For more information about Royal Holloway, please see this promotional video. To see a promotional video for the MA Consumption, Markets & Culture see here. To see a promotional video for the Royal Holloway School of Management, click here.

For more information about the Royal Holloway MA Marketing and MA Consumption, Culture & Marketing and the application process see here.

To get an understanding of the unique values that underly the MA Marketing and MA Consumption, Culture & Marketing programme please read these blog posts: Value of Scholarly Values, Importance of Reading and Morris Holbrook and Business Interest in Education.

Wednesday, 23 March 2016

Tracey Wechie Describes her Dissertation

Note in addition to being awarded the prize for Best Dissertation, Tracey also successfully applied for a scholarship for a PhD at Royal Holloway, which she is now pursuing. 

Even from the start of my MA Marketing course at Royal Holloway, University London, the prospect of writing a 12,000-15,000 word dissertation loomed in the ever distant horizon in quite an antagonising way. Was it a possible feat? Or would I crumble somehow at the last hurdle? Just the mere fact that it engulfs a whole summer term is credence to how challenging it would be and notably how crucial it was to my MA marketing course overall. It was definitely not something to be taken lightly! However during my Postgraduate year, as days and then months passed by, ever growing closer to the ominous summer term, no one was quite more amazed than I that my anxiety of writing a 12,000-15,000 word dissertation somehow turned into glee. Although it was not realised at the onset, as I progressed with my course, it began to slowly settle in that as a MA Marketing student at Royal Holloway you are not suddenly thrust into completing a dissertation at the onslaught of summer term. Rather you are thoroughly and deeply guided into it, making it significantly easier to comprehend and get to grips with. Not only does your assigned supervisor for your dissertation assist you every step of the way, but it can also be reasoned that every prior marketing module undertaken before your dissertation, is designed to cater to the finessing and harnessing of a suitable research topic and research method for your dissertation. Consequently once I overcome the initial fright, I was able to focus more, not on the challenges ahead, but the excitement of being able to choose whatever research topic, question and method I wanted, that would best allow me to thrive and achieve academic success.

It is no surprise that completing work on such a grand scale requires a real passion for the topic chosen to explore. Marketing encompasses a broad depth of areas and I believe strongly that everything in some way or another can be related back to its broad concept. Subsequently I chose to work from ‘the outside in’ whereby I found a theme which I loved and then looked for areas in marketing that could encompass such theme. Of course there was also a plethora of more standard marketing topics which were available for me to choose from, helpfully explored in great depth during the various marketing modules I undertook in the autumn and spring term. However when it did actually become time for me to seriously consider and craft my research topic; the best thing to do was research… research… research! A well thought out and suitable research question is not going to just fall on your lap. It requires gaining deep insight into your desired general topic area and thus my advice for anyone about to undertake a dissertation would be to think carefully about the topic you want to spend 3-4 months researching. From discussing with further students when I undertook my MA course, it seemed apparent that picking a general topic did not reap as much benefit as when students challenged themselves with their topic and pushed the limits. 

After extensively exploring all the options available I chose to take a socio-cultural approach to marketing when formulating my research question. Namely I chose to explore the socio-semiotic gendered nature of contemporary romance novels as tools of marketing and whether and to what extent patriarchy is still the overarching theme within them. This research built on previous research findings concerning the gendered nature of romance scripts in popular culture and used thematic analysis in exploration of the gendered socio-semiotic constructions of Harlequin romance novels.  I chose to explore contemporary popular romance novels as they represent one of the biggest sites for the representation of individuals as gendered subjects.

I was relieved that I was not bound to the first research question I came to develop. This was because during my research, many new and exciting themes of exploration began to stand out to me which called for further exploration. Namely it became apparent that more ‘guised’ forms of patriarchy namely; ambivalent sexism, bigendered subjectivity and phallic symbolism were prevalent in romance scripts. Thus further exploration was needed to determine whether recent challenges by academics as to the patriarchal nature of contemporary romance novels was distorted owing to such novels continued unconscious expounding of patriarchy in light of many un-explored gendered ideologies. It was clear from my research that there seemed to be a vehement acceptance by academics of patriarchy in such novels without appreciation of the manifest attempts of romance novels to reconcile the hero/heroine dichotomy with society's changing attitudes about gender. Specifically such 'skipping over' by academics of the nuanced albeit 'misleading' feminist thought within such novels meant that much of the previous research within this field was unable to adequately challenge contentions that oppose the continued prevalence of patriarchy within them. Thus it was crucial that my research question allowed for a more critical understanding of the hero/heroine dichotomy in such narratives by having recourse to more micro patriarchal theories which would enable the materialization of a framework of patriarchy.

Inevitably, I was constantly revising my research question, of course with the approval of my supervisor and as long as it did not stray too far away from my initial proposed research question. In the end my analysis found that a practice of symbolic annihilation in relation to the heroine's mention in romance titles was a prevalent concurrence wherein which the heroine was given an unimportant relational status in comparison to the hero's dominant status. The descriptions of the hero in such novels were also found to be congruent with patriarchal theory in the form of phallic symbolism as the males anatomical organ was consistently represented as a symbol of his physical dominance. Finally findings showed that within the narrative structure the heroine was allowed to assume a relative level of independence at the start of such novels, mainly through her assuming of bigendered practices. However such practices as well as the hero's ambivalently sexist practices against the heroine eventually came to devalue her positioning further.

