Decolonizing Identity Theory: An Islamic Epistemology for Consumer Research

Fatima Alansari, Susan Dunnett, Victoria Rodner

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

Drawing from decolonial marketing research, this study queries Western constructions of the self and identity by challenging hegemonic perspectives on theory and epistemology. In their review of hierarchies of knowledge, Kravets and Varman (2022) lamented how “marketing remains overwhelmingly Eurocentric in theoretical canon and in what counts as knowledge” (p.128) and called for further research on decolonizing the academy and our (predominately) Western knowledgescapes. In answering this call, we have seen how scholars have address epistemic injustices inherent in knowledge hierarchies (Hutton and Cappellini, 2022), critique how socio-spatial labels and scales (e.g. ‘emerging’) help legitimize difference (Sandikci, 2022), highlight the ‘toxicity’ of neo-colonial academics trying to play catch up to their Western counterparts (Yalkin and Özbilgin, 2022), examine how non-Western institutions perpetuate colonialism in the institutional work they do (Jafari, 2022), and assess how linguistic imperialism (i.e. English) reinforces Eurocentric knowledge and a coloniality of power (Hemais, Pessôa and Barros, 2022). Working in the shadow of this body of work and a decolonial turn in marketing (Hemais and dos Santos, 2020; Dussel, 2002), this study proposes Islamic Epistemology (IE onwards) as an indigenous paradigm that affords novel theorizing of the self and identity which goes beyond Eurocentric logic and Western paradigms that narrowly favor a neoliberal lens. In adopting IE, our reconceptualization of the self and identity considers colonialities of power, knowledge and being (Quijano, 1991; de Oliveira, 2021).

We understand that marketing studies tend to focus on “hegemonic narratives developed in the Global North” (de Oliveira, 2021: 92) and as such have marginalised or silenced non-Western knowledge systems and perspectives. In particular, Sandikci (2022) makes the case that as academics “rely on Eurocentric conceptualization of subjectivity, community, person-object relationships and cosmology they ultimately reproduce the prevailing Western accounts of consumption and marketing” (p. 142). Indeed, Manzoor (1991) argues that adopting Western epistemologies is akin to “looking at ourselves in the mirror of the West” (p.56) for Muslim scholars. Instead, he urges academics working in Muslim contexts to inquire and produce knowledge with an Islamic worldview and an indigenous cosmovision.

In our study, we use IE to build understandings of Muslim conceptions of self and identity, which we believe can expand our theorizing of consumer research more broadly. In our critical review of the literature, we have traced through key perspectives and epistemologies that have underpinned current thinking around self and identity, revealing how consumer research has largely followed an existential line of thinking (cf. Nietzsche and Sartre) not least Belk’s (1988) seminal work on the extended self which is heavily influenced by existentialists James (1890) and Sartre (1943). Building on a worldview that understands existence as precedent to essence led to a theorization of neoliberal identity projects, where consumers construct a sense of self through material possessions. Belk’s (1988) work, which remains largely unchallenged, paved the way for further theorizing of consumers and their possessions (e.g., Holt, 1995, 1998; Holt & Thompson, 2004) and the consumption of experiences (e.g., Shankar & Fitchett, 2002). Essentially, the self is seen to be constructed and enacted in the material world (e.g., Elliott & Wattanasuwan, 1998; Romu, 2009; Tonner, 2012) so that our identity projects are actively created by agential consumers through marketplace objects and experiences (Wallendorf & Arnould, 1988). In an effort to move beyond this view, we propose a non-Western epistemology that is not underpinned by existential thought but rather on a duality of essence and existence (Al-Faruqi, 2001). While an IE acknowledges the materialistic world as a source for knowledge, it pushes beyond the material and refers to Devine texts as data sources and guides for our socio-material and spiritual existence. In applying IE to social science research, one must refer to revelation as a means of understanding social phenomena: we see value in this approach and argue that IE affords new modes of knowing that have been previously overlooked in our field.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 12 Jan 2024
Event12th EIASM Interpretive Consumer Research Workshop - Malaga, Spain
Duration: 18 Apr 202419 Apr 2024


Workshop12th EIASM Interpretive Consumer Research Workshop
Internet address

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • identity
  • self concept
  • consumer research
  • Epistemology
  • decolonial research methods


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