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Multiple selves and the meanings they give to consumptions

Shalini Bahl, University of Massachusetts Amherst


Researchers are divided with regard to how consumers' experience multiplicity in their self-concepts. One group argues that consumers need a unifying meta-narrative (e.g. Ahuvia 2005), other theorists believe fragmentation is normal (e.g., Firat and Venkatesh 1995). While multiple selves is an important area of self concept research, little empirical work exists to date as to the meaning from the consumer's perspective. Much of the existing consumer research on multiple selves is context-specific (e.g. Aaker 1999) and is not conducive to understanding how multiple selves are experienced by consumers and the meanings they give to consumptions. This dissertation addresses the gaps in self-concept literature by answering the specific questions: (1) What is the meaning of multiple selves as experienced by consumers in their every day lives? (2) Do the consumptions vary in their meaning across the multiple selves? (3) How do multiple selves relate with each other vis-à-vis their consumptions? (4) How do selves negotiate negative consumptions? (5) Do brands vary in their meaning across selves? This dissertation draws from dialogical self theory the notion of self as a decentralized, polyphonic narrative that can occupy multiple I positions (Hermans and Kempen 1993; Hermans, Kempen, and Loon 1992; Raggatt 2002). The self is viewed as a repertoire of narrative voices, wherein each voice has a unique web of affective attachments to people, historic events, beliefs, and consumptions. This dissertation's methodology, grounded in the interpretive paradigm, employed a multi-method approach consisting of consumer narratives, multivariate analysis, and metaphor analysis coupled with in-depth interviews. The findings inform the current debate by revealing a normal state of multiplicity in consumers' self concept except when the selves encounter ambivalence. By examining negative consumptions from the lens of different voices in the informants, the findings extend current literature on ambivalence. An important contribution of this dissertation is the findings on negative selves, which have a significant influence on consumption choices and evaluation of consumption experiences. This dissertation also contributes to research on the relationship between emotions and evaluation of consumption experiences by understanding the meaning of positive and negative consumptions from the perspective of different selves.

Subject Area


Recommended Citation

Bahl, Shalini, "Multiple selves and the meanings they give to consumptions" (2005). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI3193877.