Symbolic Consumption & Identity Construction

- A study of Danish adolescent girls
Master Thesis in Marketing Communication Management (MCM) Copenhagen Business School Supervisor: Birgitte Tufte Students: Julie Rydahl & Daniel Mikkelsen

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TABLE OF CONTENTS PART 1 1. Introduction
1.1 Problem Area 1.2 Research Question 1.3 Definitions 1.4 Contributions 1.5 Thesis Outline

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2. Method
2.1 Scientific Approach and Methodology 2.1.1 Interpretive Consumer Research 2.1.2 The interpretive paradigm 2.1.3 Symbolic Interactionism 2.1.4 Social Constructivism 2.1.5 Hermeneutic Phenomenology 2.1.6 The Narrative Perspective 2.2 Method of Reasoning 2.3 Research Design 2.3.1 Research Method 2.3.2 Research Approach 2.3.2.1 Phase 1: Secondary Data - Collages 2.3.2.2 Phase 2: Primary Data – In-depth Interviews 2.3.2.3 Phase 3: Analysis and Interpretation 2.4 Validity and Reliability 2.5 Objectivity 2.6 Delimitations

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PART 2 3. Theoretical Perspective and Foundation
3.1 The Theoretical Perspective 3.1.1 Identity Construction 3.1.2 Symbolic Consumption 3.2 The Theoretical Foundation 3.2.1 The Movement of Meaning 3.3.2 The Lived Meaning of Symbolic Consumption and Identity Construction

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3.3.3 Consumption and the Self 3.3.3.1 Possessions as an Extension of the Self 3.3.3.2 Consumption as “Me” or “Not Me”. 3.3.3.3 Consumption and Possible Selves 3.3.4 Consumption as a Social Action 3.4 Theoretical Summary 3.5 Theoretical Annotation

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PART 3 4. Analysis
4.1 Analysis Part 1 – Portraits of the Adolescent Girls 4.1.1 Portrait of Cecilie 4.1.2 Portrait of Victoria 4.1.3 Portrait of Nana 4.1.4 Portrait of Stephanie 4.1.5 Portrait of Katrine 4.1.6 Portrait of Camilla 4.1.7 Summary of the Portraits 4.1.7.1 Conceptual Framework 4.2 Analysis Part 2 – Characteristics of the Adolescent Girls 4.2.1 ”Situoids” 4.2.2 Anti Brand Slaves 4.2.3 Individualistic Social Beings 4.2.4 Experience Seekers 4.2.5 Lifestyle Oriented 4.2.6 Summary of the Characteristics

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PART 4 5. Conclusion
5.1 Identity Construction through Symbolic Consumption among Adolescent Girls 5.2 Characteristics of Adolescent Girls’ Consumer Behaviour 5.3 Additional Key Learning’s 5.4 Implications for Practitioners 5.5 Further Research 5.6 Validity of Research Results

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References

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PART 1 1. Introduction
Consumer culture has changed drastically within the last years and so has the definition of consumption. We no longer just consume the product, ”we also – or even instead – consume the symbolic meaning of those products: The image” (Levy, 1959). Therefore, it has become more challenging and demanding to be a consumer in today’s society as the concept of consumption has been extended to encompass all aspects of our lives. As a consequence we have to make more choices, as we have been provided with more building blocks with which we communicate who we are and construct our identity (Buhl, 2005). In extension of this development the well known mantra: “You are what you own” (Ibid1), has become insufficient to cover the aspect of identity construction as the consumption concept has been implemented in new domains. As of today, we also construct our identity with the symbolism in where we travel, what we eat, who we look up to, which hobbies we have etc. (Ibid) As postmodern consumers we recognize that we are not just consumers, but also customizers and producers of self-images at each consumptive moment (Firat & Schultz, 1997). It is the existentialistic2 mindset that seems to be embedded in the postmodern society, which forces us to define ourselves as we have been taught to be the master of our own faith and therefore accountable for our own self description. Therefore we constantly try to navigate through this big and complex web of meanings and symbolism that the modern consumer culture has entailed and we attempt to make sense of all the selections and de-selections we make. We are therefore solely responsible for constructing and manifesting our own identity, which is a major responsibility and not an easy task living in a world full of opportunities and limitations. Even though identity is defined as a metaphysical concept it is often conceptualized and to a certain degree materialized, as something we consciously can manage, renew or dispose of at our own discretion. The world of brands is trying to give us a helping hand by giving us the opportunity to ‘buy’ identities and much literature is available to help us manage our iden1 2

