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Relationship between possessions and the sense of self

Having the research findings reviewed in the last chapter, this chapter will discuss the underlying reasons and explanations for those findings. Individual discussions are provided for each of the three key themes.

Their Consumption Pattern

In this first section, the consumption pattern of participants would be explained in relation to the three subsections in the literature review in Chapter 2. The first subsection discusses the relationship between possessions and the sense of self. The second subsection evaluates the consumption pattern in relations to symbolic interactionism suggested by Solomon (1983). Finally, the third subsection discusses the consumption of work-related products with respect to work identity (Walsh and Gordon, 2008).

Consumption

The fact that all ten participants are purchasing clothing agrees with the finding from Secord and Jourard (1953 cited in Belk, 1988) that females have a stronger focus on their body parts than males. In Section 4.1.1, the case of Alice could be classified as using the symbolic value of products to define her new role (Solomon, 1983). The product, clothing in this case, contains the value of ‘elegance’ which is used not only to fulfil the dress code of the company but also to establish her new role as an employed person. Victoria’s case in the same section is an example of using products to verify an established role and to satisfy the need of the role (ibid.). In her case, when she is meeting her client, she understands that as a solicitor, she needs to give a professional impression to her client, and therefore elegant clothing is chosen to manage her professional image. Thus both product usages suggested by Solomon (1983) are present for the participants in this research. However, Becky mentioned that her consumption pattern for clothing does not change because her company allows her to wear casual wearing for work. Reviewing that Becky and Alice are working in the same occupation (publication), but their clothing for work are different, it supports Young’s (1991) suggestion that two people’s behaviour would be different even if both of them are acting as the same social role, in this case working in the same profession.

The aspect of dining out could be explained by the term ‘attachment’ (Ball and Tasaki, 1992). Victoria’s first excerpt in Section 4.1.2 states that at the time when she was a student but her friends were working, her friends did not mind spending more on meals. It means that her friends, having their own income to spend, utilized this larger spending ability to maintain their new self-concept of being an employed person, according to Ball and Tasaki (1992). Their income allowed them to be more flexible at spending, and in fact it helps enhance their sense of self (Belk, 1988). In Victoria’s point of view, although she still minds about using that large amount of money on a meal for now that she is earning her income, she feels better about it because she thinks she has adapted to that. This further proves Ball and Tasaki’s (1992) view that time is needed for the level of attachment.

In Section 4.1.4, Rainbow’s excerpt states that she aims for a balance between work and life. Thus when she was on her vacation, she would enact a role which is different from being a physiotherapist at work. This agrees with the suggestion of Solomon et al. (2010) that an individual would possess many different identities within him/herself. It is the same for the case of Yvonne in the same section that she wants to escape from the pressure of work through going to shopping or attending Yoga lessons. She is enacting different roles when she is at work, when she is going to shopping and when she is having Yoga lessons. Taking an example, she would wear her old T-shirt for Yoga lessons but she would wear the uniform provided by the hospital at work. This situation also demonstrates another suggestion from Solomon et al. (2010) that different products, in this case different clothing, are required for a person to enact different roles.

Therefore, from this subsection, it could be concluded that more than one identity is present in their sense of self. Not only their working role, but other identities related to different social circles exist in their self-concept.

Interaction

The case of Victoria in Section 4.1.1 demonstrates the concept of symbolic interactionism suggested by Solomon et al. (2010). She mentioned that she would refer to the wearing of her colleagues and the people who are working in similar fields to choose her clothing accordingly. Thus her office and those similar fields are acting as a symbolic environment for the interaction of symbols, in this case the suitable clothing for those industries, to indicate the appropriate meanings of what to wear for work (ibid.).

