Conceptualizing Consumption Patterns Amongst Asian Indian Immigrants: Postmodern Identities and Post Code Influences

ABSTRACT - Ethnicity and cultural affiliation has recently become increasingly important as research begins to establish the extent to which culture is passed from generation to generation. This is not, however, an easy linear trajectory. Even though cultural values are being passed from one generation to another, external influences and forces, such as peers and opinion leaders begin to weaken cultural ties leading to mixed messages and responses to aspiration and rejection of these influences. This paper focuses not only on consumption patterns but also on how geographical location and the density of the ethnic population influences consumption patterns, comparing predominately Awhite@ populated neighbourhoods with more Aethnically@ dominated areas. At this stage the paper is focusing on the conceptualization of consumption patterns and in time will also include results of actual primary research undertaken. Previously consumption patterns have been reviewed with a generic mass in mind, the authors purpose that the enhancement of marketing campaigns, the delivery of added value service can only take place if the less obvious, less publicised, less media orientated segments are also analysed. By using self-categorisation to find out how people perceive themselves and by identifying and comparing how the more Aethnically@ dominated areas compared with the more Awhite@ populated areas, this paper proposes to analyse cultural assimilation and degrees of integration against a buyer behavior backdrop.



Citation:

Yasmin K. Sekhon (2003) ,"Conceptualizing Consumption Patterns Amongst Asian Indian Immigrants: Postmodern Identities and Post Code Influences", in E - European Advances in Consumer Research Volume 6, eds. Darach Turley and Stephen Brown, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 97-101.

European Advances in Consumer Research Volume 6, 2003      Pages 97-101

CONCEPTUALIZING CONSUMPTION PATTERNS AMONGST ASIAN INDIAN IMMIGRANTS: POSTMODERN IDENTITIES AND POST CODE INFLUENCES

Yasmin K. Sekhon, London Institute, UK

ABSTRACT -

Ethnicity and cultural affiliation has recently become increasingly important as research begins to establish the extent to which culture is passed from generation to generation. This is not, however, an easy linear trajectory. Even though cultural values are being passed from one generation to another, external influences and forces, such as peers and opinion leaders begin to weaken cultural ties leading to mixed messages and responses to aspiration and rejection of these influences. This paper focuses not only on consumption patterns but also on how geographical location and the density of the ethnic population influences consumption patterns, comparing predominately "white" populated neighbourhoods with more "ethnically" dominated areas. At this stage the paper is focusing on the conceptualization of consumption patterns and in time will also include results of actual primary research undertaken. Previously consumption patterns have been reviewed with a generic mass in mind, the authors purpose that the enhancement of marketing campaigns, the delivery of added value service can only take place if the less obvious, less publicised, less media orientated segments are also analysed. By using self-categorisation to find out how people perceive themselves and by identifying and comparing how the more "ethnically" dominated areas compared with the more "white" populated areas, this paper proposes to analyse cultural assimilation and degrees of integration against a buyer behavior backdrop.

ETHNICITY AND IDENTITY

How significant is the role of identity when considering individual’s ethnic cultural orientation and to what extent does this impact on consumption? Rex (1996) argues that it is important to distinguish between two uses of identity. The first relates to the ways in which individuals are guided by cultural norms; perceive social entities and their own place within a given society. A second use of the term is more emotive, involving a sense of identification or association. This term can, however be further distinguished, as Laroche et al (1992) have, between subjective and objective measures of ethnicity and identity. Subjective measures conceptualise ethnicity as a matter of personal belief and reflect an individual’s psychological identity about their cultural attributes.

On the other hand objective measures of ethnicity include socio-cultural features such as religion, language and cultural tradition. To some extent it seems likely that the two are embedded in some way together. A theme here is the juxtaposition of individual feelings and emotions as related to common themes of cultural identity running through different ethnic groups, i.e. the individual’s response to their cultural situation. It can be argued that the cultural situation is indeed influenced by the density of the local ethnic population. Are immigrants more affiliated to home cultures because those residing close to them also share the same values and traditions? Will the following of traditional norms vary because a "white population" is more dominant; hence friends and peers on a daily level are from the host country.

In a discussion of the relationship between ethnicity and identity we need to consider their likely role in the relationship between first/second generation immigrants and their localization. Are they able to localize or do they stay inherently loyal to their host countries with little adaptation? Additionally the relevance and receptiveness of this group to global marketing strategies will be dependant on factors beyond their cultural orientation, for example the consumers’ financial situation, opinion leaders’ influence, geographical location of residency and personal preferences. Deshponde et al (1986:215) argue that any combination of objective and subjective characteristics are insufficient without also measuring the intensity of attachment within ethnic groupsBis it a strong or weak ethnic affiliation? Donthu and Cherian (1994) found that when the strength of ethnic identification is measured, it is a significant factor in consumer purchase decisions. If the latter is found to be true, then a further question must be posed, how can marketing practitioners and academics utilise this information to provide an increased value driven service? Also will the level of affiliation be influenced by the strength of ties with other ethnic groups in the neighbourhood?