‘Ibid’ refers to the previous reference Existentialism puts the individual at the centre of attention, in that humans create their own existence and identity through choices and actions (www.britannica.com).

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tity. A quick search on amazon.com reveals thousands of books aimed at helping us find ourselves, create our identity or change it. More mainstream media especially women magazines and talk shows encourages us to explore our identities on our own, while at the same time dictating “How to be the perfect lover” and “How to make the right choices regarding, love, career and shopping” (Qmag, nr.48/July 2008), hence implying right and wrong ways to live life. In addition, we are constantly bombarded with stories about identity; from religious identities as the root of conflicts around the world to communication treating the concepts of corporate- and brand identities. Besides the vivid commotion about identity in literature, media, marketing and technology have enabled us to live a parallel social life online where we can construct or change our identity with the scroll of a mouse or the click of a button. 1.1 Problem Area In the following section we are going to introduce the problem area of this thesis by examining, what we find to be particularly interesting in relation to the development of our consumer society and its implications regarding symbolic consumption and identity construction. All the above examples indicate the breadth and depth of the identity concept and how complex it is to deal with a concept so flowing, dynamic and discursive and with multiple and continuously negotiable meanings (Csaba & Bengtsson, 2006). The essential thing is therefore what can be said about this tapestry that is constantly changed, modified and maintained! It is obvious that it is not the way people construct and manifest their identity that has been changed but the number of ‘building blocks’ available. The question is then how the consumers navigate in a jungle full of symbols that constantly change - how do they select and de-select between them and why? A new breed of consumers The increasing complexity of our consumer society and the implications for our identity construction under these premises are interesting in themselves. We find it particularly interesting when this complexity is put in perspective to the various life-stages consumers go through. A segment that has received an extensive amount of attention is the young generation. They are in the transition between child and adult and are therefore going through

Symbolic Consumption & Identity Construction – A Study of Danish Adolescent Girls several rites of passage 3. These rites of passage all revolve around identity construction, as they are going through periods in their lives where experimenting with their identity, defi ning and exploring themselves and learning how to express themselves, are particularly profound (Giddens, 1996). The years of youth are also filled with many social encounters through school, sports and hobbies, etc. and the young people meet many new peers who can have an influence on their identity construction 4. Altogether the years of youth are affiliated with much complexity in relation to identity construction and therefore additionally affected by the increasing complexity of symbolic consumption. Another aspect making today’s young people an interesting subject for analysis is, as Birgitte Tufte, Danish Professor of Marketing expresses it, that they to a certain extent have been raised as consumers (2007). Since the beginning of the millennium there has been a comprehensive focus upon the young consumers which have given birth to several literary contributions such as “Brandchild” (2003), “The Great Tween Buying Machine” (2004) and many more, which all have contributed to the buzz about the term “tweens” 5. The term, which is a portmanteau of between and teenager, refers to the time span between childhood and the teenage years (e.g. Lindstrøm, 2003; Siegel, 2004). This new coined term encompasses a segment of large interest to marketers and others due to the segment’s immense buying strength and large influence upon their families’ buying behaviour. This is evident through “pester power” 6 and due to their superior technological abilities which makes them gatekeepers of useful information (Tufte, 2007; Hansen et al., 2002; Gunter & Furnham, 1998). Because of this development tweens have rapidly become the target group for products and marketing communication, resulting in children being raised as consumer in an unprecedented way. Today, the first generation of ‘tweens’, those who were raised as a target group and as competent consumers, have become adolescents 7 and are about to leap into adulthood. This, in
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Rite of passage is a “ceremonial event, existing in all historically known societies, that marks the passage from one social or religious status to another” (www.britannica.com) 4 According to Birgitte Tufte peers are the most influencing factor on teenagers’ consumption (www.bupl.dk/internet/BoernogUnge.nsf/0/D8E8CABF5DDBBFD0C12571BF003B7CEB?opendocument) 5 According to Thomas Cook and Susan B. Kaiser the term originates from the publication ‘Marketing and media decision’ from 1987 (Tufte, 2007) 6 ”Pester power” is ”the power children have, by repeated nagging, of influencing their parents to buy advertised or fashionable items.” (www.phrases.org.uk) 7 When using the term ’adolescent’ we refer to ”a teenager leaping into adulthood”.

