Special Session Summary Identity and Material Culture ACRoss Borders

Gnliz Ger, Bilkent University
[ to cite ]:
Gnliz Ger (1998) ,"Special Session Summary Identity and Material Culture ACRoss Borders", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 25, eds. Joseph W. Alba & J. Wesley Hutchinson, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 45-47.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 25, 1998      Pages 45-47



Gnliz Ger, Bilkent University

We live in an era in which boundaries across national cultures is dissolving and consumers are increasingly seeking identity in consumption (Friedman 1994). With rapid global flows (Appadurai 1990), cultures encounter more of each other, in person and in the form of each others’ products and images. There has been an increasing interest in the identity-constructive consumption in the globalizing world. Recent research include studies of local encounters with global consumer culture, consumer behavior of immigrants (mostly in North America), and ethnic consumption patterns in the multicultural world (e.g., Costa and Bamossy 1995; Ger and Belk 1996; Howes 1996; Mehta and Belk 1991; Pe±aloza 1994; Venkatesh 1995; Wilk 1996). However, the understanding of consumption in this increasingly mobile and multicultural world is far from satisfactory.

The objective of this session was to discuss consumption in the global reality of intercultural interaction by examining identity negotiation and consumption experiences of people who move across borders. We focused on transnationals (i.e., immigrants and expatriates), because they constitute one source (i.e., global flows of people) of the confrontation with "other" cultures and their numbers are growing: there is an expanding number of expatriates, immigrants, guest workers, tourists, and transnational cosmopolitans. We addressed issues such as how immigrants and expatriates experience consumption in their own unique context in living through the necessary contradictions and changes of their lives. We discussed how they adjust and adapt to, mask or revive their roots, struggle and resist, negotiate ambivalence and contradictions by creolization, and mix and mingle in a less conscious and more spontaneous manner, and how various social contextsof family, friends, gender, national, ethnic, and regional subcultures shape and are shaped by consumption.

The three presentations offered perspectives informed by data from, and experience in different cultures and subcultures, in Denmark and Spain. Askegaard and Arnould drew from emerging theory in the areas of globalization and postmodernity with illustrations from Greenlandic Inuits in Denmark. They defined hyperculture as simulation, where tradition is hype and the authentic is fake. They argued that a discourse of cultural difference becomes a mode of being and consumption substantiates fluid cultural categories. Gilly, Pe±aloza, and Kambara examined shopping and consumption experiences of American expatriate females in Spain. They considered how American identity enters awareness and impacts interpretations of, and adjustments and resistance to the new consumption environments and activities. They discussed constructions of "us" versus "them" and recreations of American lifestyles. Ger and +stergaard addressed the issue of how consumption of clothing serves the construction and expression of identity for second-generation Turkish immigrants in Denmark. They discussed the negotiation of the multiple sociocultural forces and the contradictions encountered in daily life in dress. They argued that hybridization of consumption is diverse and context-dependent.

Alladi Venkatesh served as the session discussant. He drew from both his personal experience and his research on ethnoconsumerism and cross-cultural consumer behavior to synthesize and criticize the various perspectives offered on identity and consumption across borders.



