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Joseph Malherek

Émigré Scientists of the Quotidian: Market Research and the American Consumer Unconscious, 1933-1976

My dissertation, “Émigré Scientists of the Quotidian: Market Research and the American Consumer Unconscious, 1933-1976,” is a transnational intellectual and cultural history that examines the role played by a cohort of Central European market researchers and designers in the creation of modern American consumer culture.  Each of four principal figures I consider—Paul Lazarsfeld, Ernest Dichter, Walter Landor, and Victor Gruen—was a German-speaking Jew who fled the rise of Nazism in the 1930s and established a very successful career in the United States.  Although they all contributed their specialized knowledge and skills to the marketing strategies of American, consumer-oriented businesses, they worked in different fields: Lazarsfeld was a sociologist who practiced his technique, developed his methodologies, and supported his academic institutes by doing market research; Dichter was a psychologist who offered a kind of Freudian psychoanalysis as a consulting service for businesses and advertising agencies; Landor was an industrial designer and graphic artist who created attractive packages for consumer products; and Gruen was an architect who first imagined the suburban shopping center as a pedestrian space with malls and courts that fostered community as much as it facilitated commerce.  Lazarsfeld, Dichter, and Gruen were from Vienna, which, in the course of their lifetimes, transformed from a liberalized imperial capital, to a hotbed of social democracy, to an outpost of fascism.  Landor, meanwhile, was from Munich—the other city in which Adolf Hitler developed his virulent, absolutist form of anti-Semitism.

While the work of Lazarsfeld and Dichter influenced the strategies of marketers, Gruen and Landor labored to produce the objects and physical environments that were the material manifestation of postwar consumerism.  Their contributions to the material culture of American consumer capitalism were marked by distinctly European elements: the leftist ideology of Austro-Marxism; the radical experiment in social democracy that characterized interwar Vienna; emerging trends in empirical sociology; Freudian psychoanalysis; the modernist aesthetic ethos of the German Bauhaus movement; and the ideal of cosmopolitan internationalism that motivated many German-speaking Jewish intellectuals in Vienna, Berlin, Prague, and Budapest.  This dissertation explores the surprising ways in which a cohort of émigrés integrated these Continental ideas and aesthetic sensibilities into the day-to-day operation of the burgeoning consumer economy of postwar America.  Relative to existing scholarship, which is vexed by the problem of consumer agency and segregated into several historical genres, this thesis uses documents of the work of market researchers and designers to explain the complexity of consumers’ behaviors and motivations, and it synthesizes the methods of intellectual, business, and cultural history in the style of the new history of capitalism.  My research shows that, from a business perspective, consumers’ choices and behaviors were never taken for granted; instead, consumers were intensely studied and even feared for their whims and unpredictability.



Ph.D., George Washington University, 2015: American studies, Columbian College of Arts and SciencesB.A., University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, 2002: Graduated summa cum laude, College of Liberal Arts; political science, cultural studies and comparative literature


Selected Fellowships, Awards, and Grants

J. Franklin Jameson Fellowship in American History, American Historical Association and John W. Kluge Center, Library of Congress, 2016–17; Travel Fellowship, Richard J. Daley Library, University of Illinois at Chicago, 2016; Leo Baeck Essay Prize, 2016; NEH Postdoctoral Fellowship, Consortium for History of Science, Technology & Medicine, 2015–16; Peter Coleman Prize, Australian and New Zealand American Studies Association, 2015; Leo Baeck Fellowship, Studienstiftung des deutschen Volkes, 2014–15; Finalist, Louis Pelzer Memorial Award, Journal of American History, OAH, 2014; Botstiber Institute for Austrian-American Studies Fellowship, 2013–14; University of Wyoming American Heritage Center Travel Grant, 2013; Columbia University Libraries Research Award, 2012–13; Henry Belin du Pont Dissertation Fellowship in Business, Technology, and Society, 2012


