Emory Report
February 5, 2007
Volume 59, Number 18

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February 5, 2007
Sheth connects the dots of consumer behavior at faculty lecture

by kim urquhart

Ketchup and salsa, parsley and paneer are key ingredients in Charles Kellstadt Professor of Marketing Jagdish Sheth's lecture that will link food preferences around the world, as well as shelter and clothing, to climatic differences. In his Distinguished Faculty Lecture, "Climate, Culture and Consumption: Connecting the Dots," set for 4 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 6 in the Dobbs University Center Winship Ballroom, Sheth will examine how climate affects culture and consumption.

"We know that all civilized societies have three basic necessities: food, shelter and clothing," Sheth explained. "We know that in these activities nations and cultures vary enormously, but even local cultures within a large nation vary enormously." Sheth wants to know why they vary.

"The prevailing wisdom and academic explanations are that most of these consumption differences in the basic necessities of life are due to language, religion or ethnicity," Sheth said. "It is my view that most of these consumption differences are not as much cultural as climatic differences, because cultural differences themselves are ultimately climatic differences."

"The fundamental discovery is very simple," Sheth said. "As you go farther away from the equator, there is a lack of vegetation from which to consume food, shelter and clothing."   Consumer behavior varies most significantly in countries with a large north-south axis, such as India, Italy and the United States.

While the modern age migration of people, technology and work creates some distortions, climate still remains a dominant factor in consumption and cultural differences. "It's very interesting," he said. "A warm climate person cannot bring his or her habits into colder climates without adaptation, and vice versa."

While Sheth said that the audience will find most of his presentation to be "intuitive," he warned that certain portions may be controversial.

For example, Sheth will argue that climatic differences also explain why the industrial revolution originated in Britain and Germany, while basic math and science discoveries came from Greece and Italy.

"There is some truism to the basic saying 'necessity is the mother of invention,'" Sheth said. Most inventions were created to tame or leverage some aspect of Mother Nature, he explained.

Climate can also explain more fundamental differences among countries with respect to attitudes about time, as well as differences in whether the individual or the institution is more important in a society. Sheth, who has authored more than 200 research papers and a dozen books on marketing theory, global competitive strategy, relationship marketing and demographics, expects to release a book based on the contents of this lecture in 2008.

Part of Emory's Founders Week celebration, the Distinguished Faculty Lecture is an annual tradition sponsored by the Faculty Council.   "The Distinguished Faculty Lecture is an opportunity for the entire Emory community to hear the discoveries and insights of one of the university's distinguished professors," said Thomas Frank, president of the Faculty Council and professor in the Candler School of Theology. "It is a significant forum for stimulating the continuing intellectual life and creative ferment of the University."