The impudent breed

While doing some groundwork for our next Marketing and Communications Strategy, I came across this quote from Gilles Deleuze: ‘Marketing has become the centre or the “soul” of the corporation’ (in Du Gay, P. (2000), “Markets and meanings: re-imagining organisational life”, in Schultz, M., Hatch, M.J., Larsen, M.H. (Eds),The Expressive Organization, OUP – itself an interesting article about the role of ‘disciplines of symbolic expertise’ in modern organisations).

Deleuze isn’t implying that a marketing-ensoulled organisation is a good thing, as a broader quoting of the passage indicates: ‘Corruption thereby gains a new power. Marketing has become the centre or the “soul” of the corporation. We are taught that corporations have a soul, which is the most terrifying news in the world.’

He goes on to say that ‘The operation of markets is now the instrument of social control and forms the impudent breed of our masters‘ (italics mine). I like the phrase ‘the impudent breed’ – like a sequel to This Happy Breed, perhaps, based on a group of cheeky (yet evil and omnipotent) marketing folks; or a departmental strapline; or perhaps a title for yet another blog. I’m by no means sure that I follow what is meant (perhaps it’s a hard to translate passage – I can’t quite following what is forming who and where the impudence comes from).

Difficulties with translation aside, I’ve found my first conscious dip into Deleuze quite exhilarating. For a piece published in 1990 it seem remarkably prescient in its description of a ‘control society’ where the computer is the defining technology, continuous monitoring places everyone in a universal system, where one is ‘undulatory, in orbit, in a continuous network’ and ‘Everywhere surfing has already replaced the older sports’.

By empathising with a piece that situates ‘marketing’ within a dystopian vision, am I adopting a position which would logically lead me to seek a different line of work? Possibly, though I would make a case for social marketing as being somewhat more benevolent than the control-force of late capitalism, and point out that marketing for a university is an enabling structure for exploration of radical thought to take place, Deleuze’ ideas being just one example.

The whole article can be read here.

4 thoughts on “The impudent breed

  1. A really interesting and thought provoking article which raises many questions. In a broad sense I think you are correct in suggesting that social marketing in relation to a university is more benevolent than say that of a fast food company.

    However, assuming Deleuze is correct in his understanding of marketing, the more cynical may suggest that Deleuze could point out that in embracing this dystopian vision of marketing’s corrupting power while undertaking marketing for a university, you logically wish to transfer this corrupting power to the world of academic-capitalism in order to cement the university’s place within the wider dystopian vision in which you become one of its masters.

    Given the amount of literature written on the subject of academic capitalism and the commercialisation of the university it would be really interesting to see a case put forward from someone in the marketing world as to why social marketing for a university is more benevolent than for say a fast food company.

    Would marketing for a charity be any more benevolent than a university? What about those universities who are themselves registered charities? Is it WHAT is being marketed that determines the marketing process as benevolent or is it something different about the process itself? Or is marketing inherently a corrupting force as Deleuze appears to suggest?

  2. “transfer this corrupting power to the world of academic-capitalism in order to cement the university‚Äôs place within the wider dystopian vision in which you become one of its masters” – coincidentally this was one of my appraisal objectives this year (he said impudently).

    I think it could be argued that ‘social marketing’ is /more/ pernicious than product-based marketing, by virtue of being more covert. To some extent a clarification of what is meant by marketing would be helpful I suppose. Societal marketing definitions can sound relatively benign, eg Kotler’s

    the organisation’s task is to determine the needs, wants, and interests of target markets and to deliver the desired satisfactions more effectively and efficiently than competitors, in a way that preserves or enhances the consumer’s and the society’s well-being

    – though
    a) the interplay of forces implied, where actors move to deliver emergent ‘satisfactions’, might be exactly the kind of ‘undulatory, continuous network’ Deleuze is on about, and
    b) the ‘competitive’ aspect is problematic as organisations competing may in itself undermine ‘society’s well-being’.

    I’m attracted to Balmer’s ‘corporate marketing’ model, which describes ‘multiple exchange relationships with multiple stakeholder groups and networks’ – which is perhaps more nuanced than an enterprise view of marketing, but still sounds like an expression of the Deleuze ‘dystopia’.

    This is a very interesting area – I wish I had made it along to your presentation a while ago but perhaps there will be other opportunities for me to understand your thinking.

  3. I haven’t read anything on Balmer’s ‘corporate marketing’ model but from what you have explained here I think that Kotler’s definition of societal marketing is closer to why I agree with you that the marketing of a university is more benevolent than that of a fast food restaurant.

    The concerns you raise are still problematic assuming Deleuze is correct. The bottom line is that marketing is something that any university HAS to embrace in order to survive as filthy lucre is in short supply across the HE sector and universities have to meet their commercial obligations (including attracting fee-paying students). The question is how does it do this while maintaining its integrity and the classical values associate with the university as an institution? Or is this a question that doesn’t need an answer?

    Looking at it broadly, Deleuze is either:
    a) interesting to read but mistaken and thus divorced from HE marketing.
    b) in need of a more elaborate reintetpretation distinguishing the marketing of HE in comparison to that of a profit orientated product such as a fast food restaurant.
    c) absolutely correct and should be taken to his extreme logical conclusion.

    However, I think this university is doing a very decent job of trying to square the issues at stake. The admiration for Deleuze’s ideas confused me somewhat given your role, but it is a very interesting topic.

    Perhaps a presentation on your ideas in relation to Deleuze’s problems and why your responses to them make Edge Hill stand out from other institutions would be of real interest for one of the research exchange seminars. Maybe as a research in action piece?: “Deleuze and the marketing of Higher Education”?

  4. I doubt whether marketing of HE crossed the mind of Deleuze, but suspect that the phenomenon would be seen as further confirmation of his view of the control society. I think you’re right about marketing in HE as a necessity, though I would tend not characterise it as a necessary evil for dealing with externally-imposed commercial drivers. Rather I see it as a way of focusing on the processes of value exchange associated with learning itself, across all involved parties, seeking mutual benefits.

    Having said that I can empathise with a (Deleuzian?) view that a society based on transactions or exchanges of value is open to abuses of power, and has a certain insubstantial quality, like an endless dance in a hall of mirrors. I think it is a fundamental structural power-system that Deleuze is describing, with his concept of ‘marketing’ as a symptom and exemplar of what I’ve called his dystopia.

    It could be argued that marketing HE involves a commodification of an experience or set of processes that shouldn’t be commodified – part of some sort of commercial colonisation of human existence. Set against this one could argue that marketing has become so universal that people are fluent in decoding it, able therefore to see it as a symbolic activity (the map not the territory), and able to draw aesthetic satisfaction and emotional energy from its outputs, a sort of willing seduction.

    I should unpack this stuff more. Perhaps it does seem odd that I choose to engage with ‘anti-marketing’ ideas (possibly as a double agent subverting them to the ends of my capitalist masters) but then, this stuff is interesting, and if nothing else marketing is about being interesting!

    I agree that some kind of research in this area would be good. However first I need to finish killing Jez…

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