S°ren Askegaard, Odense University

Eric J. Arnould, University of South Florida

A curious corollary of globalization, the accelerated movement of people, products, capital, and information, is the apparent explosion both of claims to ethnicity and expressions of subculture through consumption. Many of the world’s most brutal conflicts are waged in terms of culture, from the Turkic-speaking Uighurs in China, to the Kurds in Turkey, Iran, and Iraq, the Maya in Guatemala and Mexico, and so on. Transnational ethnic dress enjoys renewed popularity among African-Americans in the US. Wearing of the Islamic veil becomes a politicized act. Ethnic cuisine, such as "Mexican" and even "Tex-Mex" is hot transnationally. Ethnic arts and experiences commercialized to appeal to cosmopolitan tastes, figure in treasured touristic excursions to New Guinea, the Pacific, Latin America, Africa, and the American Southwest. Culture itself is marketed across ethnic boundaries, as in the attempts to appropriate Native American spirituality by some New Agers. And commercially re-invented, culturally or subculturally-affiliated holidays that enliven the calendar, such as Kwanzaa, Halloween, Carnival, or Cinqo de Mayo are marketed across borders. This consciousness of the consumption of culture is due not least to the constant confrontation with the "other" cultures, either through immigration patterns, the existence of global businesses and expatriation positions, tourism and the mass media. This paper offers some theoretical guidance for understanding the new importance of what we call hyperculture in consumer behavior globally. To do so, it draws on emergng theory in the area of globalization, performance, and postmodernity. Based on globalization theory, we argue that hyperculture is an idiom for the expression of consumer resistance and agency, a cultural response for the failure of national and transnational political-economic entities to provide integrating values with which citizens can affiliate. Hyperculture and its attendant consumption patterns may be becoming a general claim to integration and differential identity in an increasingly homogenized (marketized) global political economy. Hyperculture identification and ethnically bounded consumption may be the sign of a generalized wavering between affiliation with some future post-national world community as yet unformed, or the acceptance of homogenized mass consumption, or the development of consumer counter-cultures of resistance. One of the most striking features about contemporary transnational consumer subculture is the fact that it is constructed through a process of marketplace bricolage. In other words, the essence of hyperculture is that it sustains new cultural identities through consumption of marketized and commodified cultural forms: food, attire, art, music, dance, architectural environments, and so forth. Thus, the situational and often ritualized performance of hypercultural identity becomes a critical mechanism of ethnic boundary formation and maintenance. Strategies for understanding ethnic consumer culture should move away from modernist efforts to describe (presumably) temporally or spatially stable cultural identities or even lifestyles. Instead, we should move toward a strategy more appropriate to the emergent postmodern situation, one focused on analyzing strategies and processes whereby meaningful, but inherently malleable and unmanageable consumer identities are created, legitimated, contested, and resisted. Among the processes that one can begin to identify are creolization, a kind of hybridization process, domestication, in which goods are recontextualized by consumers and institutions, and authoritative performance, in which temporary adherence to a limited set of cultural conventions is effected.



Mary C. Gilly, University of California, Irvine

Lisa N. Pe±aloza, University of Colorado

Kenneth M. Kambara, University of California, Irvine

"[I can’t get] corn tortillas. I bring them back with me in my suitcase. I freeze them and bring them in a big cold suitcase," Monica.

Being American is rarely a consideration when in the U.S. Most of culture consists of habitual, often almost automatic behavior which is elicited by the cues and rules of settings which are understood. When in another culture, awareness of one’s "American-ness" provides context for learning cultural norms, comparing and contrasting U.S. norms to those of the new culture and adjusting accordingly. But such awareness can also heighten resistance to acculturation and lead to a desire to recreate former surroundings. Expatriates are sent by employers, usually for a given time period. While expatriates, like immigrants, must adjust to living in a novel cultural setting, their known departure provides less motivation for re-identification. Most work on expatriates has been done in organizational behavior, explaining and offering prescriptions for manager turnover; few articles address expatriate spouses. For this presentation, twelve American women living in Madrid, Spain were interviewed about reacquainting themselves with what was once a background experience: everyday life. The interviewer was herself an expatriate American living in Madrid at the time, offering a feminine narrative.

The presentation focuses on the role American identity played in the experiences of these women. Interview questions focused on consumption experiences. Informants’ American experiences told them hw things should work. We found expatriates’ American identity influenced several aspects of consumer behavior, including interactions with Spaniards, products missed and efforts to obtain them, and word-of-mouth sources.

Several informants believed treatment in stores was affected anti-American sentiment (Gulf War-related) among Spaniards. Americans were often mistaken by Spaniards as British and sometimes chose not to correct them because they believed they would be better treated. All informants identified unavailable American products; some expatriates went to great lengths to obtain desired products. One woman had not bought toilet paper in the six months she had lived in Madrid because visiting friends would bring the desired Charmin! Expatriate Americans primarily consulted each other about consumption unknowns, relying on networks of more experienced women. In addition, the women would talk about their frustrations and triumphs in the marketplace. Only in the communitas of Americans could they commiserate about "pushy" Spanish salespeople or foods in shops which looked too much like the barnyard "friends" from which they came.

While most apparent in interviews was how expatriates’ American identities shaped responses to stimuli in the Spanish consumption environment, there was evidence that, for a few informants, the expatriate experience had created new identities. The expatriate experience had awakened the adventurer in Marty, freeing her from prior cultural constraints:

"Whatever happens, I don’t want to go back to the U.S....You know, I mean [I want] experience[s], you know, traveling and meeting new people and just being free" Marty.

The interviews with American expatriates, and the expatriate experience of one author, offer insights into the role of American identity in expatriates’ interpretations of, and interaction with, the Spanish consumer environment. Implications are drawn for understanding of consumer acculturation and adaptation in a world that is increasingly mobile.



