Mapping Chinese Consumers’ Self-Configurations through Their Possession Narratives

Phoebe Wong, 2010

Drawing on literature from the social and cultural psychology of the self and consumer research about possessions and the extended self, this study investigates and conceptualises each informant’s pattern of self-configuration in terms of the personal, relational and collective dimensions of the self, and examines each informant’s self-possession boundary via their stories about important possessions. Using a method of narrative inquiry, 20 Hong Kong Chinese informants were interviewed. The interviews generated 115 stories about their important possessions and these were used to explore how informants revealed their sense of self and how they constructed the meanings of possessions and the self-possession boundary. Analysis was undertaken in two stages and structured around firstly within-case analysis and secondly cross-case analysis.

Based on the empirical findings, five patterns of self-configuration, revolving around the personal, relational and collective dimensions of the self, emerged. They are: the complete relational self-configuration, the relationally-led self-configuration, the personal-relational equilibrium, the personally-led self-configuration and the personal-relational-collective self-configuration. The empirical findings show that Hong Kong Chinese informants tend to focus more on the relational dimension of the self (e.g. interpersonal relationships with others) while they place less emphasis on the personal (e.g. personal achievement) and collective (e.g. in-group membership) dimensions of the self in their stories about important possessions. Thus, an extended framework of the continuum of self-configurations is developed and proposed which goes beyond the empirical findings providing a foundation for additional research in the future.

In addition, the empirical findings showed that a broader interpretation of the self-possession boundary was found in Chinese consumers‟ stories about their important possessions. The self-possession boundary is defined as the delineation of the relationship between an individual’s sense of self and possessions (i.e. the possessions are “MINE”). Most of the informants’ possession stories in this study are in line with the western-based definition of self-possession boundary. However, some of the informants’ possession stories did not fit neatly into any western-based description (e.g. informants considered gifts that they had given to close others as still remaining as part of their own important possessions). This is what is identified and termed as informants’ “extended possessions” within the self-possession boundary. I extended the concept of possessions and the extended self and built a modified framework as one of my theoretical contributions in order to explain the wider concept of the self-possession boundary that captures the concept of extended possessions within the self-possession boundary in this study.