An Overview of Academic Consumer Interest Research in Canada (ca02844)

Part Three: Networking Models Used in Consumer Interest Research

Academic CIR Networking in Canada

There are no formal research networks in Canada that focus specifically on CIR. However, some networks in CIR-related sub-disciplines are facilitating constructive exchanges with respect to CIR-relevant knowledge.

At the Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM), the Groupe de recherche en droit international et comparé de la consommation (GREDICC) has been active since 2003. GREDICC works on the development of a network of experts in the study of consumer laws throughout the Americas. The centre gathers together professors and researchers from UQAM and from other Quebec, Canadian and foreign universities. Its networking activities include the organization of seminars, conferences and training, notably co-organizing a major summer school programme. GREDICC also produces a number of publications, and offers assistance to a number of governmental and community organizations.Footnote 41

The aforementioned Agriculture Policy Research Network's Consumer and Market Demand Network (page 8) is another example of a consumer issue-focussed network for Canadian researchers.

Now in its 42nd year, the Annual Workshop on Commercial and Consumer Law also offers a research networking opportunity for legal scholars across Canada.Footnote 42 Founded by Professor Jacob S. Ziegel (Professor Emeritus at the University of Toronto) the Workshop encourages discussions of new research and disseminates results through the publication of proceedings.Footnote 43 Similarly, the Canadian Law and Economics Association's annual meetings have often included sessions of relevance for CIR.Footnote 44

From the well-established home economics CIR area, some networking support is provided through the Canadian Home Economics Foundation (CHEF). Its mission includes providing financial assistance for home economics research and supporting post-secondary education related to the home economics profession.Footnote 45 For example, CHEF has supported Financial Forum 4, "a conference for academics and professionals with backgrounds in home economics, human ecology, family studies or related fields who work with families on financial matters".Footnote 46 CHEF also gives an annual juried best paper award for both undergraduate and graduate level scholarship, many of which have had a consumer focus. The Ontario Home Economics Association also manages some awards and scholarships.Footnote 47

Other organizations across Canada are also offering some networking opportunities where CIR scholars can present their research. For example, in Québec, the aforementioned Fondation Claude Masse has supported four CIR-related conferences since 2003Footnote 48, and in 2009, the Office de la protection du consommateur began its support of a biennial conference on a consumer interest theme, which is organized by consumer groups and includes presentations by a number of CIR scholars.Footnote 49

International Networks Involved in Academic CIR

Various models have been used to provide structure to networks in the academic CIR field, ranging from simple online networks for baseline diffusion of research-related information to formal, structured networks grouped under an institution, with various types of supporting activities (peer-reviewed journal, annual conference, etc.).

Initiated in 2003, the European Consumer Citizenship Network (CCN) was a multidisciplinary network of educators from 123 higher education institutions. Representatives from UNESCO, UNEP and international citizenship and consumer organizations were also included in the CNN. Network participants focused on issues dealing with "the balance between material and non-material wellbeing and how one can translate ethical values into everyday practice through conscientious participation in the market".Footnote 50 The CCN was evaluated as "…an excellent forum for the development of ideas on Consumer Citizenship Education (CCE). (…) [that] encouraged research and development, provided channels for publications, enhanced the status of CCE as an academic discipline…".Footnote 51 The CCN was financially supported between 2003 and 2009, by the EC ERASMUS Academic Networks program. It has evolved into the Partnership for Education and Research about Responsible Living (PERL), which has obtained EC funding for its second three-year project plan (2012-2015).Footnote 52

Another EU-funded initiative is the CONsumer Competence Research Training (CONCORT) grant programFootnote 53, a four-year project that commenced in 2011. It aims to train early stage researchers in the new consumer competence perspective. CONCORT partners include three business schools, two universities, and three corporate partners. The initiative seeks to offer "an optimal blend between traditional training methods, innovative learning instruments, and thorough practice training through industrial secondments" recognizing that "Consumer research is scattered across several disciplines in the social sciences with little communication occurring between research and practice".Footnote 54

Sub-regional networks also exist in Europe, notably the collaboration on consumer-oriented research in Nordic countries. ConriN, a network of consumer researchers in the Nordic countries, has about 320 members.Footnote 55 The Network is coordinated by the Centre for Consumer Studies, CFK, an interdisciplinary research centre established in 2001 at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden.Footnote 56

National consumer research networks and institutions also abound in Europe. Norway and Finland each have government-based research institutions devoted to consumer research.Footnote 57 Germany recently provided another example for the development of a consumer research network. In November 2011, the German Federal Ministry of Nutrition, Agriculture and Consumer Protection (BMELV) announced a new independent consumer research network. The network's activities will focus on interdisciplinary scientific research in the interest of consumers, by bringing together "scientists of different disciplines such as sociologists, jurists/attorneys, and economists for joint consumer research activities across disciplinary boundaries".Footnote 58 A 2004 BMELV working document on consumer policy research had emphasized the importance of networking:

The networking of science plays an important role in the promotion of research. The representatives of the new research into consumer policy need to form groups of experts which are structurally visible for the new type of consumer policy research in order to have the opportunity of being integrated into existing cooperation programmes funded by national and international sponsors.

