The Introduction of Mass Production
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Since the turn of the 20th century and the introduction of mass production the world has undergone rapid change and we have seen the emergence of mass consumerism. More specifically, the early 90s witnessed an even larger surge in consumerism and materialism; aided by the advent of new technologies such as Discmans, PCs, mobile phones and the birth of the worldwide web. Levine (2007) reaffirms this rapid emergence asserting that there had been a massive transformation in culture as a result. Levine (2007) also states that there has been “a shift away from values of community, spirituality, and integrity, and toward competition, materialism and disconnection.” Furthermore, Wattanasuwan (2005) highlights that the rapid emergence of consumer culture and the concept of the consumer self, means that consumption is principal in our everyday lives and by proxy consumption is used symbolically to create the self and to position us within society.
A review of the academic literature surrounding the topic of the self-concept in consumerism highlights two distinct theoretical conjectures. Firstly, does our use of consumption in constructing the self under the pretence of I am = what I have and what I consume (Fromm 1976, p.36) leave us vulnerable to the loss of our identity if we lose what we have? (Fromm,1976). Secondly, does the instant but short-lived satisfaction we experience from consumption ultimately create consumption addictions and psychological problems? (Elliot, 1994).
Therefore, the focus of this paper will be a review of the surrounding literature focusing on the aforementioned theoretical questions. This will be explored in three parts; Firstly, this paper will provide an overview of the literature surrounding the consumer self and how consumption is used as a tool to define the self. Here the focus will be held on the literature surrounding the consumer self and the concept of symbolic consumption and explore how the advent of new technologies and the introduction of the internet has provided consumers with a new means to construct their ideal selves. Secondly, this paper will explore the negative conjectures of consumption. Where the focus will be held on the theories that surround the use of consumption to create the self and our identity, and why it may leave us vulnerable to a loss of identity. Lastly, this paper will address the theoretical underpinnings of how immediate pleasure from consumption and the search for lasting satisfaction through consumption can result in addictive consumption or shopping addictions. This will bring us to the concluding part of this essay, where we will explore future avenues of research to further the literature in the area of the self-concept in consumer behaviour.
Levy (1959) was the first to highlight the significance of the consumer self-concept, he argued that consumption in terms of symbolic consumption or the images or intangible attributes such as brand recognition, origin, advertising or cost, that were portrayed to be associated with the product, were of greater importance to the consumer than the functional benefits that they received from the product. Various consumer self-concept studies commenced after Levys proposal. Woods (1960) furthered this by stating that when there is a high ego involvement with the product, the importance of the image associated with the product increases for the consumer. Seven years later the first proper self-concept model was created by Grubb and Grathwohl (1967); it showed a mutual relationship that existed between the consumers self-image and the image of the product. A multitude of empirical studies consequently emerged after the development of Grub & Grathwohls self-concept model. In order to further explore this models assumptions Birdwell (1968) empirically examined the notion that the consumers self-image is more congruent with the chosen brands image, opposed to the image of the brand that was not chosen. This was reaffirmed by Dolich (1969) who found comparable results when he explored the aforementioned assumption.
Still it was highlighted that with regard to these investigations, the self was considered under a one dimensional construct that was dealing with the consumers actual self. Dolich (1969) affirmed that it was wrong to take this approach as the results were vague and varying. The perplexity of those one dimensional investigations eventually helped create the theory that the consumer self-concept actually had two dimensions. For instance Dolich (1969) was the first to recognise the difference between the actual self and the ideal self. Dolich (1969) stated that the actual self was the consumers own perception of themselves, whereas the ideal self was the image that the consumer would like to be perceived as. Despite furthering the theoretical underpinnings of the consumer self-concept, these investigations ultimately fell victim to limitations comparable to those of the one dimensional construct. Furthermore it was not possible to determine which self-concept was best for forecasting the consumers choice of brand (Dolich 1969). Consequently it was contended that there may in fact be another dimension if not multiple dimensions to the consumer self-concept. Sirgy was one of the first to explore this concept of a multidimensional construct. Sirgy (1982) stated that there was four parts to the self-concept; the actual self, the ideal self which are previously mentioned and the social self and the ideal social self. The social self is essentially the image of how peers and other members of society see you and the ideal social self refers to how you would like other people to perceive you (Sirgy, 1982). Sirgy (1982) presented the idea of a self-image/product-image congruity theory which essentially means that certain product cues project a certain image which will either correlate with a self-schema or it wont. An example is used of a high status product such as a luxury vehicle. If high status attribute is regarded highly in terms of the self-schema then a positive value will be placed on the product, where as if high status is viewed as a negative in relation to the consumers self-schema then a negative value will be put on the product. Ultimately what Sirgy (1982) is arguing is that the value or symbolism that is linked to the image of a product is not created; instead it is drawn from the different dimensions of consumers self-image. There is a vast amount of literature that reaffirms this idea that the consumer is what they have, as their possessions are seen to be a big part of the extended self (Belk, 1988). Symbolic consumption allows consumers to position themselves within society, to help the consumers self-transitions and to attain a sense of continuity, ultimately preparing