“Drag has real-world business implications and could be a powerful tool”

Posted in: Diversity, Equality, Marketing, Research, Wellbeing

Dr Mario Campana and visiting scholar Dr Katherine Duffy are co-editors of Drag as Marketplace: Contemporary Cultures, Identities and Business. In this Q&A, they share insights on their research into the spectacle of drag and how it can help to promote LGBTQ+ acceptance.

How long have you been a visiting scholar at Bath and how has the experience been so far?

Katherine: My post started at the end of 2023 and I've been coming roughly once a month to spend some time with Mario and with colleagues in the School. I've really enjoyed it so far. Everybody's been so welcoming and really open to both formal and more informal conversations about their research, which is such a privilege.

The reputation of the Centre for Business, Organisations and Society (CBOS) very much aligns with other strands of my research portfolio. I'm really interested in consumer clothing sustainability and looking at responses to innovative circular business models in that space.

My work has an impact-driven focus on sustainability when it comes to the marketplace, and so the ideas that come out of CBOS really attracted me to both the Centre and the wider School.


How and when did you start working together?

Katherine: We first met at a PhD workshop when we were both about halfway through our doctoral research, which I think is testament to going to these workshops and meeting people at conferences – you never know where that connection's going to take you.

We started actively working together around 2015, on an ongoing project looking at exploring consumer creativity. We should have been discussing that but ventured into a shared interest in watching RuPaul’s Drag Race! We quickly started to talk about some of the cultural shifts that we'd noticed in the marketplace as a result, and that sparked a conversation about whether there was an opportunity to more critically investigate some of these themes.

From that, our research interest into the power, mainstreaming and cultural phenomenon of drag has evolved.

Mario: We got interested in the stigma element of it, because it was weird for us that this is kind of a stigmatised practice, yet everybody is watching Drag Race – and not just within the LGBTQ+ community and its allies, either.


Could you explain a bit about your research on drag?

Mario: The main paper that we have published so far – along with Professor Maria Rita Micheli  – is called ‘We’re All Born Naked and the Rest Is Drag’. It’s about how organisations such as Drag Race can help to normalise LGBTQ+ stigma.

People can see how these drag queens are fabulous on TV, which can, on the one hand, help them feel more accepted and on the other also trigger conversations around acceptance.

We looked at three mechanisms that these organisations create. These are transgression, such as transgressing gender norms; the awakening of social consciousness, where talking about the hardships contestants may have faced because they were gay or trans can create empathy among viewers; and language modelling, such as the fact that people now commonly say ‘yaaas’.

Katherine: There are also the elements of commodification and commercialisation of drag. This formation of a marketplace is something that our upcoming book really speaks to. Beyond just being a cultural phenomenon, drag has real-world business implications and could potentially be a powerful tool to advance acceptance and give voice to people that are underserved and under-represented in many aspects.


In recent years, we’ve seen a lot more drag queens featured in TV adverts and so on. Have you touched upon this in your research?

Mario: It’s one of the things that's been happening as Drag Race has grown and grown, right? We have tried to put together a bit of a timeline – originally the show was aired on this really niche channel called Logo, and then Netflix and VH1 picked it up. With that step, you had the trigger where drag queens were everywhere: they were in TV shows, adverts, they started winning Emmys. I think it's all part of this normalisation of stigma around drag.

Something we’re trying to explore a a bit more in our upcoming research is the darker side of things that were coming up at the same time. So while you have the glamour of queens in commercials, you also still have people being beaten in the street, a crackdown on drag queen story time, the diminishing of transgender rights across the world, and the shrinking rights of drag queens in some US states in the US so they cannot perform anymore.

Katherine: The data that we've collected in this work so far very much focuses on how RuPaul's Drag Race has been used by people to support their self-worth, their wellbeing and their mental health during the isolation that came during and following the pandemic.

But we're keen to map and trace how as this has happened, alongside all of that joy and raising of social consciousness, there are these moments of contestation and tension, which are darker and lead to individuals feeling discriminated against and ostracised in the marketplace.


What do you hope the impact of your work might be?

Mario: We’re really interested in the interplays of emotions that there are in this market. What we're trying to understand, as well, is if there is any mechanism here that would be interesting to expand to other stigmatised markets within the LGBTQ+ community. We’re trying to see how LGBT consumers can feel more represented.

Katherine: We’re also hoping to highlight that these processes are ongoing and dynamic, and it's a continual process of normalisation within contemporary society. We hope to be able to distil and disseminate our research to brands about how they can work more meaningfully to make stigma visible in their communications and activities, to really work towards acceptance – but that’s very much an ongoing activity, not just during Pride Month.



Posted in: Diversity, Equality, Marketing, Research, Wellbeing

Find out more about Mario and Kat's forthcoming book


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