Inger L. Stole
Since the 1980s, consumers have witnessed the rapid proliferation of a new form of marketing: a hybrid between product advertising and corporate public relations. Cause Related Marketing (CRM) aims to link corporate identities with nonprofit organizations, good causes, and significant social issues through cooperative marketing and fund-raising programs. As a tax-deductible expense for business, this form of brand leveraging is an attempt at connecting with the consuming public beyond the traditional point of purchase and to form long lasting and emotional ties with consumer constituencies. However, what might seem like a fair exchange between corporation in search of goodwill and non-profits in search of funds also raises a range of troubling social, political and ethical questions.
Character and Social Order
How is social order possible? In a footnote in his book, Relations in Public (1971), Erving Goffman poses this basic sociological question in an interesting way worth quoting at length. Goffman quotes authors Jerry Avorn et al's book Up Against the Ivy Wall (1969) in their description of Columbia University President Grayson Kirk's reaction in 1968 upon entering his office after student activists had occupied it for six days:
One and a half hours after the President's suite had been cleared of student demonstrators, Grayson Kirk stood in the center of his private office looking at the blankets, cigarette butts, and orange peels that covered his rug. Turning to A.M. Rosenthal of the New York Times and several other reporters who had come into the office with him he murmured, "My God, how could human beings do a thing like this?"....Kirk's windows were criss-crossed with tape and on one hung a large sign reading, "Join Us." His lampshades were torn, his carpet was spotted, his furniture was displaced and scratched....The everything-in-its-place décor to which Kirk had grown accustomed was now in disarray--disarray that was the result of the transformation of an office into the living quarters of 150 students during the past six days. (Avorn 1969: 200)
To this description, Goffman responded: "The great sociological question, of course, is not how could it be that human beings would do a thing like this, but rather how is it that human beings do this sort of thing so rarely. How come persons in authority have been so overwhelmingly successful in conning those beneath them into keeping the hell out of their offices?" (1971: 288).
Such a subversive question can be thrilling to individualists...
In China, there is a new kind of factory that hires young people to play online games like World of Warcraft and Lineage day and night. The gaming workers produce in-game currency, equipment, magic spells and even whole characters, which are sold to players from the US, Europe, South Korea and Japan etc. who want to raise their level in the game world immediately. The people who play games for real money trade are called "gold farmers" in the game world. Since gamers often refer to the Chinese gaming workers as "Chinese farmers" and the gaming factories as "gold farms," I will adopt their terminology. From August 2005 to January 2006, I conducted research in four Chinese gold farms and investigated how the farm owners manage the production and distribution of virtual commodities across the border between the virtual and the real as well as the border between nations. I also tried to find out what this job, combining work and play, means to Chinese gold farmers and how it feels like to live at this peculiar intersection of the virtual and the real.