The issue of importance, which marketers in multi-cultural societies need to address, is whether ethnic minorities will ultimately accept the culture of the host country or whether they will retain their own culture and this is largely an emotional, subjective issue not necessarily suitable for objective measurement. It may of course be that it is not an either or situation, but rather an integration of both i.e. acceptance of the host country as well as successfully retaining own culture, following the "between two cultures" way of thinking. It does, however, seem intuitively likely that those with high assimilation levels will accept and be more receptive to marketing messages than those with low levels, as the latter possess home country loyalties and thus may ignore host country marketing campaigns. The latter of course needs to be tested in future primary research. The rationale behind this statement is that those strongly affiliated to the home country may choose to ignore host country marketing campaigns or may not be forthcoming in responding to these campaigns as previous countries’ influences maybe the stronger driving force. Also the content of the message may need to be revised to take account of the differing cultures and issues of importance to the consumer.

CULTURAL VALUES

Individual issues related to identity and ethnicities need to be incorporated within the larger sphere of cultural values. Culture is a collective phenomenon, because it is at least partially shared with people who live or have lived within the same social environment, which is where it was learned. It is the "collective programming of the mind which distinguishes the members of one group or category of people from another" (Hofstede 1997). Thus, culture is not genetic it is learned. It is the result of the permanent human interaction. It is not inherited; it is transmitted from one generation to another generation. It derives from one’s social environment, not from one’s genes (Dussart, 1993). Culture influences, decides, establishes a behavioural framework (Ward et al, 1987). In summary, culture is a set of ways of speaking, thinking, doing things, and behaving which drive human acts. If culture stems from the local social environment, how does this change the one who immigrates to a host country and is faced with a differing environment, which may replicate partial home country traditions.

From a consumption perspective, the concept of culture incorporates two expressions of culture: physical culture, the material objects and artifacts created by mankind, and subjective culture, the subjective psychosocial responses of a man to experience. The former can be viewed as the physical manifestation of cultural meaning (Belk, 1987; Hirschman, 1988: Holbrook, 1989) while the latter refers to the corporate cognitive system with which a society interprets experience and imputes meaning to objects (McCracken, 1988). Both expressions of culture are important factors to individual ethnicity and identity in consumption terms.

The authors building on the work of (Dussart, 1993) accept the notion of culture as passed from generation to generation. Even though cultural values are being passed from one generation to another, external influences and forces, such as peers, opinion leaders, present country of residency begin to weaken cultural ties leading to mixed messages and responses to aspiration and rejection of these influences.

THE ROLE OF ACCULTURATION

Consideration of the concept of acculturation plays an important part in this research. Degrees of acculturation vary from generation to generation with second and subsequent generations clearly developing new loyalties and becoming more assimilated than first-generation immigrants (Bhopal 1998). Acculturation levels are an important factor in understanding the first generations’ willingness to accept the host country’s values and treat it as their home. Several studies (Metha and Belk, 1991; Penaloza’s 1994) have already been developed with the explicit purpose of understanding and conceptualizing the acculturation process that many immigrants have to deal with. Penaloza’s ethnographic exploration of the consumer acculturation of Mexican immigrants, for example, develops an empirical model of their consumer acculturation consisting of movement, translation and adaptation processes leading to outcomes of assimilation, maintenance, resistance and segregation.

Metha and Belk’s work (1991) modified the definition of cultural assimilation. They suggested that while assimilation is the proper term for immigrants who want to be absorbed in the dominant culture, integration is more appropriate for immigrants who wish to preserve their cultural identity while maintaining good relations with the dominant culture. A more recent study by (Gansh 1997) developed existing research by examining the cultural acculturation of the Indian immigrants, in terms of relative spousal influence by product and stage of purchase. However limited research actually focuses on levels of ethnic residents effecting consumption patterns of immigrants in differing geographical locations.

As (Metha and Belk’s 1991) work has shown even second generation immigrants that are born in the U.K are still integrating into the dominant culture rather than actually being a true part of it. These descendants of immigrants while native born are in reality only partially integrated into the host country’s culture. This is not necessarily due to the host country’s resistance to welcome these individuals but is also related to these immigrants’ desire to stay loyal to the older generation and the home country. It may however be that these generation gaps actually push subsequent generations away from their parents and their culture, this will of course be dependent on lifestyle patterns and the main influencing groups, for example a second or third generation immigrant that goes away to study at University might become more integrated with the host country and thereon follow in the main host country values, weakening ties with the home country of origin. A question that needs to be considered in further development of acculturation is whether this leads to a form of assimilation or integration or whether indeed tensions exist which preclude neat solutions of either. Levels of assimilation also vary considerably for first generation settlers. These conflicts or opportunities need to be further exploited/researched, as these consumers realise their individuality is often ignored and put into the main western mass marketing "melting pot".