I would suggest to those about to or in the process of writing their dissertation to fully submerse yourself in your chosen topic in absolutely any way you can. Notably as soon as you have a rough idea about the topic, it won’t hurt to begin to do exciting things revolving around it. For example I knew quite early on in the year that I wanted to look into patriarchy and thus developed a keen interest in watching films and reading books which portrayed family dynamics with a strong presence of male-dominance within them. Engaging in fun actives such as this really helped in making my dissertation not something too onerous, but rather a fun and exciting process. In light of this,  I must concede that although my MA Marketing dissertation was possibly one of the most challenging tasks that I’ve ever had to complete and certainly the longest academic piece of work I’ve ever had to submit, it was also the most stimulating and thought-provoking written academic task. I was also privileged to be awarded best MA marketing dissertation in my graduation ceremony.

Monday, 21 March 2016

St. Patrick's Day Celebrations

To mark St. Patrick's Day, the Indie Killers performed a rock concert for School of Management postgraduate students last Friday. 

Wednesday, 9 March 2016

Hector Murphy writes about his dissertation

 Width of marketing and selecting a subject – your own interest

Marketing, as an academic discipline, constitutes an extremely broad field with marketing literature making use of concepts, theories and techniques from sociology, business studies, psychology, and numerous others. While at first this breadth can present quite a daunting range of possibilities when trying to pin down a topic for a research-based dissertation, the most important thing to do is to select a topic that you have a definite interest in. This might sound obvious but choosing to research something that you actually want to know more about, rather than something that you think would be easy to study and produce a 12,000 word thesis on, will not only help to keep you motivated throughout the process but will also help you to produce genuinely original and interesting research.

            Having entered university in the UK at a time of significant change, both for the form of higher education institutions and the sector within which they reside, I was particularly interested in examining the nature of these changes and how they have come about. During my time at Royal Holloway, I took part in a number of student demonstrations against issues connected to these changes, such as higher tuition fees and the profit-motivated closures of small but invaluable academic departments. As much as marketing might seem a strange choice of discipline from which to launch an interrogation and critique of marketisation, it became ever more clear to me that the huge mixture of ideas and research instruments available made it the perfect choice.

            The primary constraints on any research dissertation are the maximum allowed length, and the resources available to you as an MA student. These constraints were actually of great use to me in terms of setting achievable goals for my research. I wanted to better understand the more subtle forces that serve to create an environment in which higher education institutions come to be thought of as businesses in a competitive market and begin to behave as such. Part of this interest was also inspired by Chris Hackley's Critical Marketing course, to which I have to give a good deal of credit. 

           In doing preliminary research I came to see that there are a multitude of social, cultural and economic forces and that to try to produce comprehensive own research would leave me no room to actually look at anything in depth. At this point the importance of working together with my supervisor was made manifestly clear to me. Alan advised me to try to look into an element that I had a more personal experience of, and to do so to the greatest possible depth. Choosing a micro-, rather than macroscopic focus might seem like it would hinder your ability to answer whatever grand questions you might have about your topic, but this was something important I had to realise about academic research; it is far better to say something new about a small area, and in doing so actually contribute to scholarly discourse on it, than to simply retread the same ground that has already been covered by masses of books and research literature.
            Having waded through numerous university league tables and rankings on the way to choosing Royal Holloway to study at, and subsequently finding that these had almost nothing to do with what I experienced as a Royal Holloway student, these seemed a clear choice. Smartphones as consumer goods can be benchmarked against each-other on a basis of technical specification, as can cars, and computers for instance, but is it useful to try to fit university education in to this commodity market paradigm? Furthermore, as this is already happening, how are the effects of this experienced within universities? These were, I believed, questions that I could really sink my teeth into, and with Alan's suggestion that I look into literature making use of Michel Foucault's concept of governmentality (the way in which subjects are bought to behave and regulate themselves according to a given ideology without direct command or coercion) I set to work.

Michel Foucault

            The unit I had taken on qualitative research methodologies had given me the skills and confidence to make use of a mixed-methods approach combining critical discourse analysis with qualitative interviews. This allowed me not only to examine what elements of higher educational institutions were valued in rankings and league tables, but also to understand how the privileging of certain abstract elements of higher education changed the way in which academics and institutions had to behave. Through a sustained campaign of emailing the heads of departments at a large number of universities I (admittedly to my surprise) found a number who were willing to take part in semi-structured interviews about my topic. I combined this with a close analysis of the websites and presentational styles of a number of leading league tables and ranking exercises, which were also discussed with my interviewees.
            This combination produced a number of interesting conclusions and while it was of course gratifying when my conclusions matched closely with my original presuppositions, I found it most exciting when I became aware of points I had not considered before and additional nuance that could serve as a starting point for even further research. Although I had originally suspected that all league tables and rankings had some effect, it became clear that those carried out by the government itself, such as the Research Excellence Framework were clearly the most significant to those I had interviewed. The fact that these exercises in particular are tied to future research funding as well as job prospects meant that they exert significant power over the activities of institutions and academics; what is important to the REF inevitably becomes important to universities because to ignore it means that an institution has no hope of meeting the abstract criteria of 'excellence', however valuable and novel its research might be by other standards. At the same time, while commercial league tables are less significant to research funding, they are of great importance in attracting paying students, and so again I found that they directly feed in to a discourse of students as consumers and higher education as a commodity.

            Although I found that both league tables and government-run ranking exercises contributed to a marketised view of higher education, they do so in different ways, with league tables focusing on education itself as a commodity, and ranking exercises focusing on the research that universities produce as a commodity. Returning to what I mentioned earlier about taking a deep focus on a small area, I found that my dissertation had indeed answered some of my early questions about marketising effects in higher education, but had also opened up a few pathways for future research in the area. I fully believe that without the breadth of knowledge and techniques made available to me on the marketing course, it would have been extremely difficult to produce a dissertation on this subject to the same level.