(Leonhäuser 2004)

European scholars have also developed topic-specific networks. For example, the Competition Law Scholars Forum connects members of university law schools for whom competition law is a significant focus of work. It promotes competition law scholarship, notably through biannual workshops and the publication of a scholarly journal, the Competition Law Review.Footnote 59 In the field of sociology, the Consumption Research Network has been active in the European Sociological Association since the early 1990s, "and has drawn scholars from across Europe for discussions at the cutting edge of social and cultural debate on consumption".Footnote 60

Well-established initiatives in the United States include the American Council on Consumer Interests (ACCI), which has been a key CIR-related network since 1953. It is a membership organization for academics and other professionals involved in consumer and family economics. Through its community, the ACCI promotes the consumer interest by encouraging, producing and communicating policy-relevant research. Its activities include an annual multidisciplinary conference and the publication of a well-respected peer-reviewed journal, the Journal of Consumer Affairs.Footnote 61

A second example is the American Association of Family and Consumer Sciences (AAFCS), another significant source of CIR-related networking activities. Its members include academics and other professionals whose work assists individuals, families, and communities in making informed decisions about their well being, relationships, and resources to achieve optimal quality of life. Its activities include a long-standing annual conference, webinars, and online communities (with tools like discussion boards, wikis, and shared event calendars). The AAFCS is also the society responsible for the publication of the Family & Consumer Sciences Research Journal.Footnote 62

Formed in 1999, the Consumer Studies Research Network (CSRN) is another CIR-related network in the U.S. It seeks to foster dialogue and debate among scholars who are interested in, and concerned about, the place of goods and commodities in social life. Its activities include a bi-annual newsletter and an email discussion list to facilitate exchanges on the most recent scholarship in the field of consumption studies. In 2011, CSRN representatives proposed, and were granted, a new section status within the American Sociological Association, on Consumers and Consumption.Footnote 63

The Sustainable Consumption Research and Action Initiative (SCORAI) provides an example of a U.S.-based multidisciplinary network with international affiliates. It is an international network of academics and practitioners whose members "are seeking to facilitate the design of a coherent research program that forges connections between scholars and communities of practice and contributes to an ongoing policy dialogue on these interrelated issues".Footnote 64

The Canadian academic CIR community has actively engaged with many of these American networks. A number of Canadian CIR researchers are members of these associations, and networking events are sometimes held in Canada.Footnote 65 There have also been examples of Canadian representation in the governance structures of some American-based CIR groups.Footnote 66

Footnotes

Footnote 41

See the GREDICC website.

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Footnote 42

See the 2012 program on the website of Dalhousie University, the host for the 2012 edition.

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Footnote 43

See the 2012 Workshop page.

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Footnote 44

For example, see the 2012 program: www.canlecon.org/public/conferences/3/schedConfs/3/program-en_US.pdf.

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Footnote 45

See the 2011 conference website.

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Footnote 46

See the 2012 conference website.

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Footnote 47

See the Association's website.

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Footnote 48

See Fondation Claude Masse Website: Formation et Education and Publication des textes du colloque « La publicité, arme de persuasion massive—Les défis de l’encadrement législatif » .

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Footnote 49

See information on the 2011 conference (in French).

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Footnote 50

See the Network's archived website .

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Footnote 51

See PERL Newsletter, Issue 1—March 2010,, page 4.

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Footnote 52

PERL, another initiative supported by the EC, aims to advance education for responsible living by focusing on consumer citizenship, education for sustainable consumption, social innovation and sustainable lifestyles. Its work continues in line with that of the CCN, but has expanded globally in terms of partnerships and has broadened its scope to explicitly include sustainability activities that do not focus on consumption. See the Partnership's web site.

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Footnote 53

See the CONCORT website.

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Footnote 54

See information on a CONCORT partner page.

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Footnote 55

See the Network's web page, and the database of researchers (ConriN).

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Footnote 56

See the Centre's website at the School of Business, Economics and Law, University of Gothenburg.

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Footnote 57

SIFO, the National Institute for Consumer Research in Norway, is a government institute that is solely concerned with consumer research. Finland's National Consumer Research Centre is a research institution under the Ministry of Employment and the Economy.

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Footnote 58

See the BMELV information provided in English.

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Footnote 59

See the Forum's website.

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Footnote 60

See ESA Consumption Research Network Webiste.

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Footnote 61

See the Council's website .

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Footnote 62

See the AAFCS website.

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Footnote 63

See the Network's website.

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Footnote 64

See the Network's website and its 2013 conference website.

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Footnote 65

For example, a 2012 Workshop of SCORAI.

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Footnote 66

For example, Dr. Robert Kerton, Distinguished Professor Emeritus and Adjunct Professor of Economics at the University of Waterloo. is past President of the American Council on Consumer Interests (2003–04).

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