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Faculty Bookshelf: Time, Space, and the Market: Retroscape Rising
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  Time, Space and the Market

Faculty Bookshelf: Time, Space, and the Market: Retroscape Rising

Re-creation as recreation

By Deborah Leigh Wood

There's no time like the present to look back at an imaginary past, suggests an anthology of essays co-edited by Kellogg School Marketing Professor John Sherry

Present: tense. Future: uncertain. Past... Now there's a nostalgic comfort zone.

Marketing campaigns routinely revisit an idealized past, tapping into people's memories, burnishing them to accentuate desirable elements while diminishing the unpleasant gritty details.

The dynamics of marketing and nostalgia is a key subject in the recently published Time, Space, and the Market: Retroscapes Rising.

Co-edited by Kellogg School Marketing Professor John F. Sherry Jr. and Stephen Brown, professor of marketing research at the University of Ulster, the text uses vivid personal narratives to immerse readers in the mind- and time-altering world of retrospaces — environments that evoke remembrances (albeit false) of times past.

Sherry, who contributes two essays to Time, Space, and the Market, says the book departs in tone from the more conventional style of recording social science research.

"We wanted to give readers a visceral experience of being 'in the moment,' because that's what retroscapes are about," he says. "So we selected writers who could reconstruct that feeling."

One of those writers is Robert Kozinets, Kellogg assistant professor of marketing, who took artistic license in the first draft of his essay on the Burning Man project, a unique celebration of art and community that occurs one week a year in the Nevada desert. Both he and Sherry have participated in the event. Realizing that a narrative about being abducted by a "crazy cult from the future" wasn't going to fly, Kozinets revised his essay. The retooled version still vibrantly captures the immediacy of a "transformative event" that brings together some 30,000 free spirits yet erases all traces of its presence after the encampment's disassembly.

Kozinets welcomed the opportunity in this anthology to present research "as text to be read, rather than a law book to be followed," emphasizing the author's passionate connection to his work.

A number of essayists in Time, Space, and the Market seem to agree. Their pieces allow readers to reimagine yesterday through such phenomena as: "Surf City," Calif., awash in commercialism; the department store catalogue reincarnated online as a "dreamy, reflective" experience; and a week at a shopping complex, hilariously chronicled by Brown as he reports on bargain hunters' odd behaviors.

Sherry says academics should pay more attention to retroscapes, which range from quirky malls to quaint theme parks to "micro-universes" (think Las Vegas). It's clear that re-creation as recreation, the past as it never was, is here to stay.

Sherry addressed this phenomenon in a highly touted 1998 study on his adventures at Chicago's Nike Town, an example of what he terms "retail theater." This piece served as the inspiration for Time, Space, and the Market.

For this text, Sherry tackled the world of sports in the fan's ultimate funhouse, Chicago's ESPN Zone, where he spent a year reconnecting with his primal side and analyzing the experience.

Similar motivations also figure in his account of participating in Burning Man, what he calls a "postmodern pilgrimage" to the desolate terrain of Black Rock City, Nev. The event attracts those seeking to escape mundane life temporarily to understand more profound parts of themselves using as tools art, music, poetry, yoga, meditation, dance and nudity.

"Burning Man literally remade me," Sherry says. "As an academic I have few opportunities to drop out of the regular social structure." Sherry notes that the event let him do this and also sharpened his skills as a researcher, while providing deeper insights.

"We don't spend much time in the present," Sherry says, "but in the middle of the desert, with a 24/7 flow of artistic expression, you're up against the present. You lose all sense of time. It's amazing."

About Professor John Sherry
Prof. Sherry is an anthropologist who studies consumer experience, symbolic communication, retail atmospherics and ethnographic methods. His representative publications include: "Sacred Iconography in Secular Space: Altars, Alters and Alterity at Burning Man," in Contemporary Consumer Rituals: A Research Anthology (Lawrence Erlbaum 2003); "A Role for Poetry in Consumer Research," Journal of Consumer Research 29 (1), 2001; and "Being in the Zone: Staging Retail Theatre at ESPN Zone Chicago," Journal of Contemporary Ethnography, 30 (4), 2001.

©2002 Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University