Transition into a consumption restricted context: a phenomenological analysis of the experiences of homeless men in the UK.

Andres Barrios, 2013

Generally studies about identity and consumption have assumed that individuals are immersed in a context of abundance, in which their possibilities to fulfil their needs and desires to purposefully construct a consumption lifestyle are granted. Within this context, studies from the Consumer Culture Theory perspective have described how individuals navigate consumer culture by developing enduring relationships with possessions that help them to build identities and a sense of self. However, this is not always possible during every individual’s life. Certain situational factors not only provoke the individual’s loss of what they have already built, but also lead them to a restricted consumption context.

The present study focuses on forced and uncertain changing events, those whose severity and/or rapid change disrupts an individual’s entire life. Through a phenomenological approach of the homeless experience, this study attempts to understand individuals’ transition into a restricted consumption context. The empirical data obtained from a twenty two month ethnographic study evidences that experiencing homelessness, individuals’ loss of possessions and the perceived uncertainty that characterizes life on the streets, trigger not only a self-transformation process, but also alter their relationship with the material world. The previous findings are contrasted with the current literature extending previous work about transition and consumption by: a) Proposing a new transformational routine to describe the forced self-transformations and how consumption (or the lack of it) becomes an element that influences the deconstruction and construction of a new self. b) Identifying how in a restricted consumption context, individuals develop a different form of ‘liquid’ relationship with possessions, and how this changes their mode of consumption.