What a Mess: Comments on the Materialism, Ethnocentrism and Symbolism Session

J. Paul Peter, University of Wisconsin-Madison
ABSTRACT - It should be pointed out immediately that the title of this paper is in no way intended to be derogatory to the three fine papers in this session. Rather, it is intended to point out (1) how different the three papers are from each other and (2) the and fact that alternative views are often difficult to get accepted and studied in consumer behavior. The materialism paper is a measure validation (i.e., investigation) effort. The constructs investigated have a background in religion and philosophy as well as anthropology and psychology. The ethnocentrism paper is a large scale, data driven empirical study. The construct investigated has a background primarily in sociology and psychology. The symbolism paper is a conceptual piece. The construct and behavior discussed are primarily from anthropology. However, these differences should not lead the reader to believe that there are no communalities among the three papers. After briefly discussing each paper in turn, some of these similarities will be suggested.
[ to cite ]:
J. Paul Peter (1984) ,"What a Mess: Comments on the Materialism, Ethnocentrism and Symbolism Session", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 11, eds. Thomas C. Kinnear, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 298.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 11, 1984      Page 298

WHAT A MESS: COMMENTS ON THE MATERIALISM, ETHNOCENTRISM AND SYMBOLISM SESSION

J. Paul Peter, University of Wisconsin-Madison

ABSTRACT -

It should be pointed out immediately that the title of this paper is in no way intended to be derogatory to the three fine papers in this session. Rather, it is intended to point out (1) how different the three papers are from each other and (2) the and fact that alternative views are often difficult to get accepted and studied in consumer behavior. The materialism paper is a measure validation (i.e., investigation) effort. The constructs investigated have a background in religion and philosophy as well as anthropology and psychology. The ethnocentrism paper is a large scale, data driven empirical study. The construct investigated has a background primarily in sociology and psychology. The symbolism paper is a conceptual piece. The construct and behavior discussed are primarily from anthropology. However, these differences should not lead the reader to believe that there are no communalities among the three papers. After briefly discussing each paper in turn, some of these similarities will be suggested.

MATERIALISM

Three measures of materialistic traits are investigated in Buss Belk's paper. These measures are concerned with possessiveness, nongenerosity and envy. From a methodological viewpoint, some creative methods are developed and some evidence is presented supporting the measure's reliability, convergent and discriminant validity and criterion validity.

This paper is a natural extension of Russ's fascinating research program dealing with worldly possessions and materialism as a window for viewing consumer behavior. Given the predilection Of consumer researchers toward empirical work and the tendency to believe in data, this research program needed a vehicle for transforming the conceptual framework into operational methods. Thus, this paper offers measures which can be further investigated, developed and related to other constructs and behaviors and allows the research program to attract adopters. For example, given that this paper contains an MTMM matrix with three traits and three methods, it seems quite likely that someone will do a structural equations analysis of it, probably for next sear's ACR meeting!

ETHNOCENTRISM

Terry Shimp's paper offers an extensive analysis of a huge data set--huge both in terms of number of variables and sample size. The research finds a number of differences between ethnocentrics and non-ethnocentrics for a variety of consumer behavior variables.

One suggestion for research on ethnocentrism in the consumer area would be to investigate individual sentiments, i.e., the degree to which an individual perceives his/her individual view of the world as totally correct and fully shared by other people. While this is more Of a psychological rather than sociological view, it does invite consideration of a number of other research questions. For example, studies Or the relationships between ethnocentricity and dogmatism, ethnocentricity and innovativeness, ethnocentricity and influenceability, and ethnocentricity and brand and store loyalty may be useful.

SYMBOLISM

Dennis Rooks' paper provides an interesting overview of the nature of ritual behavior and relates this behavior to consumer symbolism. The paper reviews various treatments of ritual behavior and offers consumer behavior researchers the opportunity to take a broader, more macroview of their area of inquiry.

There is clearly the opportunity here to develop an impressive research program without being overly concerned with relating the approach to current views of consumer behavior. However, perhaps the best way to market this approach and to attract other researchers to it would be to relate ritual behavior and consumer symbolism to current views of culture in consumer behavior texts. In other words, the author may have to piece this work into the accepted paradigm to gain more followers. Of course, a scientific revolution cannot be ruled out but seems unlikely at this time.

SIMILARITIES AMONG THE PAPERS

The three papers in this session all offer approaches to the study of consumer behavior which differ from the cognitive psychology view that currently dominates the field. The approaches also offer ways of viewing consumer behavior from perspectives that may not have direct relevance for marketing management--this is a positive attribute of the papers. In fact, a few years ago, Jerry Olson suggested in his presidential address that "Until we start explicitly contrasting our marketing-oriented theories with theories based on different values and objectives, we probably won't realize how limiting the marketing Perspective is" (Olson 1982, p.ix).

These papers also illustrate that radically different approaches can be used to account for the same phenomenon, in this case, consumer behavior. In fact, these approaches could be developed to account for consumer behavior just as well as currently accepted approaches if equivalent effort were expended. One must wonder why we have confined our search for insights into consumer behavior primarily to cognitive and social psychology and economics when there are many other fruitful approaches (Peter and Olson, in press). To constrain our view to a single or a few approaches and to search for a single general theory of consumer behavior are mistakes we can no longer afford. The papers in this session offer what we can only hope will be further development and acceptance of alternative paradigms for consumer behavior study.

REFERENCE

Olson, Jerry C. (1982), "Presidential Address-1981: Toward A Science of Consumer Behavior," in Andrew Mitchell (ed.) Advances in Consumer Research, Volume 9, Ann Arbor, MI: Association for Consumer Research, v-x.

Peter, J. Paul and Jerry C. Olson (in press), "Is Science Marketing?", Journal of Marketing.

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