IDENTITY

Belk (1974) defines a "situation" as something outside the basic tendencies and characteristics of the individual and beyond the characteristics of the stimulus object to be acted upon. He identifies five objective dimensions of situations (1975a): the physical surroundings, social surroundings, temporal perspective, task definition and antecedent states. The antecedent state (momentary moods or conditions immediately preceding choice) and social situation (the presence or absence of others) are most relevant to situational ethnicity and will de discussed further in the context of this paper. For example, consider the celebration of Diwali (festival of lights), given the probable heightened state of felt ethnicity due to the celebrations, may be more likely an Indian restaurant than if the same individual were choosing a restaurant on a different, non-Indian celebration. Similarly, Indian individuals living in England are perhaps more likely to watch a cricket match between India and England to enhance their own sense of ethnic identity.

Acculturation and ethnicity levels will also account for the conflicting mechanisms at work on second and subsequent Asian Indian generations. Some of these mechanisms will be pressuring them into conformity, whilst some into liberalisation of or deviation from these norms.

Asian Indians can also categorised as living "Between two cultures", where there are "manifold contradictions between the expectations of the minority community and the demands of wider, western society." This can mean that they have to be sensitive towards, two often contradictory and polarised ways of living. The pressure of negotiating between parental and community demands for respectability on the one hand, and the expectations of the majority culture on the other hand, can be intense. Thus new identities are being formed that are a mixture of cultures, values, religions and beliefs, resulting in postmodern identities that are further influenced by the make up of the local population.

Saeed et al (1999) demonstrated that hybrid identities exist amongst immigrant populations. However, for Indan immigrants living in England, would a hybrid identity be acknowledged? And how, if at all, would this affect consumption patterns? How would Indian immigrants self categorise their identity? How would these identities and subsequent consumption patterns differ according to different geographical regions?

CULTURAL MEANING OF CONSUMER GOODS

If these first/second generation immigrants are living between two cultures, what is the meaning of their purchases? To what extent are the marketers facing decisions that will have implications on buyer behaviour? This will be more problematic if the cultural outcomes of understanding first/second generation consumers do not lead to clearly defined categorizations. Before we assume neat categorization of such consumers it is worth returning to a deeper analysis of meaning and its circulation with regard to both culture and consumption.

From McCracken’s perspective (1990) to understand the relationship between culture and consumer behaviour, one must first treat culture as meaning and assume that this meaning is constantly in circulation. Citing his own and other’s research, (McCracken 1986) drew broader attention to the fact that consumer goods have a significance that goes beyond their utilitarian character and commercial value. This significance consists in their ability to carry and communicate cultural meaning. Those meanings and significance for different generations of immigrants is likely to build up from an eclectic mix of cultural understandings. In particular the author feels that there are likely to be a number of influencing and possibly contradictory factors that motivate first/second generation immigrants to buy the products and brands they do. As such we see this to be some kind of mixture of culture, acculturation levels and the need for status and symbolism. We see these as needing interpretation and understanding rather than to be treated as variables in consumption terms. Also how do consumption patterns differ for those labelled as "border mentality" consumers (Ribeau, 1994)?

FIGURE 1

CONSUMPTION MATRIX

SITUATIONAL ETHNICITY IN CONSUMER BEHAVIOUR

To further this study it is deemed necessary to focus on immigrants who are geographically closer to the country of settlement. The authors will conceptualise and eventually test the belief that levels of actual and desired assimilation to the host country’s values duly affect levels of acculturation, loyalty to home country ways and purchasing patterns. Furthermore the idea of situational ethnicity influencing purchase patterns is also explored. Recent work suggests that ethnic identification and behaviour is at least partly situationally determined. That is, ethnicity is not just who one is, but how one feels in and about a particular situation. The authors thus believe that ethnicity and related behaviour is not just a stable sociological trait of individuals that is manifested in the same way at all times. It can, however, be a transitory psychological state manifested in different ways in different situations and at varying levels of emotional patriotism and loyalty to the home country. Geographical location and the density of ethnic settlers in a given town/city will mean that these clusters of individuals or groups of individuals are directly on indirectly affected by these situational factors.

No work in consumer research has focused on the social psychological role of transitory ethnic states and levels of patriotism in moderating the relationship between choice and individual such as ethnicity and its role in affecting general consumption patterns and choices.

This paper will extend the discussion of consumer ethnicity into the realm of the consumption situation and will seek to further studies based on McGire et al 1978’s belief that ethnicity is not just who one is, but also how one feels.

