Acculturation : Cross Cultural Consumer Perceptions and the Symbolism of Domestic Space


Malcolm Chapman and Ahmad Jamal (1997) ,"Acculturation : Cross Cultural Consumer Perceptions and the Symbolism of Domestic Space", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 24, eds. Merrie Brucks and Deborah J. MacInnis, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 138-144.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 24, 1997      Pages 138-144


Malcolm Chapman, University of Leeds, U.K.

Ahmad Jamal, University of Bradford, U.K.


This paper discusses some problems arising in cross-cultural perception, in the context of a meeting between an immigrant and host community. It is one of a pair of papers, with a similar theoretical background, but dealing with a different range of empirical material.

Within social anthropology, there has long been a keen interest in what is often called 'classification’-the process through which order is imposed upon the material and conceptual world by a particular society or social group. It is well-established that different societies classify their conceptual and material universe in different and often incongruent ways. By drawing primarily on the social anthropological tradition, we are looking to an intellectual lineage of interest in 'classification’ which goes back to Durkheim and Mauss (1963) and Saussure (1955); this lineage then proceeds through Levi-Strauss (1962, 1963), and on into the French, British and North American ethnographic traditions (in Britain, particularly through the work of: Leach, 1961; Needham, 1973 ed.; Douglas, 1966; Ardener, 1971).

Alongside the general anthropological interest in classification, we also draw upon various disciplines that have looked at the consumption experiences of immigrants, and the impact of migration and resettlement on these experiences. Social anthropology, sociology, social psychology and consumer behaviour have all contributed here. Some researchers perceived the situation as one of assimilation, and so examined 'the degree to which a subcultural group becomes similar to the dominant culture in a nation over time’ (Gordon 1964 cited in Penaloza 1994, p. 34). They used this framework to make sense of the differences between the consumption practices of immigrant and those of the local host society, and to understand changes in these differences (see for example Reilly and Wallendorf 1987; Wallendorf and Reilly 1983). Alongside the assimilation framework, others worked within the closely related acculturation framework, dealing with those 'phenomena which result when groups of individuals having different cultures come into continuous first hand contact, with subsequent changes in the original culture patterns of either or both groups’ (Redfield, Linton, and Herskovits 1936, cited in Berry 1980, p. 9); using this, they attempted to explain differences in consumption patterns (see for example Berry 1980; d’ Astous A. and Naoufel Daghfous 1991; Gentry, Jun and Tansuhaj 1995; Padila 1980; Penaloza 1994). Both research traditions have generated useful research and insight, and enhanced our understanding of ethnic consumer behaviour. There is still, however, a need for empirically-based theory concerning the question of why some immigrant communities do not readily assimilate or acculturate, but rather segregate or isolate themselves, attempting to keep the new cultural environment at arm’s length; this can continue even when the immigrant population has been established in the new environment for decades. The self-imposed segregation of the immigrants is often mirrored by a discourse of 'otherness’ on the part of the host population. The present paper is an attempt to throw light on how the host society perceives the consumption patterns of the immigrants and consequently may also segregate itself from the immigrants.


The research upon which this paper is based is an ethnographic study of the consumption experiences and practices of an immigrant and host community in an industrial town, Bradford, in the county of West Yorkshire, in the north of England. The study has looked at both Pakistani immigrants (and their Bradford-born children and grandchildren), and the local indigenous population. The authors of this paper share the cultures of the peoples under study. One (the doctoral supervisor) is from the host community, born and bred in Bradford. The other (the doctoral candidate) is a native Pakistani, carrying out consumer research in England.

During the research we have concentrated our attention on domestic life-on the detail of food and household consumption, family life, interaction with neighbours and the neighbourhood, gender issues, and so on. Many of these issues interact, and we have tried to respect this interaction, within the generally holistic research ethic deriving from social anthropology.

The fieldwork started in January 1995 and finished in March 1996. Ten English households agreed to participate in the study; since the start of the fieldwork one of the researchers has visited each English household every fortnight to participate in cooking, eating and discussing issues related to the study. The same researcher has also lived from January 1995 among the Pakistani immigrants, developing a journal of his daily interaction with a group of forty Pakistani immigrants. He, with the help of his wife, has conducted in-depth interviews with twenty five of these Pakistani informants.

Bradford was selected for the study because it is home to a large number of Pakistanis. Immigrants from Pakistan to Bradford began arriving in large numbers in the late 1950s, and many of the older immigrants have been in Bradford for more than thirty years. There is now also a large number of second- (and even third-) generation, British born 'immigrants’; these young people are British nationals, but their primary cultural identification is often with their parents. The population of the city of Bradford is about 300,000, and the immigrant population, as commonly defined, is about 80,000. The immigrant population tends to live near the inner city, in the older suburbs; this adds to the apparent demographic preponderance of the immigrat population. The immigrants are overwhelmingly Muslim in religious affiliation, which has important implications both for how they perceive the members of the local host society (which is nominally Christian), and for how they are perceived by them.