The reflexive evaluation of symbolic interactionism is illustrated by the difference in their spending pattern. In Section 4.1.5, Irene, Becky and Yvonne stated that they would not be easily affected by others for their consumption pattern. Becky and Yvonne especially pointed out that their choice of clothing would not be easily changed. The reason for Yvonne is that she thought her own choice for those products is comparatively unique. Rainbow also mentioned that she would refer to the trend of wearing but the last purchase decision would still be made by herself. Therefore the choice of appearance-related products is relatively more dependent on personal considerations than the comments of others. Thus it relies more on intrapersonal evaluations (Solomon, 1983).

However, Yvonne also mentioned that her friends tend to be influenced by each other for their consumption pattern. Rainbow also mentioned that with products like iPhone, people would like to obtain it because they know that others have possessed one. These are interpersonal evaluations (Solomon, 1983). But for appearance-related products like clothing, there would be cases like Yvonne’s friends affecting each other but also the cases of Yvonne and Rainbow that they prefer choosing by themselves. The reason is that this kind of appearance-related products could be used for expressing an individualized sense of self as well as a group identity (Belk, 1988). Thus whether the reflexive evaluation is interpersonal or intrapersonal (Solomon, 1983), the choice of any product relies on both product attributes and personal characters.

The social identity theory is shown by Irene’s case in Section 4.1.2. She mentioned that she especially wants to see her old friends more often after she started working and she would share her bad feelings with them. This indicates that her identity within her friends is occupying a large part in her sense of self. Thus this finding demonstrates the social identity theory that through comparing with others whom she got in touch with in her social circles, she created her preferred self-identity, in this case the identity within her friends, and then she classified herself as a member within them (Abrams and Hogg, 1990 etc. cited in Walsh and Gordon, 2008).

The aspect of dining out also demonstrates food symbolism, a theory which is not mentioned in the literature review. Victoria’s second excerpt in Section 4.1.2 illustrates food as a tool for social connection (Kniazeva and Venkatesh, 2007). Food becomes a key instrument in building the relationship between people when there is more than one person involving in the meal (ibid.). Her view of emphasizing the gathering more than the food they are having agrees with the finding from Kniazeva and Venkatesh (2007) that not only the dishes, but also the social environment and interaction are essential factors for a good meal.

From the discussion above, it is clear that the interaction effect affects both their consumption pattern and their preferred social circle. These two factors are essential in helping the participants build up their desired self-identity.

Related to work

Section 4.1.3 states that Gloria, Irene, Rainbow and Yvonne are spending money on further studies for strengthening their skills and background for their future career. In Wrzesniewski et al.’s (1997 cited in Walsh and Gordon, 2008: 54) terms, they could be classified as ‘career-oriented’ because their pursuance of further studies indicate that they pay attention to their occupation and they are concerned about their future career path. This further indicates that they have a stronger work identity (Wrzesniewski et al., 1997 cited in Walsh and Gordon, 2008) compared to the other participants in the current study.

For the case of Georgia, she could be considered less career-oriented because she does not like her occupation (ibid.) although she is also pursuing further studies related to her profession. As she does not have the sense of belonging in her occupation, she has a relatively weaker work identity compared with the four participants mentioned above (ibid.).

From this subsection, it could be deduced that work identity is present in their sense of self. However, the extent to which it occupies their self-concept is dependent on whether they have a strong emphasis on their occupation or not.

Their Propensity to Save

The participants not only spend their income but also save a portion of them for their future. Thus after explaining the consumption aspect in the last section, this section is discussing the underlying reasons of their saving pattern. There are two subsections in this section. The first subsection explains their long-term planning issues underlying their saving and investment decisions. The second subsection discusses the effect of interaction on their propensity to save.

Long-term planning

All participants mentioned that they hope to save more money and some of them would fix an amount of spending every month. For instance, the excerpt from Gloria in Section 4.2.1 stated that she has set an amount for spending each month and she would spend all of them.

