Gender Research, Consumer Behavior and Consumer Culture
An understanding of gender- its diversity and plurality- is rudimentary to gaining a complete understanding of the world (Davis et al. 2006b). Whereas the decade of the 90’s witnessed an upsurge in papers that emphasized significance of feminist perspectives (Bristor and Fischer 1991; Hirschman 1991; Hirschman 1993); critiques of gender dichotomies and inclusion of the marginalized others (Peñaloza 1994); and significance of body rituals in gender production and consumption (Joy and Venkatesh 1994); however, majority of the studies on gender research were restricted to considering gender as a variable, and researchers were mainly interested in examining the effects of gender on various phenomena, one such example being, sex-themed advertising (Dahl et al. 2009). Bettany et al. (2010) posit such research to be predominantly ‘sex difference’ research that falls short of the critical and political headway fundamental to the development of culture and society. Under the circumstances, the authors underscore the substantial potential of gender and feminist research in supplying cutting-edge insights within consumer studies, and propel researchers to recontemplate the previously sanctioned understanding of gender. In this write-up, I make an attempt to delineate some broad consumption-related categories where gender research (including LGBT studies) has attracted attention from scholars; and in so doing, I present some new ideas that could add to the extant richness of gender-related research in CCT.
Place and space- LGBT districts
A number of marketing and consumer researchers have reflected upon the notions of place and space in the context of LGBT consumers. Whereas the perspective of ‘gay villages’ envisages LGBT districts as commercial servicescapes similar to a tourist destination (Haslop et al. 1998), the much-confirmed view of ‘gay ghettos’ conceives these as subcultural places of community and resistance much like a refugee camp (Kates 2002). In fact, some researchers advocate a ‘post-gay’ era of LGBT mainstreaming where sexuality no longer remains the presiding identity (Ng 2013). However, a holistic understanding of such places necessitates precluding a single encompassing narrative and instead focusing on the broader urban contexts (Coffin et al. 2016). In the context of LGBT districts, researchers have predominantly focussed their attention on actions and interactions within a particular LGBT location; hence, plenty remains unaccomplished. Semiotic relationships between places should be explored besides conducting studies comparing two or more cities with LGBT districts and those examining cities where LGBT districts are yet to emerge (Coffin et al. 2016).
Gender and Advertising
Gender research also finds its place in advertising that has been long sighted as a medium of cultural communication, but that which still continues to “…reproduce, a world divided by cultural gender roles” (Bettany et al. 2010, p.5). ). Resorting to post-modern feminism, Bristor (1993) provided insights into how advertisements reinforce the male-female power hierarchy that places women in a disadvantageous position as compared with men. Whereas the portrayal of women as beguiling sex objects in Ms. magazine is well-documented (Ferguson et al. 1990), studies have also highlighted how sex-discrimination and sex-role stereotyping is dealt with in advertising (Glefjell 1991). Iennon (1993) examined the changing gender roles and appearances in the new generation of Star Trek. In contrast to studies directed at women, research attention was also directed towards the idealized images of masculinity in advertising (Fischer and Halpenny 1993). Additionally, Kates (1999) borrows queer theory from the discipline of humanities and integrates it with queer deconstruction in order to uncover the ways in which discourses on heteronormativity apprises gay representation in advertising, and furthers our understanding of advertising.
Gender and Brands
S. Kates (2000) explores the theoretical relationships between brand relationships in constructing gay community, and demonstrates how gay men constructed alternative brand meanings which may be quite different from the intentional positioning of market offerings. In a subsequent paper, (Kates 2004) examines the ways brands are co-created in a non-brand-focused community of gay men, and makes evident how certain brands gain legitimacy through existing frames and process of dynamic framing.
Gender and Technology
Gender plays a role in the adoption and use of technologically-based products (Bamossy 1993). The authors showed the similarities and differences between boys and girls in their attitudes, learning skills, and beliefs towards personal computer thereby shedding new light regarding gender socialization with respect to high technology products. Additionally, Rudell has studied gender differences in the context of technology though projective technique (Rudell 1989) and a structured attitude survey (RUDELL 1990).