The terminology for ethnic description that is popularly used in Bradford is that which we will use here. In this terminology, immigrants from Pakistan, and all the members of their households, whether immigrant or Bradford-born, are referred to as 'Pakistanis’. Similarly, all the members of the host population are referred to as 'English’ or 'white’. The substance of this terminology is broadly accepted within both ethnic communities, both in English and in Punjabi (which is the language of the Pakistani community). All the Pakistanis that we talked to used the word 'Gora’ (male singular) or 'Gorey’ (plural) to describe 'white Englishmen’. The word 'gora’ in Punjabi means someone who is 'white’. The Pakistanis do not, however, use this word to describe a Pakistani who may have fair skin. The word (in the local ethnographic context) is exclusively used to describe English people. The word used by Pakistani informants to designate other Pakistanis is 'apna’ (male singular) or 'apney’ (plural); this means something like 'our own people’. A boundary is created, by the use of these words, between their own community and the 'outsiders’.

It is noteworthy that the evidence of the ethnic terminology confirms the evidence deriving from social classification-that there are enduring boundaries between the two communities. The many Bradford-born children of immigrant couples remain, in the eyes of themselves, in the eyes of their parents, and in the eyes of the host population, predominantly 'Pakistani’. At best, they are 'between two cultures’ (see V. Saifullah Khan 1977). In this sense, the terminologies are lagging behind demographic realities, while expressing important classificatory realities within the communities in question.

In this paper, we try to show how social 'classification’ generates and explains perceptual barriers between an immigrant and a host community. It is important to stress that our approach here is resolutely even-handed. It would be easy to perceive immigrant exclusion from the host society as being imposed by the prejudices of the host society, and fought against by the immigrant community. There are areas of social action in our example where this would be a relevant description. We are not, however, concerned here primarily with these. We are, by contrast, interested in a series of misperceptions and category problems, whereby both groups construct a series of symbolic boundaries which excludes the other, and which achieve de facto self-segregation. In a previous paper (see Chapman and Jamal, 1996) we discussed some examples from food consumption. In that paper we showed how, through the perception and use of food, the immigrant Pakistani community defined itself, and excluded the native English population. The Pakistani community perceived the English population as 'polluted’, and as engaged in dirty and undesirable habits in food preparation and food consumption. Because of this, the Pakistani community has been reluctant engage in social intercourse or commensality with the English population, and has voluntarily segregated itself, within household and within neighbourhood. A system of food supply and production has grown up in Bradford which allows the Pakistani community to meet its own requirements, allowing the necessary independence from the existing systems. Within the food example, the Pakistani community finds reason for distancing itself from the host population. In the paper which follows, we discuss a different example, concering domestic space, and private and public space. Within this example, the burden of apparent impropriety lies upon the Pakistani population, and the host community finds reason for distancing itself from the immigrant community. The two papers, discussing food and space, are essentially different illustrations of the same problem, andtaken together provide a moral balance that might seem to be missing in either of them alone.


Our general position concerning classification can be summarised through the following quotation, from an author whose work is in the British social anthropological tradition:

"It is in the nature of social classification to produce differences, categories, oppositions and distinctions, which are lived as real by those who are members of the society. Apparent variations in the underlying reality can be overridden and obscured by the demands and requirements of the system; and it is the system which is socially 'real’ and which dominates perception" (Chapman, M. 1992, p.156).

On the basis of this, we can attempt to describe, first theoretically and then empirically, what happens when two different category systems meet. In order to illustrate the problem simply, we can imagine two different category systems, in which a single range of continuous physical variation is divided into meaningful units. The divisions are made differently in the two systems, and the two different systems are different 'cultures’. This is a crude dealing with a subtle problem, and the idea of social reality as 'a single range of continuous physical variation’ hardly does justice to the Saussurean ideas which lie behind our thinking. Nevertheless, we could be talking about, for example, a range of vowel sounds, a human limb, a genus or family of animals, a range of relatives; in this example, reality is merely a long black horizontal line. Both 'cultures’ divide the line up into meaningful units, where each unit takes its place in contradistinction (or 'opposition’, in Saussurean terms) to the others; only they do so differently. Culture A divides it up like this:


And Culture B divides it up like this:


Each creates four categories, but the boundary between categories 3 and 4 is differently placed. The boundaries between the categories, and the categories themselves, are 'lived as real’ by those within the two different societies. What then happens when one society looks at the other? Take the example of society A looking at society B. Society A has a significant boundary between categories 3 and 4. When it looks at society B, it perceives an absence of this boundary where the boundary is expected. Within Society B, category 4 elements seem, in Society A’s terms, to mingle with category 3 elements. What is worse, Society A cannot see the boundary that Society B makes between Society B’s categories 3 and 4. Society A’s own classification dominates its perception, and the category boundary that Society B makes is invisible to it. Accordingly, Society A supposes that Society B makes no distinction at all between categories 3 and 4. The difference between Society A’s system and Society B’s system may be only slight, a minor shift of category boundary; and yet, Society A can perceive Society B as failing entirely to make an important distinction.