PRELIMINARY RESEARCH

To establish consumption patterns based on ethnicity & level of assimilation or integration, it is necessary to identify the extent to which, respondents consider themselves to be Indian and how much importance they place on belonging to an ethnic group at a personal and professional level.

This paper aims to introduce a conceptual model that integrates geographical location with levels of cultural assimilation and its resultant influence on consumption patterns.

The matrix in Figure 1 can be used as a way of identifying consumer influences and the impact of the local residents on consumption patterns, linking levels of assimilation with the majority make up of the population. Each category will form the basis of hypotheses development.

Even within these segments, however, it is recognised that there will be different degrees or levels of use of ethnicity and that use of ethnicity may vary depending on situational variables. Also residents within a certain geographical location will vary considerably but in the first instance the majority population is being used as an indicator of general ethnicity of that area.

The matrix is aiming to integrate cultural assimilation levels with the local population make up. For example if a consumer lives in a predominately ethnic populated area (i.e. SouthallBU.K) and has low levels of cultural assimilation with the host country, consumption patterns maybe based more on home country values rather than the host country. This may further impact on the brand choice, distribution channel and even the reason for the purchase, which may be based on social identity and self-concept rather than functionality. The model is in the early stages of development, after preliminary research has been undertaken it could be that dependent on the consumers’ categorization this will then determine why products are bought and the reason for the decision. The local population may indirectly influence the consumer or it may be that the consumer has a more "rebel reaction" and decides to purchase products that are different to the local norm.

At present the paper is focusing on Asian Indians, which are a mixed group of people, whose parents or grand parents could have resided in Delhi, Bombay, Punjab, or even CalcuttaBthis has further implications as these areas are very diverse and so are their cultural patterns. It could be that these identities through consumption are more fluid for one group than another, so making for a new set of "post modern identities". Another factor that may also lead to differences is the religious influence on these consumers. As the differing levels of religious practice might also influence levels of cultural affiliation and hence consumption patterns.

PRELIMINARY FINDINGS

Preliminary research that has been undertaken has looked at third and fourth generation Immigrants and it seems that the local population have a definite role to play in consumption patterns and processes.

From the results there is a very "Asian Indian" role, with a definite influence of the local inhabitants, whether "white" or indeed "Asian Indian". Also belonging to a group is indeed influenced by local residents as the interviewees expressed their consumption patterns were dependent on who was around them. Further themes will inevitably arise as more interviews are conducted and analysed in these different locations. Interesting to note however is, the adapted sense of Asian Indian identity and its impact on situational consumption and consumption generally.

FURTHER RESEARCH

Having identified the extent to which ethnicity is relevant to the consumption patterns of Asian Indian immigrants, it may be interesting to consider the way in which these immigrants "use" their ethnicity. Rutland & Cinnirella (2000) raise salient issues regarding self-categorisation and the extent to which it is fluid, context dependent and consistently relative to the comparative context. Are people as motivated to maximise differences between groups and similarities, and, if so, to what extent is ethnicity "used" to assist in integration or assimilation through consumption patterns? Their results indicated that context affects on self-categorisation maybe dependent on category accessibility, category fragility and perceived psychological relations between categories. Further exploration in this area may provide further information to enhance the development of global marketing strategies from both a communications and behavioural perspective.

The model will also then be developed to categorise consumers into types of buyers, this categorization will be a result of new and emerging hybrid identities that are also able to take account of your local area of residency, in short how a consumers’ post code influences their identity and also their purchases.

LIMITATIONS

It is acknowledged that this will be an exploratory study and that results from the comprehensive analyses will inevitably be open to questions of validity. However, it is hoped that with salient issues raised and explored in this initial stage, that further qualitative and interpretive research, following a positivistic route of hypothesis testing will be developed.

DISCUSSION AND CONCLUSION

This paper has provided a detailed literature review, which explored self-categorisation theory, ethnicity, cultural affiliation and also how people perceive themselves and how consumption patterns are then influenced, by a number of factors, notably local residents and their ethnic origin. The study has helped to highlight a number of themes, which may be a feature of the interviews that are still to be conducted. The final analysis will consider not only whether, but also why and when ethnicity is important in consumption situations and the influence of home country loyalties and ties to behavioural patterns. Also more work remains to be done to identify whether and when the self-concept notion applies to consumption situations. Additionally, different ethnic groups may bring different sub-cultural perspectives to bear regarding sensitivity to group norms. I t may be that we are now in an "era" where identities are now man-made and impact on consumer behaviour explicitly rather than just implicitly.

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Authors

Yasmin K. Sekhon, London Institute, UK



Volume

E - European Advances in Consumer Research Volume 6 | 2003



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