PhD Research

Hey! I'm Najité.
This page is dedicated to my upcoming PHD research.

A Decolonial Critique of ‘Socially Conscious’ Brand Communications: The ‘Other’, the Woman and the Mother

For a controversial history lesson, watch this video on Commodity Racism.

And for a broader introduction to the topic and the overall mission, as well as the basics on how you can get involved and support the work, read on!

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My research critically analyses the imperialist narratives found subtly yet prevalently within ‘socially conscious’ brand communications (ie CSR; social action campaigns, cause marketing, commodity activism and other means of communicating ‘brand virtue’).

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At the same time it aims to create a series of decolonial frameworks that can be used as a guide by those in the industry to move toward creating an alternative wave of progressive brand communications.

For the longest time, I've been intrigued by the power of communication and the ability for language to shape the way that we think of ourselves and each other, as well as the way we behave and approach the world.  

So I regularly find myself asking questions like:

What is this piece of art really meant to mean? What nuanced messages does this advertisement communicate? What is this film trying to tell me? And more importantly, how does it want me to respond?

Growing up in an environment that painted me as a 'minority', I became hyper-aware of the way that various forms of media signal my identity to the masses and shape the way that I see myself, as well as the way that I am perceived by others - whether as a woman, a mother, an African descendant, or all three. 

Some people think 'we have bigger fish to fry' and that questionable brand communications are the least of our problems. But the reality is that when specific groups of people are depicted as inferior, a threat, undesirable, weak or just invisible, this contributes to developing these so called 'bigger fish' problems that we then have to fry. 

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So with major controversies in the brand-o-sphere over the last few years - (think Dove turning black women white, H'n'M calling black boys monkeys, Pepsi missing the point and Gucci's ignorant audacity) - the world of branding/advertising/media has a lot to account for. 

The fact that these spaces are disproportionately taken up by white men - with black women too often missing completely - has become a significant talking point as of late. 

And with all of this in mind, my research feels more timely than ever. 


Did you know…

That during the 1800's, commercial branding was created as a tool to expand Empire and justify colonialism by spreading racist ideologies? You can read more about this here

There has been a tonne of research around racism and media - both overt and covert. And evidently this is a long standing issue that seems to be showing no signs of real change. 

While most of the research that already exists tends to focus on large brands/corporations and ignores smaller brand, my research also looks at how these smaller, independent brands often (un)intentionally mimick and perpetuate these colonial narratives. 

But rest assured, this shift in focus is applied without giving large corporations a pass. Primarily, it's purpose is to recognize the need for honest self reflection and to explore to what extent smaller, independent brands have the capacity to 'be the change'. 

See, I believe that it's time we refuse to exhaust ourselves begging conglomerates to suddenly stop doing the bullsh*t they've always done. Or getting overly excited when a large brand jumps on a 'woke' trend as a way to exploit new audiences or distract from their more questionable practices. 

My research asks us to get close to the fact that it is also you and I, that contribute to some of the very things we dislike about our society. So it's about moving us to do better, from a place of truth. 

At the same time it's also about equipping ourselves with the awareness needed to hold the larger brands to account. Because life calls for balance. 

So my research looks at how we can become more fluent in the language of symbolism and learn to decode the social/political/cultural messages in brand media. At the same time it will explore how we can use these insights to actively encode our own work to communicate meaning in a more creative and deeply conscious way. 

With this in mind, my aim is to create a selective network of artists, brands, producers, thinkers and doers who want to take part in this introspective research. This network will be for those who want to challenge themselves, as well as the ideologies, institutions and frameworks that we collectively contribute to maintaining.

What excites me about this research is that it requires me to dive more deeply into the process of cleansing myself of my own internalised colonialism - while inviting others who are serious about decolonial work to do the same. 

I believe that only from a place of self awareness can this work become truly meaningful. 

I'm also aware that…
Women are underrepresented in the advertising industry. 

Mothers are underrepresented in the  advertising industry. 

Black people are MAJORLY underrepresented in advertising industry.
And guess what?
I am a woman, a mother and black

And I’m not here to be a slave to academic jargon that shuts people out just because they ‘don’t speak the language’.

My experiences span many different worlds and cultures, so I'm often serving as an unofficial translator within various social groups. From performing as a spoken word artist at TEDx, speaking at the House of Commons, writing think pieces for the Huffington Post, sitting on the board of leading youth arts organization Beatfreeks, or facilitating social/political/cultural projects for 16 - 25 year olds - I’ve always been about communication and social change. But right now I want to go deeper. 

This will be done with an aim to develop new frameworks which can be made easily accessible to professionals, academics and artists alike for use as a guide to take a critical and ‘decolonial’ approach to brand communications within their respective fields.

Interested? Click here to find out how you can get involved and support.