To try to illustrate this in a more concrete manner, and to move towards engagement with relevant empirical material, we can consider that we are dealing with two societies, each of which has a boundary between the places where domestic waste is, and is not, allowed to be deposited. Space (reduced to a horizontal black line) in the two societies looks like this:


Society A can look at Society B, and perceive that part of Society A’s 'not-waste’ area is, in Society B, occupied by waste (the area occupied by asterisks). Society A, dominated in its perception by its own category boundaries, cannot see the different boundary that Society B has erected. Society A perceives, instead, a complete absence of boundary-'the floodgates open’. This is a crude attempt to summarise the real ethnographic situation, whose detail is explored below.

The ethnographic record is rich in detail of the moral importance that peoples attach to maintaining the integrity of the systems of classification (see, among many other works: Evans-Pritchard, 1956; Lienhardt, 1961). Systems of classification are an ordering of the world, and a threat to them is often perceived as a threat to order tout court. 'In all societies, any tampering with the boundaries of categories does awaken the fear of anomaly-generating pollution beliefs, inversion phenomena, and taboo’ (Ardener, 1989, p.11). Mary Douglas, in her classic summary of the problem (1966), showed the close association, in social perception, between correct classification and moral and ritual purity. For Douglas, dirt was 'matter out of place’.

We have seen, in our imaginary example above, that once Society A’s boundary is breached, Society A cannot perceive the new and different boundary erected by Society B. As far as Society A is concerned, the entire contents of categories 3 and 4 invade the space of category 3. The phrase 'the floodgates open’ was used to describe this classificatory phenomenon by the British social anthropologist Edwin Ardener, whose work is cited in various places in this paper. Ardener used the phrase as a passing metaphor (in conversation with one of the authors in 1975), and never intended it to be used as a theoretical construct; accordingly, we do not wish to seem to give the phrase or the metaphor too much concrete importance. Nevertheless, the metaphor of 'floodgates’ captures the sense that once-secure material categories seem to become alarmingly fluid, with an ability to flow unchecked, when a classification is threatened or broken.

Wherever there are differences of classification as between two cultures (or societies, ethnicities, social classes, or whatever), then cross-cultural perceptions of this kind are likely to arise. This is important for any study of acculturation in the realm of consumption experience, as between two different cultural groups. As we have seen, the notion of 'acculturation’ as used in consumer research today, implies that a group of immigrants can maintain some aspects of their original cultural values and traditions, even while moving in other respects towards the culture of the host society. We have also seen that 'acculturation’ also implies change in any of the two groups that are involved in the cultural encounter (hence we should also look into the changes in the consumption patterns of the host society after such cultural encounters). We believe that the phenomena of category disturbance are important during the 'process’ of acculturation, and determine the shifting 'outcomes’ of such a cultural encounter.

We move on to a discussion of a particular empirical area, from the Bradford material, the understanding of which is enhanced by the theoretical issues raised so far.


Here we are concerned with the system of boundaries (or classifications) between domestic and public space. In the following section we first explain the perceptions and the classifications used by the host society in the UK about their domestic, public and private spaces. Then we describe the same for the immigrants in their original culture. And finally we see how the host society perceives the immigrants, on the basis of the host society classifications, and in relation to the consumption acts of the immigrants.

