Consumption as a Primary Source of Self and Identity Construction

In recent years, consumption and consumer behavior have emerged as areas of great interest for researchers. One of the key elements responsible for sparking this interest is the decision made by persons to acquire a utility product with money that could have, alternatively, been spent on investments. Consumption has also led to the development of a vibrant consumer culture the likes of no other. Individuals no longer focus on the consumption bit but also on the symbolic meaning and image that these particular products present. In reality, the very act of consumption has transformed the lives of many since it now affects every single aspect of their lives. As a result, numerous choices have to be made in relation to the self and identity constructed around a consumer good (Belk et al., 2013, p.56).  Due to this fact, consumption has been viewed by many experts as a source of self and identity construction.  Self-concepts are typically understood by making a keen observation of consumption behavior. Many modern consumer economies have aided their development since they provide the goods and services that are ultimately responsible for the expression of these behaviors. The consumption of these products, therefore, seeks to promote the self and identity by utilizing products as symbols to communicate certain personal characteristics that they may embody. Furthermore, the consumption of these goods also, inadvertently, explains the stratification that exists in society and the positioning of an individual relative to others. Within the past decade, anthropologists have acknowledged this reality. They now acknowledge object ownership has several implications, the major ones being that an individual now becomes a subject and source in relation to the product in question. As a result, social systems that were formerly tasked with self-definition are now splintered and lost their traditional influence. Thus, it is fundamental to conduct an in-depth assessment of consumption and the critical role that it plays as a source of self and identity.

 The Extended Self

 The self is typically connected to a person’s mind and the physical possession that they own within a group. Proprietorship of particular consumer goods, therefore, becomes a major determinant of the reflection chosen. Essentially, ownership of certain goods now acts as an extension of an individual’s personality allowing them to wield power in a manner unlike before. Possessions directly influence the self since the symbolically convince subjects that they are different in comparison to their contemporaries and should even enjoy preferential treatment (Brooks, 2015, p.23). For instance, donning a uniform alters behavior on a psychological level allowing the individual to settle into a nascent extended self that was previously unknown to others.

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Similarly, the possession of high-end consumer goods and services nourish the extended self. An individual assumes control over a particular object and now proceeds to review it under a series of scopes. The appropriation of such objects allows them to recognize their purchasing power and the supposed influence that it comes with. It is common for such persons to cloak expensive gifts in a wrapping of their choosing before presenting it as an extension of the self. The general expectation is that those receiving such gifts will view them as status symbols and connect more with the extended self that was presented in the form of a gift. The ability to purchase expensive gifts is also interpreted as ones financial capability in comparison to others (Gay, 2016, p.35). It is common for the sense of self to be enlarged by the possession of money since a person now has numerous imaginable possibilities that may come to being. A new school of thought that is currently being explored in the scientific community is the presence of multiple personalities all linked to the self. These identities are revealed when particular “stimuli” are introduced, chief among them being consumer products.


As mentioned earlier, identity was initially defined by the culture an individual ascribed to during the course of their lives. Children would be taught to behave in a certain manner that was acceptable in their context, in addition to the identity that they should adopt. However, this role has been quickly overtaken by consumption habits that often force the said individuals to adopt a new identity. These new states of usually involve a degree of exploration that requires immense commitment. Making sense of one’s self-concept is what is now commonly referred to as identity. The exact meaning of this particular word has gone through various changes over time and morphed into a new definition (Gottdiener, 2010). In the past it would, more likely, have referred to one’s gender or occupation but now these parameters have become less important. Money has now taken center stage in people’s lives and directly related to their leisure pursuits. Purchasing habit thus fills the void in society, aiding people to transform into new versions of themselves. These personas are typically based on the reflections that they are exposed to in commercials and advertisements, presenting an attempt to ape what they see. Store owners have recently benefitted from this new realization. They have succeeded at capitalizing on customer spending habits and using this data to identify customers who they should focus on. By so doing, retailers make certain that they advertise to the right individuals and provide them with incentives such as loyalty cards that may produce a treasure-trove of information about their shopping habits. Social identities usually encompass an individual’s perceived rank within groups, in addition to their overall content (Holbrook et al., 2012. p.15). Identity, thus, becomes an isomorphic issue that may be bolstered by consumption in one way or the other. The ownership of any of the objects that may be on offer now end up becoming a source of identity for many of those possessing them. The mere act of deciding to advertise a particular product informs potential buyers of the range of products that are available and which can be used as a reference point for the “self”. Conscious deliberate efforts are made by the individuals in question who express their desire to possess these goods and maintain a particular image that they may have created.

The Relationship between Consumption & Self and Identity Construction

Consumption as the Origin of Self

 The self is directly intertwined with the goods that we consume. The extent of this relationship is often observed when a clear communication path exists between the self and individual’s consumption habits. The multiple personality theory has been vocal regarding this reality and has even claimed that consumption habits transform these identities in ways that many would least expect. Individuals often seek to avoid negative stereotyping often associated with the inability to acquire certain consumer goods. Consumption has, thus, been linked to a transcendental being made up of varying perceptions that are directly linked to the self (Igani, 2012, p.56). A growth process then starts with it that shifts consumer expenditures towards the goods and services that they desire at any particular instance. The purchase of these consumer goods and the effects they have on the self is now also fueled by the qualitative change that is all too common in modern societies. Technological innovation and evolution now make it possible for potential buyers to obtain such products and increase the possibility of developing the self.  Innovative product variations have been cited as one of the most prevalent manifestations of consumption and its quest to develop the self. The very act of consumption is meant to satisfy an intrinsic need that many customers have when seeking to define their self-concept (Leary, 2014, p.27). Satisfaction becomes a primary need whose satisfaction goes hand in hand with the origination of their personalities and in developing their identities.  In many cases, the longing to develop the self is usually linked to social recognition and identification. Symbolic consumption soon becomes the most evident hallmark of the self as individuals work more towards obtaining cryptograms that are socially identifiable. It is at this stage that the cognitive mechanism involved in making the “self” becomes evident. At this point, the individual adopting this new persona is well aware of the fact that this symbol will be implicit since a socially shared understanding exists.