In the investment aspect, Victoria’s case in Section 4.2.2 indicated that she prefers investing in long-term stocks as early as possible in order to accumulate a larger amount for the future. For Karen’s case in the same section, she is very concerned about investing her savings in stocks in order to earn more for her future property. Her aim at owning her property also agrees with Belk’s (1988) suggestion that money allows a person to be more flexible for his/her spending, in this case by investing her savings in stocks, she could earn more money and obtain her own property at a faster pace.

This subsection shows that the participants prepare their spending and saving patterns in a long-term aspect and thus it could be deduced that they have a good long-term planning for their future. Although they now have a much large income than before when they were a student, they would not spend too lavishly and instead they prefer having a good planning now for preparing a better future.

Interaction

Karen’s case in Section 4.2.2 provides another demonstration for symbolic interactionism. As her job is an auditor and she is spending her time in the financial industry every day, she is influenced by her industry at a very large proportion, for which she also admitted in the interview. Her work place provides her the symbolic environment for the interaction of symbolic value of investment (Solomon et al., 2010). Eventually, the symbolic meaning that investment is very important for her future is created (ibid.), and consequently she adjusted her behaviour and involved in investment as well (Solomon, 1983).

For Yvonne’s case in Section 4.2.1, she mentioned that she decided to save more money because she realized that her friends were saving much more than her over the last year. This example further illustrates the interpersonal aspect of reflexive evaluation (Solomon, 1983). The shared meaning of having more savings between her friends induced her to adjust her behaviour to save more according to the predicted behaviour of her friends (ibid.). She also talked about lacking the sense of security with little savings. Her view agrees with Belk’s (1988) suggestion that money enables greater flexibility in consumption. If she had more savings, she would not be worried about not having enough money.

This subsection indicates that their saving and investment intentions are also influenced by interaction. The two participants in this section realized the power of money. Karen could achieve her aim of having her own property faster by involving her savings in investment, while Yvonne would not have the sense of insecurity from having less saving than her friends. This ability from having more money is a way of enhancing their sense of self, as suggested by Belk (1988).

Possessions of past identity

The research findings show that participants would throw away some of their possessions but at the same time also keep some of the others for memory. The two aspects would be explained in detail in the two separate subsections below.

Disposition

Although all participants mentioned that they would not throw their possessions away very often, some of them did threw away some of their possessions which are related to their past self-identity. Becky’s excerpt in Section 4.3.1 explains that she threw away her story books which she read in the past because she considered that she would not read them anymore. According to La Branche (1973 cited in Belk, 1988), people are pleased to discard the possessions which represent an irrelevant identity for them. Thus it is because she viewed that past identity of hers as not relevant anymore now that she threw all the books away. The comments by Victoria and Janice also give a good explanation of this behaviour. As we are evolving into a new stage of life, we would be emphasizing on the things related to the current stage and we may eventually forget about those possessions representing our past. As those possessions are not relevant to our current sense of self anymore, we would choose to throw them away. This phenomenon also agrees with the suggestion of Ball and Tasaki (1992) that people would eventually obtain attachment to new possessions and neglect older ones as they grow up.

Retention

Becky and Janice mentioned that they would not throw away the things related to their university for now because those things contain their memory of university life. This agrees with Belk’s (1988) suggestion that some possessions are storing valuable memories for an individual. It also implies that the university student identity is still occupying one part in their sense of self. The possible reason of having their past university student identity is that they have just graduated for one year which is a very short time. From Ball and Tasaki’s (1992) suggestion that time is needed for the level of attachment, it could be deduced that time is also needed for them to abandon those possessions. Janice’s comment also agrees with their suggestion that she would not be assured whether she would throw those possessions away after ten years.

Summary

From the discussions above, it could be viewed that there are many identities present in an individual’s sense of self. For example, some of the participants emphasize their occupation as seen from their willing to spend money on pursuing further education. Thus they possess a strong work identity. Some of them also form their prominent identities through their interaction with others, for instance their friends. Past identity may also be present in view of some of them who do not want to discard their past possessions. To conclude, both consumption and their social connections help build up their desired identities.


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