In Bradford, the host population has a rapid history of urbanisation, based upon the first industrial revolution, and upon its central industry, the textile industry. In the nineteenth century, and for the first half of the twentieth, Bradford was one of the key towns of the world woollen industry, specialising in fine worsteds. The problems of mass-industrial-urbanisation were fought through for the first time in places like Bradford-housing, sewage, water-supplies, public health, universal education, labour laws, and so on. From the late nineteenth century onwards, the bulk of the working-class of Bradford lived in streets of terrace houses, one-up and one-down (i.e. one room on the ground floor, one room above), in which two dwellings backed on to one another on the same terrace. These were known as 'back-to-back’ houses, or 'back-to-backs’. At the front, they usually gave directly out onto a road, with two terraces facing one another across the road. At the back, they sometimes gave directly out onto another road; more usually, in the Bradford case, there was some kind of back yard (stone paved, with a covered outside privy, and room for hanging washing out to dry; access to this back yard, for the front of the pair of 'back-to-backs’, was via a tunnel between each pair of dwellings). After this generation of houses, the subsequent generation were built as through-terraces, in that a single dwelling shared both the front and back of the terrace; this meant that each dwelling was two-up and two-down (at least). This generation of terrace houses tended to have a 'front’ garden which was ornamental, outside the 'front’ door which led into the 'front’ room; the front room was the polite and posh room of the house, usually carefully cleaned and little used. Outside the 'back’ door was the yard which was analogous to the yard of the back-to-backs, with the outside privy and space for hanging washing to dry. This new architectural development allowed a spatial realisation, within a single dwelling, of an opposition between 'front’ and 'back’, which contained or was analogous with other oppositions:

front                 back

formal               informal

special              ordinary

garden              yard

ornament         function

flowers             stone-flags

polite                vulgar (the toilet was in the back yard)

front-room       living-room/kitchen

festivals             ordinary life

Most everyday coming and going was through the back door, directly into the room in which most of life was lived, the living-room/kitchen, with its direct link, via the back yard, to the toilet. The front door and the front room were rarely used; they came into their own at Christmas, and at family celebrations of the usual kind-weddings, christenings, funerals.

The front garden (often very small, perhaps only a yard or so in width) was a celebration of ornamental non-functionality, as befitted its opposition to the routine of the back yard and back entrance (and the human corporeal analogy is fully alive in this; remember where he toilet was!). The front garden was a place for fantasies of rockery in quartz, for flowers and shrubs, and for careful display of propriety and cleanliness. The terrace-house tradition of this kind was supplanted in its turn with the construction, from the 1920s onwards, of what became known as 'semi-detached houses’, or 'semis’. A 'semi’ was a dwelling forming one-half of a built unit, with its mirror image fastened to it forming another 'semi’. Each dwelling was surrounded on three of its sides by land, air, garden. The toilet, by this time, had moved indoors, so that the sense of 'back-yard (containing toilet)’ was lost; all the garden was influenced by the proprieties of the 'front’ garden; in a sense, the 'front garden’ of the older style terrace now spread all around the house. The garden, more or less elaborate, was a showcase for tidiness, display, neatness; flowers and shrubs were grown, lawns carefully tended. The garden, moreover, had sharply defined boundaries, separating the private (outside) domestic space from the public street; the boundaries ere often shrub hedges (usually of privet), carefully clipped; sometimes the boundaries were stone or brick walls, or wooden or wrought-iron fences. The car and the garage came along to complicate matters, as the twentieth century rolled by, but the basic pattern is still as described.

One of the authors of this paper grew up in Bradford in the immediate post-war period. At this time, all three kinds of house so-far described (back-to-back, terrace, semi) were common. There existed a minutely detailed, acute, and also gross sense of upward social mobility, involved in the passage from back-to-back, to terrace, to semi. The most manifest symbol of the terrace house (as opposed to the back-to-back) was its garden. The garden was important. The propriety and neatness of the garden was an extension of the propriety and neatness of the house, the housewife, the household, and the family. The garden, for the semi-detached, was equally important, spreading its land-owning allure round the house on three sides. A great deal of social status was attached to being able to walk round at least one side of your own house, from front to back.

Many of the back-to-backs were knocked down, as part of ambitious schemes of urban renewal in the 1970s and 1980s. Those displaced from the back-to-backs, often the poorest in society, were rehoused in the architects’ new Utopia of the tower block, the high-rise. This Utopia, built with such optimism, soon showed a strong tendency to become unpleasant and dysfunctional. People lived in 'flats’ in 'tower blocks’ only because they had to, because they could not afford to live elsewhere. One thing that was conspicuously lacking, in a high-rise flat, was a garden. From the old back-to-back, the vanity and social status of a garden had been an object of longing; with the shift to tower-blocks, the longing remained, a fortiori.

This is, again, a crude summary; a wealth of detail and complication could be added. The focus could be narrowed down to the detail of decoration, of paint-colour, of choice of garden flowers. The focus could be opened up, to look at regional or national elements. It is impossible to broach issues of this kind, without remarking the very general pastoral romanticism which is so strong in Britain (and which Britain in a sense gave to the rest of the world in the late eighteenth century); this pastoral romanticism was elaborated by Wordsworth, and seized upon by the tourist industry; it generated the 'Lake District’, and subsequently the Alps, the National Trust, and a variety of National Parks, as objects of urban desire; it led to the 'Garden Cities’ of the turn of the century; it led on to pastoral tourism, rambling and fell-walking, mountain climbing, and gardening. Gardening, caring for the garden, is one of the prime leisure pursuits of British suburban life. The garden of the semi-detached house has an entire cosmology of urban and industrial life built into its rockeries, an entire historiography of modernity growing out of its flower-beds.

