Unpacking What a 'Relationship' Means to Commercial Buyers: How the Relationship Metaphor Creates Tension and Obscures Experience

24 Pages Posted: 22 Jul 2012

See all articles by Christopher Phillips Blocker

Christopher Phillips Blocker

Colorado State University

Mark Houston

Texas Christian University

Daniel Flint

affiliation not provided to SSRN

Multiple version iconThere are 2 versions of this paper

Date Written: June 28, 2011

Abstract

Scholars apply the relationship metaphor as a default conceptual lens to understand commercial interactions. Yet whereas the relationship paradigm sheds light on how the socially embedded structure of these interactions impacts their outcomes, the relationship metaphor can also obscure scholarly understanding of business buyers’ experiences. Results of an interpretive study drawing on depth interviews demonstrate that buyers’ colloquial use of “relationship” language is ubiquitous. However, buyers’ narratives reveal instrumentally saturated emic meanings and felt tensions for the notion of expressive relationships with suppliers, which manifest deep conceptual friction with the constellation of etic relationship properties and constructs used by scholars to explain business interactions. Using Bauman’s sociological commentary on liquid modernity, analyses indicate that framing these interactions as “connections” is a more theoretically congruent lens for viewing buyers’ experiences. Implications for understanding buyers’ desire for relational bonds and recasting ironic “dark side” research findings offer challenges for relationship marketing research.

Keywords: Relationship metaphor, Expressive relationships, Liquid modernity

JEL Classification: M30, M31

Suggested Citation

Blocker, Christopher Phillips and Houston, Mark and Flint, Daniel, Unpacking What a 'Relationship' Means to Commercial Buyers: How the Relationship Metaphor Creates Tension and Obscures Experience (June 28, 2011). Journal of Consumer Research, Vol. 38, No. 5, p. 886, February 2012. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2101427

Christopher Phillips Blocker (Contact Author)

Colorado State University ( email )

Fort Collins, CO 80523

Mark Houston

Texas Christian University ( email )

Fort Worth, TX 76129
United States

Daniel Flint

affiliation not provided to SSRN ( email )

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