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some sense, marks the beginning of a new breed of adults who are more competent consumers that ever. Therefore we find it interesting to bring the segment of adolescents into focus. The fragile power girls Substantial research has shown that media and socializing practices are decisive for the identity construction for both boys and girls and therefore several interesting distinctions between the genders has been made relating to consumption practices and identity construction (Drotner, 2001: Christensen & Tufte, 2001). Young women and teenage girls are said to be more materialistic oriented than boys at the same age which is particularly evident in the girls’ interest for cosmetics, shopping and fashion (Gunter & Furnham, 1998; Tufte, 2005; Cook, 2004). In the light of this young girls seem to be more impressionable than boys and likewise more affected by the media and their surroundings’ way of introducing role models and ideals (Tufte, 2007). Therefore the gender identity construction process for a young girl is seemingly more complex than to a young boy meanwhile affiliated with a higher degree of insecurity and self-esteem (Ibid). At the same time girls of today are increasingly revolted against the traditional perceptions of the ideal woman and questions the predefined norms and roles that exist - hence displaying a large degree of “girl power” (Sørensen, 2002). Additionally, a shift in particularly girls’ behaviour has been detected as girls at the age of 1014 are displaying behaviours that were prevalent among 15-18 year old girls just a few years ago (Ibid), This behaviour can partly be explained by the phenomenon KGOY 8 (Lindstrøm, 20039) and leads to thinking that the behaviour of today’s adolescents is the behaviour of tomorrows tweens. This tendency can lead one to assume that the extensive identity project, predominant in the adolescent years, will be occurring to girls at an earlier age than previously seen among future generations of tweens. With these slightly contrasting characteristics of the girls and the KGOY phenomenon in mind we find it relevant to examine the segment of adolescent girls in the process of becoming adults.

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“KGOY” (Kids Grow Older Younger) is a phenomenon that covers how childhood has ‘shrivelled’ and how children behave as teenagers much earlier. (e.g. Forbrugerredegørelsen 2005)

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1.2 Research Question Based on the increasing complexity of our consumer society and the implications for our identity construction under these premises we find it interesting to investigate how consumers navigate through this big and complex web of meanings and symbolism in the modern consumer culture? We have chosen to investigate this, in the perspective of adolescent girls, as we see them as representing a particularly interesting segment which we accounted for in previous section. This leads to the articulation of this thesis’ research question which is stated below: How is identity constructed through symbolic consumption among adolescent girls and what characterises their consumer behaviour?

The aim of this thesis is twofold. Firstly, it is to identify and attain a thorough understanding of how symbolic consumption is utilised in the identity construction. This will be examined through adolescent girls’ self-narratives as these will enable us to get a profound understanding of the identity construction process. In order to attain as much insight as possible we have chosen a holistic research approach consisting of both a visual and a verbal research method in the shape of collages and interviews. Secondly, the aim is to uncover the characteristics of adolescent girls’ consumer behaviour by identifying the common features in their identity construction through symbolic consumption. 1.3 Definitions In this section the terms used in the research question and thus in the thesis will be clarified. The purpose of this is to avoid any misunderstandings in the subsequent use of the relevant terminology. It is though important to notice that some of the terms will be elaborated on further, later in the thesis. > Identity construction 10: The identity is both a personal self-definition but also a definition in relation to the outside world. In this way culture and identity work in a dialectical interplay and our identity becomes a product of our relations. The individual has become free to

