Coming Home: the Role of Consumption in the (Re)Construction of Heritage Among African Americans.

SPECIAL SESSION: Coming Home: The Role of Consumption in the (Re)Construction of Heritage among African Americans.




n         INTRODUCTION: The Heritage Quest as Transformative Consumption Practice, Laura R. Oswald, Chair and Discussion Leader. Essec Business School, Paris, France.


The objective of this session is to stimulate dialogue, discussion, and more comprehensive theorizing about transformative consumption theory and practice in relation to cross-cultural consumption rituals among middle class African Americans in search of cultural “roots.” To this end, the session is targeted to the consumer researcher interested in cross-cultural consumer behavior, ethnicity, Africana, or post-modern critical inquiry. The heritage quest is a form of symbolic consumption derived from the internalization of meanings associated with cultural rituals, folklore, artifacts and artisan crafts rather than genealogy per se. It is (trans)formative inasmuch as the heritage ritual anchors the individual in a shared cultural past and social solidarity.


n       PAPER #1. Constructing a Past for Today:  Appropriating Collective Memory for Identity (Re)Presentation, Tonya P. Williams, Northwestern University.


This study of African American expatriates in South Africa suggests that possessions not only serve to preserve and maintain consumer identity through the migration experience, but provide means to actively experiment with and transform one’s identity through consumption rituals.  Findings provide an understanding of how consumers appropriate collective memories of a new culture, resulting in morphed identity (re)presentation. Ritual may be a necessary condition for the appropriation of collective memories.  Through ritual, respondents engage new resources in the form of internalized social capital.  A conceptual model delineates the process for collective memory appropriation through accumulated capital and resultant identity (re)presentation.


n         PAPER #2. Wearing Identity: The Symbolic Uses of Native African Clothing by African Americans. Benét DeBerry-Spence and Elif Izberk-Bilgin, University of Illinois at Chicago.


This research explores the construct of the consumer heritage quest through an examination of African Americans’ narratives of African clothing consumption.  The findings from a multi-site ethnography reveal that the consumption of native African clothing transcends the immediate hedonistic need to look and feel good, and constitutes an on-going symbolic practice of self-completion, social bonding, and cultural identification.  Findings point to four types of symbolic consumption practices, including 1) Authentication; 2) Resistance   3) Homecoming, and 4) and Legacy Transmission. Discussion will examine these four practices in the findings and address broader implications for consumer behavior.


n         PAPER #3 How African Americans Use Relationships with Kenyan Immigrants in the Heritage Quest. L. Wakiuru Wamwara-Mbugua, Wright State University.


Findings from an ethnographic study suggest that interactions between African Americans and Kenyan immigrants facilitate reconnection with the African “Motherland.”  Through these interactions, the respondents are transformed and aspects of their consumer behavior are also transformed.  These transformations have resulted in changed consumption patterns such as: the placement of African artifacts from Kenya and other African countries in their homes; eating and cooking Kenyan recipes, and surrounding themselves with reminders of their imagined “home” in Africa. This study has implications for the evolving African American identity and resultant consumer behavior.


Session Chair: Laura Oswald and Discussion Leader: Laura Oswald (2006) ,"Coming Home: the Role of Consumption in the (Re)Construction of Heritage Among African Americans.", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 33, eds. Connie Pechmann and Linda Price, Duluth, MN : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 191-194.


Session Chair: Laura Oswald, Stony Brook College of Business, the State University of New York
Discussion Leader: Laura Oswald, Stony Brook College of Business, the State University of New York


NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 33 | 2006

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