Businesswomen, dabblers, revivalists or conmen? : representation of selling and salespeople within academic, network marketing practitioner and media discourses

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School of Business | Doctoral thesis (monograph) | Defence date: 2006-03-24
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xii, 194 s.
Acta Universitatis oeconomicae Helsingiensis. A, 269
Representation of selling and salespeople within academic, network marketing practitioner and media discourses In this study, my purpose is to explore conflicting representations of selling and especially network marketing (NM). My first objective is to identify the fundamental features of sales discourses within academic and practitioner communities. The second objective is to understand in what ways the combination and contestation of these discourses produce ambiguous images of selling and network marketing, for example, in the media. The study approach is based on the social constructionist research tradition. Central to this approach is the interest in how different communities create social realities of selling through discourse practices characteristic to each community. This study focuses on the discourses of selling and salespeople created by 1) academic researchers studying sales management and personal selling, 2) NM practitioners – salespeople and other actors, and 3) the media, which in this study is represented by the Finnish press. The argument of this doctoral dissertation is built on the analyses of three separate textual data sets. The first data set comprises academic journal articles of personal selling and sales management, textbooks of selling, and a survey study report, which is included in the data as an empirical example of a functionalist study approach. The second set of data comprises NM practitioners’ booklets, handbooks and industry descriptions. The third data set comprises 50 press writings of network marketing published in Finnish newspapers and weekly magazines in 1993-2001. In the data analyses, I apply discourse analysis methods and focus on the rhetorical devices – categorization, catchphrases, metaphors, undermining, muting or highlighting – through which the texts construct diverse social facts of selling and network marketing. In addition, I apply frame and intertextual analysis methods in drawing together and comparing the findings from the separate analyses. This study provides new knowledge on how varying representations of selling and salespeople are constructed on the basis of fundamental epistemological and ideological assumptions and beliefs within diverse communities. The study shows that within the dominant academic literature on personal selling and sales management, the conception of selling and salespeople is based on a functionalist research paradigm. From this perspective, selling is a function, which takes place in a hierarchical public sphere. This function is performed by stereotypically masculine salespeople, who are also represented as subordinates and resources of the organization. In contrast, within the NM practitioner community selling is accompanied by social movement and an alternative lifestyle, sales take place in the private sphere and social networks, and salespeople are stereotypically feminine. In the media, these representations are confronted and mixed into adventures of dabblers, businesswomen, revivalists and conmen. Based on this study, I argue that the key principles limiting and creating selling in varying contexts are ethics and professionalism, and the meaning of these principles varies within different communities. I also argue that the driving forces of sales discourses are gender and emotions, through which it becomes possible to transform from one discursive construct into another. Through unfolding the structure and dynamics that underlie sales discourses of different communities, this study makes the conflicting views on selling and network marketing understandable.
Supervising professor
Möller, Kristian, professor
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