The Pakistani mmigrants to Bradford knew little of this. The researchers were told by almost all of the Pakistani informants that they were never exposed to life in the UK before they came to Bradford. Most of the Pakistani immigrants came from a rural background, and belonged to the farming community. Their emigration from Pakistan was provoked by a desire for economic self-betterment. In Pakistan they raised crops and tended animals such as cows, buffaloes and oxen. They lived in small villages or village-like areas in Pakistan. Their houses were made of mud. Since land was relatively cheap, large areas (about three to four thousand square yards) were feasible. The buildings (mostly rectangular in shape) had outer walls of about six feet in height. These outerwalls served to establish the 'domestic space’ against the public space. In most cases the house consisted of two or three flat-roofed rooms along one side of the boundary wall (each room measuring about 15 yards by 10 yards in area). The rooms were mainly used for shelter in the event of rain or cold weather. The rooms were also used as storage places. The rest of the 'house’ consisted of the open-air courtyard. There was no concept of front vs. back room (still less of dining room, living room, guest room and the like). In most cases there were trees along one side of the courtyard. In the summer the family could stay in the courtyard during the night and under the shadow of the trees during the day. While one side of the courtyard served as an open-air kitchen for the household, the other side of the courtyard served to keep their cattle. The trees were grown inside the courtyard only for utilitarian purposes (one could enjoy the shade during the summer, and use branches or even the entire tree for cooking fires). Various vegetables were grown (e.g., garlic, coriander, spinach, tomatoes, onions etc.,) along one side of the boundary wall in the courtyard. That particular section of the land within the house (where vegetables were grown) was always perceived as an extension of the fields where crops were grown. Hence the place was only for 'growing’ purposes, and not for reflecting oneself through the maintenance, cleanliness and beauty of the place. There was no concept of front or back 'garden’ (whether structurally or perceptually) in these houses. Cleaning and maintenance of the house was entirely a woman’s job. She took great pains to clean the entire house including the courtyard up to the doorsteps (excluding the space where vegetables were grown). 'You did not need to clean the area where vegetables were grown, because this was a wild space, like the fields, a space 'where dirt became part of the soil and turned itself into fertiliser’, as one informant told. There were no sewerage systems in the villages. People used to go 'outside’ their homes into open fields to defecate.

Coming from this background, the immigrants found the Bradford 'garden’ incomprehensible. The immigrants perceived the frontier between the private domestic space and the public space to be the house-wall itself. The garden was treated as 'outside’ the domestic space; the garden hedge, wall or fence, so carefully tended and guarded by the host community, was irrelevant; it was a classificatory boundary that was, in important senses, invisible. In consequence, the immigrants treated the 'garden’ as a place to put things that were not desired in the house; this included household waste (food remains, general household rubbish), unwanted furniture, old mattresses, and so on. One of the English informants (who could look over the back garden of her Pakistani neighbour through the window of her back room) described her experience of watching an old Pakistani immigrant lady 'doing her business’ (i.e. defecating) in the back garden of her house as 'totally disgusting. How could they do that?’ she wondered.

A floodgate opened indeed. The host population, perceiving the gardens of immigrant households to be filled with filth, drew their own conclusions. For the host population, a tidy and clean garden was the outward manifestation of a tidy and clean house and household; the garde was a publicly visible metaphor for the interior of the house. The immigrant boundary between domestic privacy and cleanliness and the outside world, which was the house wall itself, was not visible in this boundary form to the native population. For the host population, what happened in the garden also, in important senses, happened inside the house. If the garden was a pile of dirt, untended and unkempt, then so too, in their perception, was the inside of the house. Social intercourse between the host and immigrant communities was, for various reasons (most of them related to the kinds of issues discussed in this paper), very limited. Even after decades of being immediate neighbours, most members of the host community had never passed the threshold of a Pakistani household. The classificatory imagination had only a very limited empirical check upon its speculations. We have said above that the garden had an entire cosmology built into it; this was the cosmology of the host community, into which the immigrant community seemed to be tipping its dustbin.

For the host population, the outside of the house was, since it was within the domestic boundaries, a part of the domestic space. The external appearance of the house was, just like that of the garden, perceived to be a metaphor for its internal state. The woodwork around windows, the woodwork of doors, gutters, and eaves, were all carefully painted and maintained. The pointing of stone and brickwork was attended to. This, again, seems to have been only dimly perceived by the immigrant population. For them, the inside wall of the house was the boundary between public and private. They did not perceive the outside wall of the house as its private face to the public gaze. No painting was done; no care lavished upon appearance. The effect of this, in the perception of the host community, was just as described in the previous paragraph.