Gender and International perspectives
Gender research in consumer studies have also been addressed from a myriad of international perspectives. Gender divisions in Zimbabwe were shown to shape as well as be shaped by consumption (Jacobs 1991). Another study, based on gender differences and working status for women in Turkey, describes the general profile and present situation of Turkish consumers (KOKTIIRK and KARAPAZA 1993). Recognizing the different ways in which consumer trends are unfolding in India, Venkatesh et al. (1993) turns over gender and identity politics in contemporary India. Walther and Schouten (2016) used Miller’s dialectical theory of material culture to study erotic consumption of Brazilian women. This ethnographic study with the key assumption of the agentic role of material objects examined how women are transformed by their relationship with the erotic products industry, and how the latter transformed by its relationship with the former (ibid).
Gender and Fashion
Gender research has been undertaken from a poststructuralist perspective in how gender distinctions are socially constructed (Benstock 2002). Rinallo et al. (2007), in alignment with the approach taken by Holt and Thompson (2004), analyzed the construction of masculine identity as it “moves through two moments of cultural production- mass culture discourse and everyday consumption practices” (p.77) by investigating both straight and gay men. Gendered consumption spaces in the context of weddings also attracted considerable attention from researchers (Englis and McGrath 1996; Ones 1996).
Gender, Intersectionality, and CCT
Intersectionality has been disparately reported as a concept (Crenshaw 1989), an analytical tool (Collins 1998), a paradigm (Hancock 2007), a buzzword (Davis 2008), and a perspective (Shields 2008). Intrinsically, it refers to the notion that every person in society is positioned at the intersection of multiple social axes, such as race, class, and gender where each position offers its own advantages and disadvantages (Gopaldas and Fischer 2012). “Although the term intersectionality has not been invoked in CCT thus far” (Gopaldas and Fischer 2012, p.399), some studies have examined human phenomena across multiple social axes. For example, within the body of CCT, the intersectionality of sex, gender-role attitudes, and gender identity to shape the Christmas gift-shopping culture has been examined (Fischer and Arnold 1990). The role of gender and class has also been addressed in the context of “leisure and hobbies, mass media viewing, the home, autos, clothing, sports, and so on” (Holt and Thompson 2004, p.437). The reason why studying gender against the backdrop of intersectionality theories is particularly important is tacitly captured in the Introduction of the Handbook of Gender and Women’s Studies, where the authors state:
“The binary divisions [of gender] override individual differences and intertwine with other major socially constructed differences- racial categorization, ethnic grouping, economic class, age, religion, and sexual orientation- which interact to produce a complex hierarchical system of dominance and subordination. Gender divisions not only permeate the individual’s sense of self, families, and intimate relationships, but also structure work, politics, law, education, medicine, the military, religions, and culture” (Davis et al. 2006a, p.2)
Gopaldas and Fischer (2012) underscore the necessity of examining overlooked structures and intersections in gender and marginalized groups, and focusing on not just how social identity structures are reproduced but also how they are transformed by marketers and consumers. The authors also emphasize on studying people falling within multiple marginalized groups.
Gender and Marginalized subcultures- LGBT
A host of sociological and psychological perspectives have been integrated to study consumption practices of marginalized subcultures, particularly gay men. Birtwistle et al. (2005) examined the significance of clothes for gay male consumers as semiotic markers for identity creation and communication, and shed light on the existence of gay specific codes which gay men choose to identify with and use in disparate situations. A social constructionist perspective was undertaken to understand the construction of gay male market based on identity projection (Keating and McLoughlin 2005). Rudd (1996) highlighted the explicit symbols the gay community uses to express gay identity. Freitas et al. (1996) explored the visibility issues and politics inherent in gay communities by examining the interconnections between queer communities and cultural spaces in the context of style. However, despite the protracted research on gay consumption, scant attention has been paid to study the phenomenon in the context of non-Western society (Hsieh and Wu 2011). Hence, the authors focused on gay men in Taiwan, and investigated the motivational factors underlying gay identity formation and evolvement of consumption patterns of gay men over their identity development process. Casey (2009) examined gay men’s motivations behind holidays and delved into the intersections of travel, sex and social class among gay males in Australia.