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This definition is very short, but will be clarified in section 3.1.1

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construct its own identity as a reflective project without it being predestined by upbringing, conditions and traditions. (Giddens, 1991) > Symbolic consumption 11: stems from the term ‘symbolic interactionism’ and states that goods and actions can have both personal and social meanings in addition to their functional meaning, depending on the consumer’s ideas and feelings towards the good. Thus, people do not react and see consumption objects directly but attach a meaning to them and act in accordance to the meaning derived from the symbolic interaction with them. > Adolescent girls: The respondents chosen for this thesis are six Danish adolescent girls. They are at the ages of 17 and 18 about to graduate from a high school education and on the verge of leaping into adulthood. Furthermore, they are the first generation of ‘tweens’ and therefore the first adolescents that have been raised as consumers. 1.4 Contributions Based on the research question above this study will provide academics and practitioners with insights into two areas which we regard as essential; ‘Identity construction and symbolic consumption’ and ‘adolescent girls’. Research within the first areas has been conducted to a great extent but little focus has been on gaining a holistic understanding of the identity construction process though symbolic consumption, which we therefore will attempt to in this thesis in the perspective of adolescent girls. Furthermore, the research that has been conducted demographically has been concerned with ‘tween girls’. Thus, research concerning adolescent girls is rather limited and research of adolescent girls’ consumer behaviour, in relation to identity construction through symbolic consumption in particular, is to our best knowledge non–existing. Thus, we believe that our study will provide interested parties with knowledge about the identity construction process in the light of symbolic consumption identified through adolescent girls’ self-narratives, but also more generally about the life world of adolescent girls. Thus, this revelation will not only give access to the knowledge about the things that preoccupy adolescent girls but also the reason why.

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This definition is very short, but will be clarified in section 2.1.3 and 3.1.2

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1.5 Thesis Outline In attempt to ease the reading of this thesis, we have constructed a visual presentation of the thesis’ structure. This will hopefully provide the reader with a better overview.

Figure 1: Thesis outline (Source: Own construction)

Chapter 1 includes the background for this study and a discussion of why we find this study interesting and relevant. Chapter 2 describes the methodology underlying this thesis and the methods used to gather empirical data in order to fulfil the purpose of this thesis. Chapter 3 presents the theoretical perspective which provides the necessary underlying theoretical insight and the theoretical foundation which facilitate the understanding of symbolic consumption and identity construction. Chapter 4 presents the empirical findings, from the collages made by girls and the in-depth interviews carried out with them, which are analysed with assistance of the theories. Chapter 5 contains the conclusion of this study and presents implications for the result of the research and a critical review of it.

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2. Method
The purpose of the following sections is to present the basic premises, which are the foundation for this thesis and thereby controlling the methodical praxis and the theoretical choices made. Firstly, the underlying scientific approach and methodology are presented. Secondly, the method concerning empirical data collection and interpretation is discussed and presented. Thirdly, the validity, reliability, objectivity and limitations of the chosen research method are discussed. 2.1 Scientific Approach and Methodology The present section will clarify the scientific approach and methodology (Figure 2). First, the Interpretive Consumer Research will be representing the scientific perspective as it applies us with a holistic perspective on consumer behaviour. Thereafter, the scientific paradigm, as being The Interpretive Paradigm, will be argued for because of its potential to generate new understandings of complex multidimensional human phenomena such as the identity construction process. Thirdly, an epistemological aspect of the interpretive paradigm will be presented in the form of Symbolic Interactionism. This is found relevant as it represents an understanding of the fundamental thoughts behind symbolic consumption which is relevant in relation to our thesis’ research. Finally, the Social Constructivism is what constitutes the frame of the scientific approach of this thesis. In relation to the methodology, Hermeneutic Phenomenology is chosen in line with the interpretive consumer research, as it will give us an ability to understand things from our participants’ point of view. Furthermore, we have chosen the Narrative Perspective as a subset of the methodology, as it has the potential to contribute to our perception of how consumers structure and make sense of their consumption (Elliot et al, 2001).