For the host population, the boundary between the garden and the public road (with its pedestrian walkway and traffic) was immensely important. For the immigrant population, the boundary was irrelevant. Fences and walls were left to fall down. Hedges were left to die or grow wild, however they would. High stone walls that had been landmarks throughout living memory were allowed to collapse, while weeds grew on the rubble. Again, there seemed, in host community eyes, to be no attention to propriety left at all; where this could happen, anything could happen.

Another interesting elaboration concerns the growing and eating of garlic by the Pakistani immigrants in the Bradford. Northern Europe has long tended to regard garlic-eating as a habit peculiar to foreigners: the Germans attribute the habit to Turkish immigrants, or to the southern flanks of Europe; the English attribute the habit to the French, and to (inter alia) Pakistani immigrants. The situation has changed over the last decade or so, and today many English people (perhaps particularly young and educated people) eat garlic as a fairly regular part of the their diet. In the 1950s, however, most of England was probably a garlic-free zone. The immigrant Pakistanis brought garlic-eating with them. There is, as anybody familiar with the herb will attest, a noticeable difference between people that have eaten garlic and people that have not. The host community in Bradford put the smell of garlic into their inventory of Pakistani immigrant characteristics. Some Pakistani immigrants in Bradford conceived the idea of using the patch of earth outside their front door as an ideal place to grow garlic (this is because they were used to grow vegetables in their own homes in Pakistan; although the patch of land used for growing vegetables was never conceived as part of domestic space). In native Bradfordian usage, the front garden was never used to grow vegetables: the front garden was for ornament and for flowers; if utilitarian vegetables were to be grown, then this should be either in a separate allotment or in the back garden. By growing garlic (a prime marker of their 'otherness’) in the front garden (where vegetables should not be grown), the immigrants were committing a whole series of classificatory errors, in he perception of the host community.

Another interesting feature, related to those already discussed, concerns curtains. Within the host community, windows were draped inside the house with curtains. Often there were two sets of these. The nearest to the window were 'net’ curtains, which allowed the person inside to see out, but prevented the person outside from seeing in; these 'net’ curtains were always white or cream, and were woven in various open lace-like patterns. They were usually immovable, in the normal routine (although of course they could be taken down for washing, or pulled slightly aside to give a better view on the outside world to the curious eye) (such 'net’ curtains have gone a little out of style, although many households still have them). Inside the net curtains, was a more substantial and totally opaque pair of curtains; these were drawn at night, and opened during the day. The position of the curtains gave, in the native tradition, a very clear message to the outside world about the state of the household. If the curtains were drawn closed during the day, then either somebody was asleep when they should not be (slovenly, lazy), or had forgotten to open the curtains (slovenly, lazy), or was doing something that respectable people did not do during the day (having sex? adultery? prostitute at work?), or was working night-shifts (this was an enforced acknowledgement of working-class status, but at least the neighbours would understand and tolerate).

Once again, the immigrant community had no understanding of these micro-proprieties. For the Pakistanis the windows in their houses in Pakistan were for the purpose of getting fresh air and the sunlight. The windows in their houses always looked into the courtyard, and were neither visible to, nor overlooked by, a more general public than the family. There was no need for putting curtains on them, particularly since this could stop the inflow of fresh air and light into the rooms. In Bradford, however, it became necessary to cover windows to keep out the gaze of strangers. It became common to see, in immigrant households, windows which were veiled, inside, by more-or-less permanent hangings, not necessarily symmetrically hung or matching in colour. To keep the world out, this was effective. As a means of communicating with the host population about the state of the household, it was, in the light of what has already been said, disastrous.

The overall effect of these phenomena was to give the host community a very poor idea of the immigrant community; the immigrant community seemed to be giving out consistent signals that it was lazy, dirty, and contemptuous of propriety and decency. The result was that the members of the host society started to leave the places or areas where immigrants started to live. Consider this example. One of the English informants, pointing towards the 'for sale’ sign outside a house in the street he lived said, 'you will be surprised to see so many of these signs in a street. This is not because people really want to sell their houses. The fact is that once a Pakistani family moves in the street, the neighbouring houses (of the English) go up for sale. And then no one except other Pakistani families buy those houses from the English. This is the way the English leave the area and Pakistanis develop clusters of their households.’ 'Where do the English move, then?’, the researcher asked. 'Well, if you go towards the outskirts of Bradford, you will find many of these English families have moved into that area. You may not find many Pakistani houses there’, replied the informant. The view was reinforced by many Pakistani informants who stated that 'these goreys (the English) do not like to stay in the areas where we live because they do not like the way we live.’

