Russell W. Belk

Kraft Foods Canada Chair in Marketing, Schulich School of Business, York University

RussellBelkProf. Belk has been involved in understanding the meanings of possessions, collecting, gift-giving, sharing, and materialism across cultures using a variety of research methods. He has received a number of awards including Society of Marketing Advances Distinguished Marketing Scholar Award (2013), Best Professor in Marketing, World Education Congress (2012), Sheth Foundation/Journal of Consumer Research Award for Long Term Contribution to Consumer Research (2005). His more recent works are related to understanding the extended digital self of consumers.

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Q.)Please discuss on of the most interesting findings/ideas from your research.

Dr. Belk > I have proposed the idea that the self does not stop with the skin, but is extended outward into our possessions and the environment. Thus we are in a psychological sense enlarged when we have a musical instrument, weapon, or tool. We draw our identity, at least in part, from our grooming, clothing, home, and the objects we use daily. Our self also extends outwardly to include people. So closest to us are our hair, body parts, cosmetics, and clothing; next come our personal possessions; and then at the aggregate rather than individual level of self our family friends, neighborhood, state, and nation. 

Q.)What do you think are important issues in Cognition and related areas? 

Dr Belk > Cognition is not my area, but Andy Clark and a number of others recognize that the mind is an extended mind and also extends outward into the world. When we rely on road signs or a GPS for directions, do calculations on a computer, have word processing software check our spelling, or look something up in books or on the Internet, these are instances of the mind extending beyond the brain. We need to know more about how new electronic affordances are being used and how this is affecting the structure of our brains and thinking.

Q.) How did you get interested in the research you love doing?

I was researching the area of materialism and what having or wanting possessions does to our sense of self and our feelings of well-being. I had done a number of projects on person perception–sort of the opposite perspective looking at the inferences we make about others based on their possessions. Everywhere we look, in a consumer society more and more seems to be about the importance of things. The relationships between people and things is a fundamental and challenging area. I love a good intellectual challenge.

Q.)  What would be your message to invite the younger minds ?

Read promiscuously–anything and everything. Go where your curiosity leads you. Develop a large tool kit full of diverse methods, both qualitative and quantitative so you can draw on the most appropriate tools for a given problem. Don’t get locked into seeing a problem in an old and familiar way. Travel, talk to others about what interests you, and always be curious.

(As sent to Sumitava Mukherjee, Aug 2014)

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