Figure 2: Scientific approach (Source: Own construction)

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2.1.1 Interpretive Consumer Research Since 1959 when Sidney Levy 12, American psychologist, wrote the paper “Symbols for sale” concerning marketing research, attention has been given to the symbolic value of consumption products. As mentioned in the introduction, Levy stated that “Products are not only bought for what they do, but also for what they mean” (Levy 1959). Some decades later this assumption was revived by Morris Holbrook and Elizabeth Hirschmann (1982), American Professors of Marketing who set the scene for the emergent discipline called the interpretive consumer research. This interpretive consumer research was interdisciplinary and holistic in nature and gave special attention to context, culture and symbolic meanings. Thus, in the wake of the interpretive consumer research theory discipline, the link between symbolic consumption and identity construction became one of the many focus areas. Later on, in 1987, Holbrook wrote an article about what consumer research is. By referring to the large variation of subjects that Journal of Consumer Research had communicated within the last years, Holbrook’s answer was “A research that deals with consumption in all shapes and sizes”. Thus, consumer research was no longer oriented towards a specific acquisition moment as well as there was no longer an unanimous focus on physical goods. Further, the more intangible services, ideas or happenings became an integrated part of the concept of consumption (Holbrook, 1987). As Holbrook already stated in an earlier article: “From my perspective, almost everything we do involves consumption.” (Holbrook, 1985). He further noted that disciplines such as psychology, anthropology, philosophy and the humanistic studies in general could contribute to increasing the understanding of the complex concept of consumptions (Holbrook, 1987). One example is according to the Russell W. Belk, American psychologist symbolic sign interpretation used as statements about consumption experiences (Belk, 1986). With this new and more ‘humanistic’ twist Holbrook presented consumer research as a whole new way of doing research. This approach was quite a contrast to the prior classical deductive and hypothesis testing strategies that had dominated this area of research. Thus, two poles seem to have an impact on the paradigm discussion still existing within the field of consumer research – the positivistic and the interpretive (Beckmann & Elliot, 2000)
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Hereafter referred to as Levy. In general, we mention significant theorists with nationality, title and full name, the first time they are mentioned. Thereafter they are solely referred to by their surname.

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2.1.2 The interpretive paradigm The choice of scientific paradigm13 is determinant for the way we choose to do research. Thus, the choice of paradigm has a great impact on the theoretical constructions and methodological choices as it implicates some of the basic assumptions on how we perceive the world and hence the research method. As mentioned before two choices seem to exist within the field of consumer research - the positivistic and the interpretive paradigm. While positivism seek to apply the rules of the natural sciences to the study of the social world seeking to discover patterns at the macro-level, the interpretive paradigm looks for meaning and correlations at the micro- or individual level. According to the interpretive paradigm meanings are constructed by human beings in unique ways depending on their context and personal frames of reference as they engage with the world they are interpreting. (Crotty, 1998) 14 The rise of the interpretive paradigm emerged out of arguments against the traditional positivistic model. Theorists such as the Herbert Blumer (1969) and George Herbert Mead (1934), American sociologists argued that the positivistic approach took the meaning out of the analysis as the context of the behaviours was not examined as part of the positivistic paradigm. According to the ‘interpretists’, the positivists looked at the ‘how’ and not the ‘why’. Why were certain behaviours present? While positivists could tell you where it existed and how it existed they could not tell you why it existed. Thus, the interpretive paradigm emerged when theorists such as Weber, Mead and Blumer decided it was time to ask - why? (Hausbeck, 2005). Our choice of scientific paradigm is in the spirit of the interpretive paradigm as it brings the discourse of the social being into context. The interpretive paradigm is also viewed as the most suitable for this research because of its potential to generate new understandings of complex multidimensional human phenomena such as the identity manifestation process investigated in this research

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A paradigm can basically be defined as ”a basic set of values that control our actions – everyday actions and actions connected to disciplinary investigations (Darmer & Nygaard, 2005). 14 When the reference is after the ’full stop’, it refers to the above paragraph. When the reference is before the ’full stop’, it refers to the previous sentence.

