Rethinking Veblen’s contribution to Consumer Research: a phenomenological enquiry into the perception of ‘status consumption’ by middle-income British consumers
thesisposted on 11.11.2010, 11:23 by Georgios Patsiaouras
The name of the American economist and social analyst Thorstein Veblen has been inextricably linked with the term “conspicuous consumption” referring to the competitive consumption practices and leisure activities that aim to indicate one’s membership in a superior social class. However, the ‘classical models’ of consumer behaviour face difficulty in accommodating and understanding the nature of conspicuous economic display and a serious study of Veblen’s arguments on the consumption practices of the ‘nouveau-riche’, non-utilitarian and status-directed behaviour has been noticeable only through its absence. This Thesis suggests and encourages a rereading of Veblen’s The Theory of the Leisure Class through a critical examination about the adoption and discussion of his work. Thereupon, it argues that although many marketing theorists and consumer researchers will be aware of some of the terminology popularized from his book, surprisingly little attention seems to have been paid to the substance of Veblen’s arguments and ideas. Also, via a series of existential phenomenological interviews and employment of vignettes, this study sought to draw broader conclusions about how ostentatious consumption activities and ‘status consumption’ are perceived nowadays by adult middle-income British consumers. Overall, the findings suggested that the notion of ‘achieved status’ receives a more intangible and honorable connotation compared to the excessive features of luxurious products and services and participants’ accounts indicated that conformity and individual’s need for a socially acceptable identity can be viewed as the primary motivations behind conspicuous consumption practices. In conclusion, it is argued that negative connotations associated with ostentatious economic display necessitate the reappraisal of Veblen’s accounts about consumer’s rising expectations and desires together with further research as regards the ‘taboo’ and sensitive issue of upward social mobility via consumption.