Gnliz Ger, Bilkent University, Turkey

Per +stergaard, Odense University, Denmark

Wanted or not, immigrants are crossing borders in increasing numbers and intensifying the global flows of people. They carry cultures, bidirectionally, across borders and foster diversity and creolization of global consumer cultures. They are caught in-between and move in-between two cultures: old and new homes. In that in-between state, maintenance, expression, and visibility of one’s immigrant identity may or may not be desirable. This study examines how social and personal identity among immigrants is constructed, reconstructed, expressed, and made visible or masked through consumption of clothes. We explore how the acts and meanings of clothing are experienced and used in identity negotiation while encountering numerous, sometimes contradictory, cultural forces that shape unique clothing meanings and experiences. Exploration of how immigrants, as culture carriers, construct their identity through consumption will enhance the understanding of globalization of consumer cultures.

A qualitative study was conducted among the Turko-Danish students, second-generation immigrants in Denmark. The data includes interviews, photo albums, and observations in daily life and in a major social occasionCa circumcision ceremony. Daily fieldnotes, transcriptions of interviews, photos, and the video of the ceremony constitute the systematic observation records in the study. The use of multiple methods provides triangulation and aids thick description and interpretation. The authors are a female Turk who spent two months in Denmark and a male Dane who lives in Denmark. The use of a bicultural bigender research team helps avoid ethnocentric or gender-specific interpretations of the data,while providing both Turkish and Danish-insider’s and outsider’s, and female and male perspectives.

We focus on clothes, which are among the most commonly desired, the most frequently purchased and used consumer goods. Clothes may be the most important consumer goods used in the process of self-construction: dressing is a daily ritual involving the body, which is integral to identity. Besides, clothes are expressive props. Clothes are costumes we put on to feel the part. We may change identities as we change clothes. Therefore, clothes, so close to the body, so quickly changed, provide a rich ground for the study of how consumption is used in self-construction and reconstruction in everyday life, in the whole life-world.

We discuss how the forces of peripheric immigrant culture mingle with the "center" in the consumption of clothes when a young immigrant faces multiple centers (Western, European, Danish, mainland Turkish) and peripheries (Danish immigrant, European immigrant, Turkish rural). We consider various cultural forces and contradictions experienced and reflected in appearance in the process of reconstructing lives as modern and modest young males and females, as Europeans, Danes, Turks, as members of a small Turkish community with roots in a particular rural locale in Turkey, as sons and daughters of old-country parents, and as students or employees in Danish institutions. Being modern versus modest, being proper (Turkish modesty or Danish simplicity) versus playful (attractiveness), being in public versus in private in the winter in Odense and in the summer in Turkey are among the contradictions negotiated in dress. Multiple and diverse patterns and strategies of clothing indicate contextual mixing and mingling of global consumer cultures.


Appadurai, Arjun (1990), "Disjuncture and Difference in the Global Cultural Economy," Theory,Culture and Society, Vol. 7, London: Sage, 295-310.

Costa, Janeen Arnold and Gary J. Bamossy, eds., (1995), Marketing in a Multicultural World: Ethnicity, Nationalism, and Cultural Identity, Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Friedman, Jonathan (1994), Cultural Identity and Global Process, London: Sage.

Ger, Gnliz and Russell W. Belk (1996), "I’d Like to Buy the World a Coke: Consumptionscapes of the 'Less Affluent World’," Journal of Consumer Policy, 19 (3), 1-34.

Howes, David, ed., (1996), Cross-Cultural Consumption, London: Routledge.

Mehta, Raj and Russell W. Belk (1991), "Artifacts, Identity, and Transition: Favorite Possessions of Indians and Indian Immigrants to the United States," Journal of Consumer Research, 17 (March), 398-411.

Pe±aloza, Lisa (1994), "Atravesando Fronteras/Border Crossings: A Critical Ethnographic Exploration of the Consumer Acculturation of Mexican Immigrants," Journal of Consumer Research, 21 (June), 32-54.

Venkatesh, Alladi (1995), "Ethnoconsumerism: A New Paradigm to Study Cultural and Cross-Cultural Consumer Behavior," in: Janeen Arnold Costa and Gary J. Bamossy, eds., Marketing in a Multicultural World: Ethnicity, Nationalism, and Cultural Identity, Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 26-67.

Wilk, Richard (1996), "Learning to be Local in Belize: Global Systems of Common Difference," in Daniel Miller, ed., Worlds Apart: Modernity Through the Prism of the Local, London: Routledge, 110-133.