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In the following we will account for some of the epistemological aspects (subsets) of the interpretive paradigm in terms of underlining the relevance of our choice. These aspects will further be contextualized with our research topic. 2.1.3 Symbolic Interactionism Within the interpretive paradigm, symbolic interactionism has been predominant in the landscape and has been the most recognized and analysed subset of the interpretive paradigm (Adler & Fontana, 1987). The concept of symbolic interactionism is relevant to look upon in terms of gaining an understanding of the fundamental thoughts behind symbolic consumption. The term ‘symbolic interactionism’ was first used by Blumer in his book “Symbolic Interactionism” from 1969. The concept explores the meanings assigned to actions and objects and how these meanings construct our social realities and how they are interpreted in an interactive process through the use of symbols. Therefore people do not react and see consumption objects directly but attach a meaning to them and act in accordance to the meaning derived from the symbolic interaction. The symbols both the tangible and intangible ones are constituted through a collectively understood meaning which can be agreed upon both within a narrow group as well as within the global society or any other societal context. These more or less collectively understood meanings are what make symbols useful as a mean of communication. (Blumer, 1969) Meanings are furthermore regarded as “*...+ something that is assigned and modified through an interpretive process that is constantly changing and subject to redefinition, relocation and realignments” (Blumer, 1969). Symbolic interactionists have a non-deterministic view of the individual and assume that human behaviour is somewhat autonomously determined, although it is also constrained by societal and cultural norms. Thus, the self is perceived as a process rather than a static defined structure and acts like a mechanism for self observation with which the individual meets the surrounding world (Ibid). The essence of this is that the self exists in a reflective process in which it relates and responds to the world. The most essential insight from Blumer’s symbolic interactionism theories in relation to the thesis at hand is the understanding of how the self is a process, which is in a constant interchanging of interpretations of symbols within a social context.

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2.1.4 Social Constructivism Social constructivism is an inevitable part of the interpretive paradigm and conceptualises the concept of identity construction and product symbolism. It is what constitutes the frame of the scientific approach of this thesis. One of the key characteristics of the late-modern consumer is their ever-changing identity. Furthermore the interpretive consumer research is based on a constructivist paradigm which by nature is adaptable to the notion of identity construction and change. From the consumer point of view identity seems to be the answer to the question: “Who am I?” From a social constructivist point of view the answer to that question can be conceptualised as a result of an ongoing interaction between the individual and society (Weigert et al, 1986). This ongoing interaction of constructing knowledge about the “meaning of things” is, according to Thomas Luckmann, German sociologist and Peter L. Berger American sociol ogist, what manifests the concept of product symbolism (Berger & Luckmann, 1992). This means that identity is changeable and may have many different faces. This is consistent with the anti-essentialistic premise that claims identity as something that is not predestined but constantly under construction – identity as constructed and maintained socially through interactions. Berger and Luckmann state it as follows: “It is fair to say, that humans have a nature, but it is much more important to say, that humans build their own nature or simply, that human create themselves”. The ‘self’ has then, within the area of social constructivism, become a project and identity is no longer something you are born with (e.g. the concept of social heritage) (Berger & Luckmann, 1992). Furthermore, J.B. Thompson, American sociologist emphasises the ‘self’ as a ‘symbolic project’, which the individual actively constructs out of the symbolic materials which are available to him or her; materials which the individual weaves into a coherent account of who he or she is (Thompson, 1995). Thus, this constructive perspective on human identity is in line with the development and extension of the consumption concept. When stating the individual as creating itself based on symbolic resources, opportunities occur for considering consumption in the broader form as a potential resource for constructing individual and social identities (e.g. Elliot, 2004).

