and various publications and videos that emerged from the project. It also reflects on several subsequent “inside” and “outside” accounts of the project and its impact.


The paper concludes that the Odyssey was a critical event within a nexus of other critical events that helped precipitate what is now widely called Consumer Culture Theory. It was a highly visible project that acted as a lightning rod that attracted both supporters and opponents at the time, but that ultimately helped carve out a place for interpretive, qualitative, visual and ethnographic consumer research within business schools.


Although there were a number of methodological and research outputs from the Odyssey during the 1980s and early 1990s and there have been several recent “outside” appraisals of its influence since then, there has been only one subsequent “inside” account of its ontological and epistemological impact − a 2011 video made for the 50th anniversary of the major funding organization for the project, the Marketing Science Institute. This paper offers a more extensive appraisal by one of the project’s leaders.



Belk, R. (2014), "The labors of the Odysseans and the legacy of the Odyssey", Journal of Historical Research in Marketing, Vol. 6 No. 3, pp. 379-404.



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