The inter-relationship between desired and undesired selves and consumption

Katerina Karanika, 2010

Work on self-identity and consumption identified that desired and undesired selves play a significant role in consumption but neglected to investigate and conceptualise the interrelationship between desired and undesired selves and consumption.

Phenomenological interviews with Greek women were used to elicit consumption experiences linked to positive and negative aspects of the self. Respondents’ desired and undesired selves were characterised by five themes. The interrelationships between desired and undesired selves in consumption were characterised by two patterns (firstly conflicting and secondly compatible desired and undesired selves) that could be linked to consumers’ different strategies. The first pattern integrates two main developments in consumer research on identity: 1) desired and undesired self-concepts, and 2) identity conflicts/tensions. Moreover, consumers in the first pattern had ambivalent feelings about, mixed memories of and a love-and-hate relationship with their important possessions, products and consumption activities, while consumers in the second pattern had only positive memories and feelings about such objects and activities. In addition, examining the strategies respondents used in order to handle the interrelationships between their desired and undesired selves, this study extends previous work on the strategies that consumers use to handle identity issues. The findings also suggest that self-expressive possessions and self-transformative possessions tend to be valued for different possession meanings. Finally, the theory-building derived from these empirical data is evaluated within the context of previously generated theory about symbolic consumption. Consumers in this study did not experience fragmented multiple selves, an empty self or a coherent self created out of synthesis of opposite identities. Rather they experienced the desire for a coherent self that left them with a sense of baffled self when coherence was not attained. This study identifies less coherence in the concept of self and more ambivalence in the emotions surrounding consumption than found in previous work.