Mobilizing the Depths of the Market: Motivation Research and the Making of the Disembedded Consumer

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Twentieth-century consumer society was characterized by a process of disembedding as described by Karl Polanyi in The Great Transformation (2001 [1944]). The Austro-American consumer researcher Ernest Dichter played a key role in preparing the ideological framework necessary for this process to succeed. In order to assess Dichter’s role and that of psychoanalytic motivation research in general in the creation of the idea of the disembedded consumer, this article presents an analysis of Dichter’s unpublished consumer research reports ranging across different countries and industries between 1939 and 1973. Through content analysis and historical contextualization, I show that Ernest Dichter in particular and psychoanalytic motivation research in general were instrumental in removing from market relationships the invisible hand of social norms. The case of the consumer psychoanalyst Ernest Dichter thus provides new insights into the sociocultural mechanisms by which theorizing in consumer research can influence the objects of its theorizing.
TidsskriftMarketing Theory
Udgave nummer1
Sider (fra-til)39-57
Antal sider19
StatusUdgivet - mar. 2015


  • Disembedding
  • Ernest Dichter
  • Karl Polanyi
  • Market Society
  • Motivation Research
  • Pleasure Principle
  • Psychoanalysis
  • Therapeutic Ethos