Exploring Cultural Differences in the Extended Self

Authored by: Phoebe W.S. Wong , Margaret K. Hogg

The Routledge Companion to Identity and Consumption

Print publication date:  December  2012
Online publication date:  January  2013

Print ISBN: 9780415783064
eBook ISBN: 9780203105337
Adobe ISBN: 9781136253522

10.4324/9780203105337.ch10

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Abstract

The potential importance of different cultural interpretations of the concepts of self and possessions was recognized by consumer researchers as early as the 1980s (Belk 1984). Culture plays a significant role in shaping individuals’ behaviors, values and attitudes and also provides an important context within which to understand the self, and the meaning of possessions (Kitayama and Cohen 2007). However, much of the work that followed from Belk’s (1988) seminal paper concentrated on the Western self, and on how Western consumers’ identity projects evolved in relation to material objects and possessions. There were a few exceptions. Some researchers moved beyond the rather narrow conceptualizations of the self (e.g. focus on the individual independent and personal self) traditionally adopted for studies undertaken in Western contexts to examine more closely the concept of self and possessions in different cultural contexts. For example, Mehta and Belk (1991) studied how Indians who immigrated to America used social and cultural symbols of possessions to negotiate their sense of self and identity during this period of transition. Wallendorf and Arnould (1988) conducted a cross-cultural inquiry comparing American families and Nigerian families in terms of their favorite objects. They found that American families tended to focus on the personal memories linked to their favorite objects whereas Nigerian families highlighted the social status of their favorite objects. These studies pointed to the advantages of using different cultural contexts not just as a source of richer empirical findings for understanding the relationship between the extended self and possessions, but also for conceptual and theoretical insights into the interrelationships between different aspects of the extended self and possessions (Bih 1992; Piron 2006).

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