The Seventh Subsistence Marketplaces Conference:

Subsistence and Sustainability


June 22-24, 2018 | Champaign, Illinois at the I-Hotel

Organized by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign


Conference Co-Chairs

Ronika Chakrabarti
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Paul Ingenbleek
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Wageningen University

Srinivas Venugopal
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University of Vermont

Conference Director

Madhu Viswanathan
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University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign


Call for Papers

Subsistence marketplaces consist of consumer and entrepreneur communities living at a range of low income levels, and are concentrated in developing countries and regions such as Brazil, India, China, Vietnam, and Sub-Saharan Africa. Additionally, many individuals in developed countries also live in subsistence. For more than a decade, the Subsistence Marketplaces Conference has been a leading forum for evolving and sharing research and fostering best practices for improving quality of life in these communities. The subsistence marketplaces approach is unique in examining the intersection of poverty and marketplaces with a bottom-up approach that begins with micro-level understanding of life circumstances of consumers, entrepreneurs, and communities. This stream has been reflected in six biennial conferences and almost 60 refereed articles in related special journal issues (, as well as in dedicated session tracks at other conferences and refereed articles in a variety of journals.


Our biennial conferences are not only interdisciplinary but also inter-sector, drawing from researchers and practitioners from business, social, and governmental sectors (  The 7th Subsistence Marketplaces Conference is intended for a wide audience that spans research or practical interest in subsistence marketplaces, with diverse disciplinary backgrounds such as in business (e.g., marketing, management, entrepreneurship, strategy), development, policy, and related social sciences as well as technical areas.


The six conferences we have organized cover themes from consumption and entrepreneurship beyond literacy and resource barriers to consumption and commerce for a better world, impactful research to sustainable innovation, micro-level insights to macro-level impact, spanning geographies and substantive domains, and developing pathways at the intersection of research and practice. We debuted what we hope is a parallel series of immersion conferences unique to our bottom-up approach within the next year, which is built around field interactions starting out in South and North India and moving to other countries. Accompanying each conference have been special issues or sections, to encourage research with this bottom-up approach. The research featured at our conferences and published in special issues/sections cover a wide range of poverty contexts from isolated tribal communities to refugee settlements, to rural and urban settings around the world. Moreover, this fundamental understanding has been used to derive implications for a variety of sectors of society.


In its seventh iteration, the 2018 conference is titled to highlight the intersection of subsistence marketplaces with environmental sustainability as well as social and economic sustainability. The intersection of poverty and the environment presents enormous challenges in the coming decades. It is imperative that we understand the challenges faced by individuals, households, and communities in contexts of high uncertainty that subsistence marketplaces represent, overlaid with uncertainties posed by environmental changes. For example, climate change and ecological deterioration affect food production in different parts of the world, but in particular, where technological innovations are hindered by infrastructural, social, and economic barriers. This is particularly problematic at a time in which many of the smallholder farmers should switch from producing food for their own families to market-based production that supplies the rapidly growing urban areas. What are the nature and implications of environmental challenges for subsistence marketplaces? How does the functioning of subsistence marketplaces affect the (sustainable) use of natural resources? How can poverty alleviation occur without placing extra burdens on the natural environment? How can modern technologies and condensed change help to create sustainable lifestyles when consumption patterns start to increase? In turn, what are the technological innovations from the top-down that can be brought to bear to address the challenges uncovered through bottom-up insights?  How can our understanding of climate change and other environmental factors be used to design solutions that address well-being and sustainability from the bottom-up?


A key emphasis now is to look back to the previous six conferences as well as the forthcoming first immersion conference and the resultant research, education, and practice; as well as to look forward toward new pathways for current and emerging scholars. In doing so, the conference will highlight boundary-spanning research and practice and work that moves from research to practice and back again. Thus, we aim to highlight the importance of rigorous and relevant research and how such research is informed by, and can further inform, meaningful and engaged practice.


The specific themes for this conference help to organize the broad work in the field and facilitate discussion among participants:


Sustainable Business and Consumption from the Bottom Up – explores the intertwined nature of poverty, environmental issues, and social issues in subsistence marketplaces and investigates its implications for businesses and social enterprises.
The Institutional and Organizational Dimensions of Enterprises and Public Partnerships – examines the unique aspects of institution building, organizational design, and market creation in subsistence marketplaces, covering social and commercial enterprises        
Survival, Subsistence, and Transformative Entrepreneurship – examines the nature of survival at both a material and psychological level, and how entrepreneurship can facilitate the evolution from surviving to thriving
Sustainability and Consumption from the Bottom Up – examines how consumption and long-term perspectives on environmental, social, and/or economic changes in subsistence interact and impact individuals, organizations, and/or institutions engaged in subsistence marketplaces
Technology and Innovation – examines how technology and innovation can cause disruptive forces, and how the benefits/drawbacks of those disruptive forces can be better understood and employed from the perspectives of individuals, organizations, and/or institutions


Curricular Innovations – refers to the development of modules, courses, and programs that bring subsistence marketplaces into the classroom and around the world through online education, as well as to the development of marketing, entrepreneurship, and management education for subsistence marketplaces; and the study of how educational materials are used in practice and how they are transformed and transformative through their use.