However, very few papers have focused on the discursive interplay between homosexual and heterosexual individuals/consumers. The dialectical interplay between companies and gay consumers has been examined to show the way firms’ strategies impact stereotyping and social acceptability of gays (Peñaloza 1996). In a similar vein, a dialogical interpretive frame has been resorted to show how homosexuality is constructed in terms of historically passing through the moral, social, and medical phases (Keating and McLoughlin 2005). This study marked a deviance from the previous studies (cf. (Belk 1988; Kates 1998; Kates and Belk 2001) that sought to understand identity as explored and mediated through consumption. Keating and McLoughlin (2005), through use of film representations, explores some of the social and historical forces that affect understanding of a gay identity and the ways in which such forces have shaped the gay market.
LGBT in Retail Settings
Critical reading of three studies that examined disadvantageous treatment of homosexuals in retail settings make plain the social acceptability of discrimination against gays and lesbians, and the cultural displeasure with consumers who belong to the class of sexual minorities (Walters and Moore 2002). Consequently, the authors suggest four different methodological studies- content analysis, ethnography, participant observation, and grounded theory- that may serve useful in gaining insights about dimensionalization of homophobia. Finally, the authors hold that researchers may have to resort to deceptive practices while collecting data on homophobia, and calls for more theoretical work to figure out the advantages and disadvantages of using such crafty practices (ibid).
LGBT and Carnivalesque
Carnivalesque and public celebration rituals that offer “liminal spaces” (Turner 1982), have gained considerable attention from consumer researchers (cf. (Belk 1994; Kates and Belk 2001) who see LGBT festivals as spaces where hidden power dynamics underlying social relations are exposed and inverted. Such studies resonate with the views of Bakhtin (1968) that emphasize carnivalesque as spaces where the excluded others could renegotiate conventional gender meanings. However, Kates* (2003), by drawing upon a postmodern stream of thought, furthers the understanding of these public celebrations as complex sites of contestation to question whether such events represent mere conventional gender subversion ideologies that challenge the status quo and festivals of commercialization. He shows how the Mardi Gras event has developed into a polysemous consumption phenomenon that embraces meanings from the political, artistic, and commercial realms, and as one where boundaries become blurred. He deviates from previous similar studies to show how the meanings of festivals evolve over time- from rebellious to commercialized, but all through entailing a dialectical tension, reflecting the wider social and political agendas in which the festival is embedded. Thus, Kates* (2003) presents a “spiral” model of appropriation and resistance with respect to oppositional gendered representations and meanings. This study openly enforced a dialogical interpretation of gay/straight dynamics (Visconti 2008). Further, Visconti (2008) examines the ways consumers manipulate meanings of objects in order to integrate the self and the object, and also how objects are deployed to mark social appurtenances. In turn, the author shows the fluidity in how gay and heterosexual consumers negotiate symbolic boundaries within and beyond the market. The findings “confirm gays’ discontinuous deployment of sexual orientation to define individual and social identities” (Visconti 2008, p.116). However, the author urges future researchers to investigate more fully the collaborative dynamics linking the gay and the heterosexual worlds, and also examine the way gays mutually contest different views of queer demarcations.
“…by highlighting economic power, is to only show interest in those with the necessary economic resources and ignore other more diverse segments. Finally, the perpetuation of this idealized segment is to potentially overemphasize the importance of sexuality because other aspects such as race, religion, and so forth could at different stages be the dominant facet of identity and consumption” (Keating and McLoughlin 2005, p.148). This also resonates with social critics such as Lasch (1991) who contest the Marxist view that happiness and fulfilment are provided by material objects. However, drawing on the notion of cultural things (Featherstone 1997), Castro (1997) points out how the preponderance of things over subject have taken us to a moment where today’s men and women “can have everything, but possess nothing (omnia habentes, nihil possidentes)” (p. 283). This view was also upheld in the LGPD study conducted by Kates and Belk (2001) where they mention that “it is necessary to question and challenge the rather one-sided argument that the commercial simply appropriates authentic ritual” (p. 421). These remarks, along with the statement by Gopaldas and Fischer (2012) that “…consumer researchers interested in studying gender, culture, and consumer behavior may benefit from going beyond gender to consider intersectionality” (p. 393) provides me with an urge to study a context of homosexuals in India- a country where religion has played a significant role in shaping Indian customs and traditions. Though homosexuality’s morality has not been explicitly questioned in the canonical