Consumption as a Source of Identity Transformation

 Consumption habits among different groups of individuals in society reveal that it is meant to manage their images in relation to others. Identity has recently become an issue of concern for many who would, seemingly, want to fit into the hierarchical structures that are common in most societies. The idea is to exhibit certain behaviors and characteristics that will automatically be translated by others as those belonging to an individual of a higher social rank in society. Consumption, therefore, has been found to induce a particular type of identity transformation where an individual changes their mannerisms after acquiring a consumer good (McCracken, 2008, p.28). It is also vital to acknowledge that it is a complex procedure. For one to present a particular image to society and achieve the desired outcome, specific items have to be acquired to aid them to achieve this goal. Selecting a combination of appropriate items and consumer products is one of the most fundamental steps in communicating one’s identity since the power of choice is perceived as a true representation of one’s ability. The development of an identity and the ability to transform it also stems from the different versions of social reality that are disseminated by social media outlets. Consumers are usually quick to absorb these warped versions of reality and absorb them without assessing their true nature and practicality in a rapidly changing world. Consumption transforms the identities of these individuals since they are highly impressionable and susceptible to advertisements that may carry subliminal messages meant to influence them in a particular way. In addition to this, consumers are also aware of the immense power that the products they possess have on their overall image. Identity construction hence becomes a new domain since individuals essentially are what they own. It is now common for identity to be constructed around status symbols in post-modern societies where existentialist mindsets are predominant (Storey, 2017, p.49). Every member of such a society tries their level best to be accountable for their image. Consumption now becomes the easiest way to navigate through such an intricate world where materialism prevails and where identities matter. In this respect, consumerism is entangled with the expression of individual identities and tied to industrialized economies with larger markets for their products. In particular, Western societies equate this transformation through consumerism as a type of individual freedom that allows persons to live their dreams by playing a variety of roles courtesy of their purchasing power. The ability to purchase luxuries or necessities thus becomes a threshold used by members of society to judge the worth of others in a hierarchical world.

Food Identities as an Implicit Type of Consumer-Oriented Construction

 Identity is quite malleable. Consumption has made it so owing to an urge to fit into a rapidly transforming society that affects individuals in cultural groups and psychologically. Food identity is a typical result of consumption that always manifests in the form of an ongoing process that always seems to change. It is not fixed and does not behave in a unitary manner as many would expect but also appears to be a self-constructed narrative that has managed to develop specific habits (Rich, 2011, p.76). As a novel type of identity, it requires a certain level of social validation that ultimately constructs the self. A new sense of purpose in life usually emerges when an individual ascribes to such an identity. The good being consumed at any given moment provides the individual with a tool that can be harnessed in the quest of creating individualistic identities to suit their situation at any given moment. The adoption of these particular identities plays a major role in terms of promoting the overall wellbeing of those living in postmodern societies. Mary Douglas was among one of the first anthropologists to note that consumption was directly related to the identities that were adopted by those dwelling in urban environments. Consumer goods such as food serve a symbolic purpose that mediates their world in a manner that allows them to gain a better understanding of social relations.

A lifestyle is created around recreational acts, making the consumption of food an activity that will be defined in social contextualization. Over the years, experts in consumption habits have been utterly amazed by food identities and the context which they occupy in relation to the self. It is now common for persons to identify as dieters or even vegans as an attempt to adopt a unique identity that will make certain that they stand out in society. For instance, the latter has become a power to reckon with. Vegan campaigns promoting this way of living are now a common phenomenon in most social media sites that are solely dedicated to this identity variation. Furthermore, this type of identity is also expressed during family gatherings where a certain delicacy is used as a communion meant to create bonds through sharing (Sebastia, 2016, p.42). Food identities are also a common feature of life for single and couples. On average, single individuals living alone are less concerned about their dietary requirements and are less strict on any regimen that they may have developed. The reason behind this reality is the simplicity of choice that is often occurs when one lives a solitary life. Decisions about which food one would prefer becomes a simple affair only involving one individual who often has an easy time deciding what suits them best. However, matters are very different when it comes to couples. Food identities are critical in such a case owing to a plethora of factors that are in play. It often begins with a single individual, and then spreads gradually to others.

 Recently, a new movement of individuals obsessed with dieting and exercising has emerged across the globe. These individuals are aware that they occupy a specific niche in society and are dedicated to ensuring that they influence all those that they come into contact with. A family member may begin by professing their new-found tendencies with the hope that others will follow soon follow suit. Such proclivities are hard to resist in the case of couples living together. Habits are rubbed off one individual and quickly influence another who may choose to either give up meat and become a vegan or begin a rigorous dieting program (Solier, 2013, p. 108). Life changing events may also influence food identities that persons had developed over an extended period.  A widower who had grown accustomed to a vegan lifestyle may begin experiencing difficulties continuing with this routine owing to their mate’s absence. Hence, they may revert to their old dieting patterns that may differ greatly from the food identities that they had been accustomed to before.


Consumption is a relatively new phenomenon that has major effects on members of society. Its influence has been documented as being a primary source of self and the identity that individuals adopt. Food identities area prime examples of the development of the extended self and how it has now become one of the implicit types of consumer-oriented construction.

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