Transformative Consumer Research in Subsistence Marketplaces – refers to poverty-related work in consumer behavior with the goal of improving well-being.

Methodological Innovations in Subsistence Marketplaces – focuses on cutting-edge research techniques that are being evolved by researchers to address issues specific to subsistence marketplaces and cross-fertilizations with related fields.


Lessons from Practice in Subsistence Marketplaces – captures the knowledge generated by practitioners working at the grassroots level in subsistence marketplaces 


Subsistence Marketplaces Across Geographies – explores a diversity and similitude of locally salient issues faced by subsistence marketplaces across the world 


Junior Scholar and Practitioner Mentorship – connects junior scholars and practitioners with those with experience in the field and in the academy to facilitate research and practice, and to develop long-term relationships


Theoretical Avenues and Open-Minded Inquiry – questions how different theoretical and more open-minded philosophies of practice can be used to unpack a better understanding of the lives of the poor by focusing on the lived experience of poverty, and on understanding what is required for subsistence


Intersectionality, Historical Blueprints, and Worth in Subsistence Marketplaces – unpacks how the challenges of intersectionality, encultured histories, and inherent calculations of worth within subsistence marketplaces impact individuals, organizations, and/or institutions


The conference begins with an evening reception Friday, June 22 and sessions through Saturday and midafternoon Sunday, June 24. The conference purposefully includes a blend of plenary sessions, participatory workshops, special topical sessions, and presentations of papers submitted in response to this call. The emphasis is on sharing nascent ideas and knowledge (or new and provocative questions) among researchers, practitioners, and students.


Friday afternoon is dedicated to a pre-conference workshop designed specifically for doctoral students and junior researchers.


A poverty simulation exercise will take place during the conference.


Academics, students, social entrepreneurs, policy makers, and business and nonprofit practitioners are encouraged to submit papers and attend.


Suggested Topics

The following are suggestions for topics; however, submissions may go beyond these topics.


      Consumer behavior in subsistence marketplaces

      Entrepreneurship in subsistence marketplaces

      Substantive domains of subsistence (e.g., water, sanitation, energy, food)

      Emergence of marketing systems

      Environmentalism of subsistence consumers and consumer-merchants

      Issues of environmental justice relating to subsistence marketplaces

      Sustainable product design for subsistence marketplaces

      Inventing and re-inventing new products and services for subsistence marketplaces

      Organization design and redesign for operating in subsistence marketplaces

      Collaborative models for business innovations

      Sustainable business practices in subsistence marketplaces

      Supply chain and distribution challenges and opportunities

      Pricing for value and sustainability

      Marketing communication and education

      Innovative research methods

      Economic and financial perspectives on subsistence marketplaces (e.g., financial literacy)

      Health, well-being, and justice in subsistence marketplaces

      Merging social and business missions through social innovations

      Incorporating business practices in nonprofit organizations developing social innovations

      Social innovation alliances and partnerships among NGOs, governments, and businesses

      Bringing subsistence contexts into the classroom

      Multidisciplinary teaching initiatives addressing subsistence phenomena and regions

      Bottom-up and market-based development policies



Abstract Submission Requirements


All authors are asked to submit a three-page abstract, from which acceptance decisions will be made and preliminary session planning will be carried out. Proposals for special sessions are also welcome.


Page 1: 

Suggested theme(s) for which the submission is to be considered (papers do not have to fit any particular theme),


Author(s) with full contact information including email.


Pages 2-3: Double-spaced abstract of the paper or special session, inclusive of a list of selected references, tables, and/or other key materials.


Format: Please email as a Word attachment to [log in to unmask].

Submission Deadline: 22 January 2018; Notification of Review Decision: 15 February 2018


Submissions for Journal Review for Special Issue


A special issue or a special section of a journal is likely to be published based primarily on articles developed from research presented at the conference and submitted to the review process. However, submission to the special issue will also be open to research not presented at the conference. Prior conferences have led to a book (Advances in International Management series by Elsevier in 2007), and special issues/sections of journals (Journal of Business ResearchJournal of MacromarketingJournal of Marketing ManagementJournal of Public Policy and Marketing). Further details will be available as they are finalized. A tentative schedule is as follows:


Submission Deadlines for Full Drafts:

September 30, 2018: Deadline for paper submission after incorporation of comments from conference participants and conference chairs

November 30, 2018: Feedback to authors after peer review

January 31, 2019: Deadline for revised submission

May 31, 2019: Final deadline for subsequent revisions


Publication Submission Requirements

Page 1: Title, author(s), and full contact information (including e-mail).

Pages 2-35: Double-spaced paper not to exceed 35 pages including references, appendices, and exhibits.


Format: Please email as a Word attachment to [log in to unmask].

Madhu Viswanathan                                                              

Professor/Diane and Steven N. Miller Centennial Chair in Business 

Gies College of Business

University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

183 Wohlers Hall, 1206 South Sixth Street, Champaign, IL 61820

Phone: 217-333-4550; Fax: 217-244-7969; email: [log in to unmask]                                    


Subsistence Marketplaces Initiative:

Non-profit website:

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