sacred texts (such as the Rig Veda) fundamental to India’s largest religion, Hinduism, the religion has taken various stances towards the subject and practice of homosexuality. It would be interesting to study the consumption patterns of gay men in India, a country dominated by religious views, and hence present new findings from researching minority genders that are at the intersection of multiple social axes of gender and religion. Being a member of this community, I have personally interacted with many gay people who indulge in various religious and spiritual practices. Borrowing from Kates* (2003) the position on carnivalesque embodying a spiral of appropriation and subversion, I foresee such a pattern emerging even in LGBT consumption in India, though in a different context. My personal interactions with many gay men in India reveal that many of them do not believe in religion and idols, but speak of spirituality and higher forms. Does this also represent subversion- a dialectical tension- manifesting in religious notions? Do such consumption practices represent gay men’s resistance towards the religious mainstream status quo, or a feeling of superiority (narcissism) in that whereas their heterosexuals stick to lower religious base phenomena, gay men resort to higher forms such as spirituality? Moreover, using the notions of liminality Turner (1982), are spiritual consumption practices by Indian LGBT, a liminal affair- a true transformation- or a liminoid affair- a temporary, marginal, and constructed time and space apart from mainstream time and space- a kind of momentary and dramatic acting out (cf. (Kates* 2003). Or does it have to do with compensation- as a number of gay men in India indulge in reckless sexual practices (which in Hindu religion is regarded as lower animal instincts), do they kind of compensate for such indulgences through engaging with spiritual practices?
Gopaldas and Fischer (2012) suggest “examining social identity structures, categories, or intersections that have been relatively or entirely overlooked” in addition to overlooked intersections (p. 403) and multiple marginalized groups (p. 404-405). One such overlooked intersection that is also an exemplification of a multiple marginalized group (that may even be uneducated) is the economically disadvantaged homosexuals in India. Studying such groups also resonate with the views of Keating and McLoughlin (2005) to consider diverse segments that may not be endowed with economic resources, and the reference by Hsieh and Wu (2011) to study ethnicity, social class, and education (p. 412). India offers a rich context to study the phenomena, particularly because the income distribution in India is highly skewed; consequently, there is a rich segment of gay men, and a poor. It would be interesting to study, how within the backdrop of religious ideologies, elite gays’ consumption patterns differ from those of the economically disadvantaged gays. Can we say that elite gays construct an objective material referential point of identification, whereas the poor ones resort to subjective, non-material and even spiritual referential point of identification?
Also, the study by Kates (2002) suggests that subgroups exist within the gay subculture of consumption. Kates’s view also resonates with the findings by Visconti (2008) that symbolic boundaries originate from intra-community confrontations. Moreover, Visconti (2008) comments on how “femininity is always used to mark oppositions, whereas masculinity recurs in constructing affiliations” (p. 121). This relates with the multitude of views presented by Davis et al. (2006a) that “…the ‘masculine’ (whether as behavior or as a conceptual system) is both rewarded and hegemonic because it is taken for granted as the dominant perspective” (p. 2). The author states the prime endeavour of the second-wave feminism is to face down the masculine hegemony in the myriad of shapes and forms. Such patterns of discrimination also prevail within the LGBT community. This, to me, could be on grounds of sex positions (tops, bottoms, versatile, etc); body structure and physical attributes (lean, muscular, stocky, hairy, tall, etc); communities (Sikhs, Bengalis, Punjabis, etc); among others. An interesting area of study would be examining layers of ‘marginalization within marginalization’. This could also be addressed in the context of power and structure. Top gay men (ones who penetrates) are seen to me more representative of masculinity, whereas Bottom gay men (who get penetrated) are taken to be feminine. Swinging between the two are versatiles who are open to both, and often described as flip-flops. Even within such sub-categories, are further sub-categories namely total top, power top, service top, versatile top, etc, and likewise for bottoms. Such power dynamics in the context of LGBT communities open a wide window for future studies. Visconti (2008) clearly states “…power deployment also occurs within each community. The same ‘naming power’ that Visconti (2008) mentions as being used by heterosexuals about their gay minority (example- fags, queens, etc), are actually being used by gay men about other gay men, thereby creating power structures even with gay subculture. It is argued that gender dynamics can be beneficially analyzed both between and within genders (Connell 1992). Additionally, Visconti (2008) suggests that future research could be directed towards the way gays mutually contest different views of queer demarcations (p. 132), and can be a potential area to explore.