We are not talking here about an explosive racial situation, where the two populations routinely hate one another and commit violence upon one another. Bradford is rightly proud of its record in what are often called 'race relations’. Nevertheless, phenomena of the kind described have tended to keep the two populations, immigrant andhost, apart, even when they live (as is often the case) next door to one another. The effects of this upon housing patterns are clear: the English do not want to live in the areas dominated by the Pakistani households and tend to move into 'white only’ areas; reciprocally, the Pakistanis create enclaves of their own.


Various reservations need to be made concerning the above account. It perhaps needs to be stressed that the household interiors of Pakistani immigrant households are not, as the host community tends to suppose, dirty. On the contrary, great attention is paid to their cleanliness, particularly by women. This attention stops at the inside of the external door, however, and does not extend outside the house. It is precisely the point of this paper, to argue that because of the shift of boundary, totalising conclusions are reached; the shift of boundary is perceived, by the host community, as no boundary at all.

We also need to observe that some of the lack of attention to household exteriors, on the part of immigrant households, can be explained in other ways. The first generation of Pakistani immigrants (males only) to Bradford held firmly to the view that their stay in Bradford was only to be temporary. They lived for the most part in rented accommodation (during their initial years in Britain), for whose upkeep they were not responsible. Their economic and social ambitions were directed towards their lives (their 'future’ lives) in Pakistan. Many built themselves houses in Pakistan, in which they were never (yet) to live, and this was a heavy financial commitment for them. However, when the wives and the children of these immigrants started to arrive in the late 1960s and early 1970s, the immigrants started to buy houses in the UK instead of living in rented accommodation. According to the 1991 Census (Owen 1992), 81.7 % of the Pakistani households in the UK are owner-occupied as compared to 66.6 % of the White and 77.1 % of all the south Asian groups in the Britain. Most of our informants in Bradford had more than one house (often living in one of them and renting out the rest). The researcher participated in the purchase and sale of many houses by the informants. The existence of a nice or clean 'garden’ was never taken into account in this process. The search was on price (cheap), and the interior size of the house (most of the informants had extended families to house, and size was an important criterion). Hence even though many houses are owned by Pakistanis they do not consider a 'need’ to maintain the house exteriors in the same way as the host population. This derives from the classificatory issues already discussed.

The problem can be attributed to poverty as well. It is notable that many houses which are provided by the town council for cheap rental, and which are lived in by the members of the host community, have gardens in a state of neglect (as, too, do many houses rented by groups of university students). On poverty, it is true that the Pakistani immigrants have tended to come in at the bottom of the job market (as perceived by the host population), and are only slowly working their way up, in the classic pattern of social mobility of immigrant groups. However, we have found that the Pakistani informants never felt 'poor’, because they consistently compared their standard of living with that of their relatives, both inside the UK and back in Pakistan. They had their own standards of comparison based on their own shared categories. In Pakistan, the state of the interior of a house was a ground for comparison and competition with other households; this remained true in the UK. In the UK, Pakistani informants spent thousands of pounds on carpets, large television sets, the latest VCRs, new sofas, microwaves, computers, new makes of car, even new houses; they rarely, however, spent a few hundred pounds on maintaining the exterior of their houses. The informants, when asked about this, always gave the impression that spending a few hundred pounds on the exterior of their houses was a very 'expensive act’; an act that was useless and wasteful. Interestingly the informants always looked for government grants or insurance claims (again to minimise 'wasteful’ expense) for funding improvements to their houses (e.g., for building an extension within the house, for improving the windows, or for repairing the rooves, etc.,), as if maintenance of the house was not their problem.


It would be easy to conclude, from a study of host community expression alone, that we were dealing here with simple expressions of 'racial stereotyping’, with accusations of impropriety generated on purely theoretical grounds. It will be clear from our study, however, that this is an inadequate approach. Both parties to this cultural meeting have genuine empirical grounds for their perceptions. These perceptions are grounded in their own classifications of the social space, and upon the meeting of two incongruent category systems that derives from the encounter of the immigrant and host communities. These perceptions have profound effects upon the ways in which the two communities interact.

Our primary aim in this paper has been to show that relatively minor classificatory issues (the shift of a boundary from one place to another) can lead to serious perceptual and experiential dislocation, in the relationship between two culturally different communities. As a result, ethnic segregation is generated and maintained. The nature and rate of assimilation and/or acculturation can be profoundly affected by classificatory issues of the kind discussed. This is the central conclusion in the consumer behaviour context-that the two communities remain separate, as consumer groups, at least in many important product areas.

