A Twenty‐First Century Guide to Aldersonian Marketing Thought

David Lamond (Editor, Journal of Management History)

Journal of Management History

ISSN: 1751-1348

Article publication date: 1 October 2006

98

Citation

Lamond, D. (2006), "A Twenty‐First Century Guide to Aldersonian Marketing Thought", Journal of Management History, Vol. 12 No. 4, pp. 439-440. https://doi.org/10.1108/jmh.2006.12.4.439.1

Publisher

:

Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2006, Emerald Group Publishing Limited


Wroe Alderson is considered to be one of the most influential marketing thinkers of the twentieth century. Born in St Louis in 1898, Alderson studied at George Washington University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of Pennsylvania, where he was Professor of Marketing at the Wharton School of Finance and Commerce from 1959 until his death in 1965. The European Business Review will be publishing a special issue on Wroe Alderson's intellectual legacy in the northern summer of 2007. In the meantime, students of marketing and management history have the benefit of this volume of writings by and about Alderson to digest.

This book, designed to familiarise readers with the life, writings and intellectual impact of Wroe Alderson, is divided into six parts – Wroe Alderson: The Man, Alderson's Theory of Market Behavior, Alderson's Writings on Management Practice and Ethical Behavior, Commentaries on Aldersonian Marketing, Commentaries on Alderson the Marketer, and Aldersonian Bibliographies – with about half the book written by Alderson and the other half written about him. Indeed, the editors are to be commended for the way in which they have brought so much material together in one volume. The reader is not only able to examine Alderson's original work, but also able to deliberate on that work and its significance through consideration of Alderson as a person and reflection on the commentaries that have been written about the ideas he presented.

In so doing, the editors have presented an homage to Alderson (“unquestionably and indisputably, the preeminent (sic) marketing theorist of the mid‐twentieth century” p. xxii), while avoiding the descent into hagiography that the volume could have become. All the contributors are clearly Alderson enthusiasts, but they provide their comments and insights knowing that the reader is in a position not only to judge Alderson's work, but also to judge the veracity of their analyses contiguously.

In Part I, Wooliscroft paints a word portrait of “a practitioner, scholar, theorist, philosopher, theologian, mentor and good friend to many who knew him” (p. 3), and introduces the reader to Alderson as, among other things, “a man who left home to ride the rails and with a deep conviction of to the Quaker faith, [who] retained a concern for those not as well off as himself” (p. 26). We are reminded that Alderson was very much the reflective practitioner rather than the academic, writing and publishing extensively before joining the faculty at Wharton. This includes the seminal “Towards a Theory of Marketing”, written with Reavis Cox and published in The Journal of Marketing in 1948, which is the first of the papers included in Part II.

Part II, then, comprises a selection of 14 of Alderson's papers on marketing theory and the functionalist paradigm which informed that theory building. At a time when Emery and Trist (1965) were applying systems thinking to organisations, Alderson was writing about organised behavior systems in marketing. Alderson's works, re‐presented in this volume, ranged over “The Principle of Postponement” through “Competition for Differential Advantage” to “The Heterogeneous Market and the Organised Behavior System”. Part III offers a further selection of Alderson's works representing “best management practice and, as well, acceptable ethical behavior” (p. 271) in marketing. It is not clear why Parts II and III should be separated in the way in which they are, especially in light of Shapiro's observation that Alderson believed “nothing was more managerially relevant than sound marketing theory” (p. 271), but that is the right of editors, and I will not quibble too much.

Part IV brings the reader to the commentaries on Alderson's works, along with the efforts to further develop and elucidate his ideas. Tamilia (p. 329) expresses “sheer delight” that Aldersonian thought is “still acceptable and respectable” in the twenty‐first century and that his work can further contribute to theory development, including that related to value chain analysis, industrial organisation economics and channel theory. As Editor of the Journal of Management History, I share Tamilia's delight, but I am conscious also that a careful reading of many of the earlier writers on management theory can be equally rewarding.

Part V contains the original contributions to the volume, “commissioned expressly for inclusion” to complete the picture of Alderson and his works (p. 407). This is a diverse set of writings, returning to consideration of Alderson as person and his role at Wharton; an historical assessment of Alderson's works; and concluding with an appreciation of how Alderson might be appropriated for marketing pedagogy. The latter chapter also includes the observation that “material that discusses Alderson is important in exposing students to theoretical analysis but it is no substitute for reading some of his original work” (p. 535). This is a statement that is worthy of consideration by all management scholars.

Again, the editors are to be commended for bringing so much material together in one volume representing a comprehensive appreciation of Alderson and his appetites – for ideas and for good food and wine. This is an important contribution to the history of marketing and management theory and a demonstration of Alderson's relevance to contemporary practice.

References

Emery, F.E. and Trist, E.L. (1965), “The causal texture of organizational environments”, Human Relations, Vol. 18, pp. 2132.

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