Changing material culture, which includes media, proffers a continuously emerging agenda of material and discursive resources for identity construction (Walther and Schouten 2016, p.9). As such social media in the context of LGBT consumers offer unexplored research avenues. Examining the dialectic of social media (such as Grindr, Scruff, Planetromeo) and Indian homosexuality also provides insightful research potential. For instance, the gay app, Grindr, has become immensely popular in India, and as such is a site not just for connecting with gay men for sex dates, but has also become a Housing assistance resource (where gay men seek roommates), and Job assistance site (where gay men seek employment). Such an app has also become a free space for advertisements where massage parlours display their gym-built male-to-male masseurs, and gay hair stylists and beauticians circularize their services. Assuming objects (here, Grindr) have an agentic role (cf. Miller’s dialectical theory of material culture), a point worth examining would be how both the gay app and the social construct, homosexuality are mutually reinforcing.
Another area to examine would be much unexplored lesbian market (S. Kates 2000; Hsieh and Wu 2011; Oakenfull 2012). Lesbians, on account of having different lifestyles and resulting behavior patterns as compared with gay males) may warrant a different treatment from gay males in the marketplace (Oakenfull 2012, p.976). The author mentions that lesbians are “less likely than gay men to socialize at gay bars or events, being more oriented toward private social and entertainment behavior, and less likely to live in urban neighbourhoods” (Oakenfull 2012, pp.976-977). Though Sender (2004) examines lesbian feminists’ rejection of conventional femininity through their consumption behaviors, yet lesbians may warrant a detailed study (Oakenfull 2012). Additionally, S.M. Kates (2000) suggests exploring whether lesbians reproduce different aspects or forms of feminist ideology with their purchases and consumer rituals. I would be more than happy to examine the lesbian consumption patterns in India (as this too comes under the theme of marginalization and consumption). My close link with the leaders of an NGO named Sappho for Equality (http://www.sapphokolkata.in/) would enable me to have respondents for long interviews. The NGO basically deals with the rights of lesbians, bisexual women, and transsexuals.
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Appendix: Key Themes, Key Sources, and Future Directions
|No.||Paper-Author-Journal||Key Themes||Key Sources||Future Directions|
|1.||Title: Revisiting the Ghetto: How the Meanings of Gay Districts Are Shaped by the Meanings of the City
Authors: Jack Coffin, Emma Banister, Anna Goatman
Advances in Consumer Research
|LGBT Districts- Ghettos, villages, post-gay era/ dissolution||Sociology and Geography||Negative consequences of commodification and thematization of LGBT culture on LGBT people and politics
Semiotic relationship of places
Comparative study of two or more cities within LGBT districts
Study cities where LGBT districts have not yet formed
|2.||Making the AD Perfectly Queer: Marketing “Normality” to the Gay Men’s Community?
Author: Steven M. Kates
Journal of Advertising
|Queer Theory. Queer Deconstruction||Humanities: Queer Theory (Butler), Deconstruction (Derrida)||Fuller understanding of the ‘rainbow rhetoric’|
|3.||Moving beyond gender opposition: Exploring the tapestry of gender in consumer research and marketing
Authors: Susan Bettany, Susan Dobscha, Lisa O’Malley, Andrea Prothero
|4.||Beyond Gender: Intersectionality, Culture, and Consumer Behavior
Authors: Ahir Gopaldas and Eileen Fischer
Chapter in Gender, Culture, and Consumer Behavior
|Intersectionality||Feminist discourses||Overlooked structures, categories and intersections
How social structures are not just reproduced but also transformed
Social Identity Structures in New Media
Marketer representation of multiple marginalized groups
Emotions as links between intersectional identities and consumer behavior
|5.||Next Stop, Pleasure Town: Identity transformation and Women’s erotic consumption
Authors: Luciana Walther and John W. Schouten
Journal of Business Research
|Sexuality||Anthropology- Daniel Miller’s Dialectical Theory of Material Culture||Review Belk’s seminal work on the extended self from a more materialist standpoint
Changing material culture, which includes media, provides evolving menu of material and discursive resources for identity construction
|6.||Gay Men’s Identity Attempt Pathway and Its Implication on Consumption
Authors: Ming Huei Hsieh and Shu Ling Wu
Psychology and Marketing
|Gay Consumption, Gay Identity||Sociology and Psychology, Homosexual Identity Theories||Lesbian Market
Issues of ethnicity, social class, and education have not been considered (also resonates with intersectionality)
Marginalized gays within the gay subculture
|7||Out of the Closet and Out on the Street!: Gay Men and Their Brand Relationships
Author: Steven M. Kates
Psychology and Marketing
|Brand relationships, gay community construction||Sociological perspective||What is gay lifestyle and how is it articulated with gay politics over the last few decades?