Given the luxury of greater length, we could discuss the fine detail of some of these areas-the consumption of space, housing, home-care products, DIY, gardening equipment, electrical goods, and so on. Detailed examination of these examples will be carried out in future papers.


Ardener, E. (1971) "Social anthropology and language," in Social Anthropology and Language (ed. E. W. Ardener), London, Tavistock.

Ardener, E. (1989) The Voice of Prophecy and other essays by E. W. Ardener, Oxford, Blackwell (ed. M. Chapman).

Berry, W. J. (1980), "Acculturation as Varieties of Adaptation," in Amado M. Padilla (ed.) Acculturation: Theory, Models and Some New Findings, Boulder, Colorado, Westview Press.

Chapman, M. (1992) The Celts, the construction of a myth, London, Macmillan.

Chapman, M. and Jamal, A. (1996) "The floodgates open: category disturbance in inter-ethnic consumer perception", American Marketing Association 1996 Summer Educators’ Proceedings, vol. 7, "Enhancing Knowledge Development in Marketing"

d’ Astous A.and Naoufel Daghfous (1991), "The Effects of Acculturation and Length of Residency on Consumption-Related Behaviours and Orientations of Arab-Muslim Immigrants," in Proceedings of ASAC Conference, Niagara Falls, Ontario.

Douglas, M. (1966) Purity and Danger, Harmondsworth, Penguin.

Durkheim, E. and Mauss, M. (1963) Primitive Classification (trans, ed. and intro. R. Needham), London, Cohen and Wet.

Evans-Pritchard, E. (1956), Nuer Religion, Oxford, Clarendon Press.

Gentry W. James, Jun S. and Tansuhaj P. (1995), "Consumer Acculturation Processes and Cultural Conflict: How Generalizeable Is a North American Model for Marketing Globally?," Journal of Business Research Vol. 32, pp 129-139.

Leach, E. (1961), Rethinking Anthropology, London, Athlone Press.

LTvi-Strauss, C. (1962), La PensTe sauvage, Paris, Plon.

LTvi-Strauss, C. (1963), Totemism (trans. from Le totTmisme aujourd’hui), 1962, by R. Needham), Boston, Beacon Press.

Lienhardt, R.G. (1961), Divinity and Experience, Oxford, Clarendon Press.

Needham, R. (ed.) (1973), Right and Left: essays on dual symbolic classification, Chicago, Chicago University Press.

Padilla M. Amado (ed.) (1980), Acculturation: Theory, Models and Some New Findings, Boulder, Colorado, Westview Press.

Owen D. (1992), "Ethnic Minorities in Britain: Housing and Family Characteristics," 1991 Statistical Paper 4: Centre for Research in Ethnic Relations, University of Warwick.

Penaloza, Lisa (1994), "Atravesando Fronteras/Border Crossings: A Critical Ethnographic Exploration of the Consumer Acculturation of Mexican Immigrants," Journal of Consumer Research, 21 (June), 289-294.

Reilly Michael D. and Melanie Wallendorf (1987), "A Comparison of Group Differences in Food Consumption Using Household Refuse," Journal of Consumer Research, 14 (September), 289-294.

Saussure, F. de, 1955 Cours de Linguistique generale, Paris, Payot (first edn, 1915).

V. Saifullah Khan (1977), "The Pakistanis: Mirpuri villagers at home and in Bradford," in Between Two Cultures: migrants and minorities in Britain, ed. J. L. Watson, Basil Blackwell, Oxford, pp 66-8.

Wallendorf, Melanie and Michael Reilly (1983), "Ethnic Migration, Assimilation, and Consumption," Journal of Consumer Research, 10 (December), 292-302.



Malcolm Chapman, University of Leeds, U.K.
Ahmad Jamal, University of Bradford, U.K.


NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 24 | 1997

Share Proceeding

Featured papers

See More


H12. Does Economic Development Influence Consumer Innovativeness?

Fuchun Zhan, University of Wisconsin - Madison, USA
Nancy Wong, University of Wisconsin - Madison, USA
Julie Anne Lee, University of Western Australia

Read More


G7. The Presence of Dividing Line Decrease Perceived Quantity

Jun Ouyang, Xiamen University
Yanli Jia, Xiamen University
Zhaoyang Guo, Xiamen University

Read More


K5. Advertising Organizational Culture as a Selling Tactic for For-Profit Organizations

Dejun Tony Kong, University of Houston, USA
Maria Ng, University of Houston, USA

Read More

Engage with Us

Becoming an Association for Consumer Research member is simple. Membership in ACR is relatively inexpensive, but brings significant benefits to its members.