Session Overview Consumer Acculturation: Immigrants, Migrants and Expatriates

Mary C. Gilly, University of California, Irvine
[ to cite ]:
Mary C. Gilly (1995) ,"Session Overview Consumer Acculturation: Immigrants, Migrants and Expatriates", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 22, eds. Frank R. Kardes and Mita Sujan, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 505.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 22, 1995      Page 505



Mary C. Gilly, University of California, Irvine

In our contemporary global economy, there is continuous movement of people, products and companies across national boundaries. While tourism is the way most people see and experience other countries, an increasing number of individuals and families are spending extended periods of time living in countries other than their country of birth. When living in another country on a long term basis, it is necessary to engage in various consumer behaviors in order to conduct everyday life. Often, the marketplace is very different from that which was left behind, both in terms of the products available and the way of conducting transactions. Thus emigration entails daily cross-cultural consumer experiences which present special challenges to all involved.

Two aspects of the cross-cultural living experience are of particular interest here. First, the ways in which consumers adapt to and adopt their new culture's products and behaviors, and perhaps values, is of interest to consumer researchers. Consumer acculturation has been defined as "the process of adaptation to the cultural consumption values and behaviors of one cultural group by members of another cultural group" (Penaloza 1989). Hall (1959) maintained that the study of culture is important not because of what is learned about another's way of doing things, but because of what it reveals about ourselves. More recently, Hofstede (1991) argued similarly for the study of other cultures. Thus, by studying people who have had to adapt to being consumers in a different culture, we can gain insights into our own.

Second, the study of people who have left their country of birth enables consumer researchers to examine the meaning of possessions in a different light. When home is left behind, both possessions and familiar products are left behind and may take on new meanings for the emigrant (Belk 1992; Mehta and Belk 1991; Wallendorf and Arnould 1988). Adaptation to new products, and attempts to obtain familiar ones, offer insights into consumer behaviors which have received little research attention.

The objective of the special session was to examine the topic of consumer acculturation by discussing three very different types of people who have emigrated. Immigrants come to a foreign country to take up residence on a relatively permanent basis. Migrants also come to a foreign country to take up residence, but they do not settle in one place permanently. Expatriates are sent to foreign countries by their employers for temporary assignments, lasting on average four years (Black and Stephens 1989). For this special session, the immigrant and migrant groups were Mexicans coming to the U.S. while the expatriates were U.S. citizens residing in Spain.

The first paper presented was "Marketers as Agents of Immigrant Consumer Acculturation," by Lisa Penaloza, University of Illinois. Penaloza pointed out that retailers' influence on immigrant consumer acculturation has been less studied than the influence of family, peers, media, etc. Reporting on interviews conducted with retailers serving an area with a large Mexican immigrant population, she identified a number of ways in which marketers serve to introduce immigrant consumers to the norms of consumer behavior in the U.S.

The next paper was presented by John Schouten, University of Portland, "Peonage or Pioneering: Mexican Migration in the Pacific Northwest," co-authored with Alexandra Velasquez, University of Portland. Studying a Mexican migrant worker population in Cornelius, OR, they found that consumer acculturation mirrored other aspects of acculturation. Schouten identified three levels of acculturation: instrumental (migrants who make minimal adjustments to the U.S. marketplace and who maintain loyalty to Mexico), marginalization (migrants who have failed to achieve their goals in the U.S. and who have no affiliation with the U.S. or with Mexico), and terminal (migrants who have acculturated to the U.S. environment and plan to remain as immigrants).

The final presentation was by Mary Gilly, University of California, Irvine, "The Consumer Acculturation of Expatriate Americans." Reporting on in-depth interviews with expatriate American women in Spain and participant observation, Gilly discussed the topics of the meaning of possessions (e.g., leaving possessions behind and dealing with the unavailability of U.S. products) and the learning about a new consumer environment.

Thomas O'Guinn, University of Illinois led the discussion of the papers. He made the observation that most models of acculturation assume there is a culture to which one aspires. In a consumer context, as these papers illustrate, it may be that individuals living in a country other than their country of birth adapt and adjust to the consumer environment, rather than outright adoption of the host country's norms. O'Guinn pointed out the need to study how these groups socially construct the culture they are encountering. Members of the audience shared their own experiences living in other countries, and observed the similarities across the diverse groups of immigrants, migrants and expatriates in terms of their consumer acculturation.


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