Study lesbians- Do lesbians reproduce different aspects or forms of feminist ideology with their purchases and consumer rituals?
|8||The Protean Quality of Subcultural Consumption: An Ethnographic Account of Gay Consumers
Author: Steven M. Kates
Journal of Consumer Research
|9||The Dynamics of Brand Legitimacy: An Interpretive Study in Gay Men’s Community
Author: Steven M. Kates
Journal of Consumer Research
|Brand Legitimacy||Institutional Theory (views company and their brands as embedded in both the economic and institutional environments)||Probe into individual and private consumption contexts: under what circumstances do individual consumers and family consciously adhere to competing legitimate norms when consuming?
Investigate how brands lose their carefully constructed social fits with communities and through what carefully managed brand behaviors they regain them?
|10||The Meanings of Lesbian and Gay Pride Day
Authors: Steven M. Kates and Russell W. Belk
Journal of Consumer Ethnography
|LGPD (Lesbian and Gay Pride Day)
Consumption-related consumer resistance
|Consumer Culture||This research only relied on depth interviews with gay men. The unique perspectives of lesbians and straight audiences on LGPD are also important.
Longitudinal research may prove valuable insights in tracking the festival’s commercial and political development over the years.
|11||Gay Consumers and Brand Usage: The Gender-Flexing Role of Gay Identity
Author: Gillian Oakenfull
Psychology and Marketing
|Gender Identity Congruity,
|Sex studies and Psychology||Consider exploring the lesbian market.
Extend the research to bisexuals and TG’s
Role of sexual orientation in consumers’ sex-typing of products.
Is there a role for androgyny in the sex typing of products and brands?
To what extent to products and brands have a sexual orientation?
|12||Metro/ Fashion/ Tribes of men: Negotiating the boundaries of men’s legitimate consumption
Author: Diego Rinallo
In Consumer Tribes: Theory, Practice, and Prospects
|Construction of masculine identity||Holt and Thompson (2004); Foucault’s ideas of power.|
|13||Gay market and social behaviors in (de)constructing symbolic boundaries
Author: L.M. Visconti
Consumption Markets & Culture
|Gay market, social behaviors, deconstruction of symbolic boundaries||Holt’s (1997) post-structuralist consumer approach, and
Keating and McLoughlin’s (2005) quest to investigate gay/mainstream dynamics beyond the mere market economy.
|Investigate more fully the collaborative dynamics linking the gay and the heterosexual worlds
Investigate the symbolic boundaries originating from intra-community confrontations
How gays mutually contest different views of queer demarcations
The way branding is conditioned by sexual orientation- as gays present distinctive features in terms of brand attitude and attachment
|14||Producing and Consuming Gendered Representations: An Interpretation of the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras
Author: Steven M. Kates
Consumption, Markets & Culture
|Carnivalesque (Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras)||Postmodern streams of thought; Liminality (Turner)||A longitudinal research to study evolution of previously marginalized public celebrations into mainstream presentational and consumption rituals|
|15||Understanding the Emergence of Markets: A Social Constructionist Perspective on Gay Economy
Author: Andrew Keating and Daniel McLoughlin
Consumption Markets & Culture
|Gay Identity, Gay Market||Theories of Social Constructionism, Film Theories
Facets studied: Ideology, power, and language
|Study identity not only to explore consumption, but also other aspects outside of it such as race, religion, etc.|
|16||Attention All Shoppers, Queer Customers in Aisle Two: Investigating Lesbian and Gay Discrimination in the Marketplace
Authors: Andrew S. Walters and Lisa J. Moore
Consumption Markets & Culture
|Homophobia, Lesbian and Gay Discrimination||Critical reading of three studies||Four potential methodological strategies are proposed to gain insights about how homophobia is dimensionalized:
Use of deception in research may be required sometimes