Selected Publications

“Shopping Malls and Social Democracy: Victor Gruen’s Postwar Campaign for Conscientious Consumption in American Suburbia,” in Consumer Engineering: Marketing between Planning Euphoria and the Limits of Growth, 1930s to 1970s ; “Victor Gruen’s Retail Therapy: Exiled Jewish Communities and the Invention of the American Shopping Mall as a Postwar Ideal,” Leo Baeck Institute Year Book 61 (2016): 1–14 ; “From the Ringstraße to Madison Avenue: Commercial Market Research and the Viennese Origins of the Mass Culture Debate, 1941–1961,” Canadian Review of American Studies ; “Ernest Dichter and American Market Research, 1946–77” in American Consumer Culture: Market Research and American Business, 1935–1965 (Adam Matthew, 2014); “Qualitative Capitalism and Continental Critique: Émigré Social Scientists Encounter the American Consumer, 1933–45,” Ideas in History6, no. 2 (2012): 65–92; “Packaging Personality: Walter Landor and Consumer Product Design in Postwar America,” Australasian Journal of American Studies 31, no. 2 (December 2012): 57–70 .


Selected Conference Presentations & Invited Talks

“The Matrix of Motivation: Émigré Market Researchers and the Problem of Choice in Postwar America,” OAH, April 6–9, 2017; “What Americans Want and How to Give It to Them: Market Research and Public Relations, from Edward Bernays to Ernest Dichter,” Kluge Center, Library of Congress, Dec. 22, 2016; “Does Motivation Matter? Ernest Dichter, Alfred Politz, and the Debate Over Consumer Psychology in Cold War America,” Hagley Museum & Library, Nov. 3, 2016; “Nose-Counters versus Depth-Probers: European Émigrés and the Contentious Science of Market Research in Postwar America,” Economic and Business History Society, May 26, 2016; “Shopping Malls and Social Democracy: Victor Gruen’s Postwar Campaign for Conscientious Consumption in American Suburbia,” German Historical Institute conference, Universität Göttingen, March 27, 2015; “An Austro-Marxist in American Suburbia: Shopping Mall Architect Victor Gruen and the Ideology of Planning, 1938–1968,” Society for U.S. Intellectual History, Indianapolis, Oct. 12, 2014; “Émigré Scientists of the Quotidian: Market Research and the Social Psychology of the Postwar American Consumer,” Agence Nationale de la Recherche, École normale supérieure de Cachan, France, June 12, 2014; “Émigré Scientists of the Quotidian: Market Research and the American Consumer Unconscious,” Congrés de l’Association Française d’Études Américaines, Sorbonne Nouvelle, Paris 3, May 21, 2014; “From Protestant Production to an Ethic of Indulgence: Postwar U.S. Marketers and the Case for Righteous Consumption,” Canadian Association for American Studies, Kitchener-Waterloo, Ontario, Oct. 26, 2013; “Masscult and Bizcult: The Origins of the Postwar Mass Culture Debate in Commercial Market Research,” Business History Conference, Columbus, Ohio, March 22, 2013; “Qualitative Capitalism and Continental Critique: Émigré Social Scientists Encounter the American Consumer, 1933–44,” Social Science History Association, Vancouver, Nov. 1, 2012; “Transforming Taste, Designing Desire: Madison Avenue Imagines a New Consumer for the Postwar Era,” American Studies Association, Baltimore, Oct. 20, 2011


Selected Teaching Experience

George Washington UniversityThe Postwar American Consumer, Spring 2012 (designed and taught course); Early American Cultural History, Fall 2011 (Teresa Murphy, advisor); Contemporary U.S. History, Spring 2010 (Leo Ribuffo, advisor); European Civilization in Its World Context, 1715–2009, Fall 2009 (Andrew Zimmerman, advisor); Performance and Culture in the Americas, Spring 2009 (Elaine Peña, advisor); U.S. Religion and Politics, Fall 2008 (Joseph Kip Kosek, advisor); Introduction to Twentieth-Century American Culture, Spring 2008 (Phyllis Palmer, advisor); Twentieth-Century U.S. Immigration, Fall 2007 (Thomas Guglielmo, advisor)