Youth, Multiple Selves and Alcohol Consumption: How Young Consumers Navigate Multiple Selves within a Risky Consumption Context

Hayley Cocker, 2013

Despite the growing stream of literature in consumer research on multiple selves, there has been relatively little discussion of multiple selves in a youth context. Past research has focused almost exclusively on the adult consumer. This research seeks to address this gap by examining multiplicity in young consumers’ selves. More specifically, this research provides insights into the content and structure of multiple selves in a youth context, explores alcohol consumption preferences and practices from the perspective of multiple selves and examines the strategies used by young consumers in order to navigate selves within a risky consumption context. Research was conducted with 91 British youths between the ages of 16 and 18 years. Drawing inspiration from dialogical self-theory in psychology, a multi-method approach was adopted that combined a questionnaire booklet, qualitative clustering task, 3D avatar creation and paired and group interviews in order to examine multiple selves in youth and explore young people’s alcohol consumption from the perspective of multiple selves. As such, I offer a new lens for studying young people’s alcohol consumption. The use of the 3D avatar creation technique represents a methodological contribution of this research and was used as a way of animating and bringing to life an informant’s multiple selves.

The primary contribution of this study to the literature on self and identity is a framework for navigating selves in youth. This framework offers a detailed picture of multiple selves in youth and explains how young consumers navigate selves, within a risky consumption context. A Bourdieusian analytic approach is employed, situating young people’s selves and anchoring young people’s alcohol consumption (as a field-specific or contextualized capital) within multiple fields of youth – identified as the domestic field, social field, field of education, field of consumer culture and field of sports. This study contributes to the literature on multiple selves by identifying six different ways in which young consumers make sense of multiplicity in the self. Contributing to the literature on multiple selves and consumption, this research also demonstrates how (alcohol) consumption practices differ at the level of multiple selves as a result of the different relations between habitus and multiple fields of youth. Additionally, this research extends the current literature on identity conflicts in consumer research by identifying four sets of co-existing strategies (stabilizing and destabilizing; masking and revealing; neutralizing and counter-neutralizing; mythologizing and demythologizing) used by young consumers in order to navigate selves within a risky consumption context. Importantly, the findings presented in this thesis bridge the two streams of consumer research on the structure of multiple selves (integrated, coherent self vs. diversified, fragmented self) by providing evidence for the co-existence of integration (centralizing movements) and fragmentation (decentralizing movements) within the self.