Herbert, Robert, and Saucède (2018), Going liquid: French food retail industry experiencing an interregnum

Consumption Markets & Culture

Published online: 25 Apr 2018



By calling the present condition of the French food retail industry an
interregnum, this research considers the impact of liquid modernity on this sector and looks for signs of a new order at a designing stage. Nine experts representing large retailers and entrepreneurs using alternative modes of food retailing were interviewed. An interpretive analysis reveals a wide diversity of changes. Following Bauman’s liquid metaphor, we identify shock, transformations, and crisis in food retailing, which we describe as phases that mark the dynamics in the shift from solid to liquid retailing. We discuss how retailers are adapting and deploying tactics both to respond and belong to these liquid times and how retailers can regain some legitimacy by claiming a role in territorial sovereignty.

Over the last decade, retail industry has undergone rapid and significant change (Rigby 2011; Verhoef, Kannan, and Inman 2015). Historical paradigms such as the Wheel of Retailing (WoR) (Hollander 1960; McNair 1931, 1958) or the “Big Middle” mass market (Levy et al. 2005) have already been questioned and revisited (Arnould 2005; Brown 1991; Peñaloza 2014). These now seem quite obsolete and ill-adapted to the contemporary world and specifically to our understanding of the complex processes supporting “market agencing” (Cochoy, Trompette, and Araujo 2016). The well-worn WoR theory was first developed in the late 1930s as a theoretical basis for understanding the growth of the large-scale retailing industry. Although it has been improved and challenged, this economic, mechanistic, and rationalized stance is more prone to be related to solid modernity (Bauman 1989). Liquid modern society (Bauman 2000) calls for critical and cultural perspectives on the adaptation of retailers to its constant changes. Liquid life cannot keep its shape for long because it fails to provide the conditions to consolidate our actions into habits or routines (Bauman 2005).
Liquid life and liquid modern society feed each other and the strategies that actors deploy age quickly and cannot rely on past events (Bauman 2000, 2005). Is liquid modernity an era in which all agents in society need to get used to free-floating and uncertainty (Bauman 2000, 2005) or, as Bauman later stated, a time of interregnum (Bauman 2012), i.e. an interstitial period between an old order and a new one that needs to be qualified?

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