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2.1.5 Hermeneutic Phenomenology Methodology is “The way in which we attempt to investigate and obtain knowledge of the social world” (Burrell and Morgan, 1979). We have chosen to draw heavily on hermeneutic phenomenology in line with the interpretive consumer research. This methodology is relevant in terms of our choice of qualitative research method as it will give us an ability to understand things from our participants’ point of view. Phenomenology is a human science which strives to interpret and understand rather than simply explain and observe. It is essentially the study of lived experiences or the life world and its emphasis is on the world as lived by a person not the world or reality as something separate from the person (van Manen, 1997). Hermeneutics is also concerned with the interpretation of experiences as it involves the ability to understand things from somebody else's point of view and to comprehend the cultural and social forces that may have influenced their outlook. Thus, hermeneutics is the process of applying this understanding to interpreting the meaning of written texts and symbolic artefacts. Hans Georg Gadamar, German philosopher further underlines interpretation as an active process by noting that we cannot disregard prejudices when processing information, as we try to make them fit into our existing picture of the world and ourselves – our horizon. In the comprehension of something unfamiliar, a “fusion of horizons” occurs and our own horizon of comprehension changes. (Gadamar, 1960) A simultaneous application of both approaches provides a useful pathway to search for meaning in research. As such the hermeneutic phenomenology is concerned with the life world or human experiences as they are lived. The focus is on illuminating details and seemingly trivial aspects within experiences which may be taken for granted in our lives with the goal of creating meaning and achieving a sense of understanding (Wilson & Hutchinson, 1991). However, Gadamer has expressed that hermeneutics is an approach rather than a method and further, that the ‘hermeneutic circle’ is the central problem of interpretation. He states that the process of interpretation is circular rather than linear. The interpretation which occurs in a circle is dynamic in nature as it has no bottom, top, beginning or end and no subject-object distinction. Within the ‘hermeneutic circle’ the whole can be understood by study

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of the particular, and the particular with reference to the whole. In our research the ‘hermeneutic circle’ applies to all participants. We will be studying phenomena by moving between the experiences of the individuals meanwhile developing the interpretation of the experiences as a whole by looking at the shared experiences of the individuals (Klein et al, 1999). As Gadamar mentions, we cannot disregard our prejudices and we therefore begin the writing of this thesis by having preconceived opinions, expectations, theories, concepts, etc. about the topic of this thesis’ research. Therefore, we are aware that we cannot avoid having an impact on the results, respectively when we interview and subsequently interpret the data but this will be elaborated on later on. 2.1.6 The Narrative Perspective Donald E. Polkinghorne, American psychologist has suggested that narratives are the most important means by which our experiences are made meaningful (Polkinghorne, 1988). These narratives are thought of as being fundamental in the way we structure and therefore make sense of our lives. Thus, narratives have the potential to contribute to our perception of how consumers structure and make sense of their consumption experiences (Elliot et al, 2001). Heuristically, narrative analysis is said to enables consumer researchers to discover richer ways of understanding consumers' consumption behaviours whilst simultaneously allowing the respondents to express and structure their experiences (Ibid). This is in line with the work of Paul Ricoeur, French philosopher. With basis in the statement that narrative identity is dynamic and rests on a temporal structure, he suggests that narrative identity emerges from the composition of one or many narrative texts. While the concrete construction of identity can be mediated through various signs and symbols, it is the narrative’s temporality and employment that are central to self-interpretations (Ricoeur, 1983, 1985, 1988). The concept of narratives will come into play through our choice of research method and contribute to a thorough research. Further, this perspective will contribute with more accessibility as to revealing the more intangible aspect of consumption.

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2.2 Method of Reasoning Reasoning is the way certain principles are used to reach a conclusion (Ellsworth, 2005). Therefore reasoning is a strategy for clarifying scientific insights by analysing and discussing concepts and findings. Within the strategy of reasoning there are two main approaches; the inductive and the deductive lines of reasoning. The inductive line of reasoning is the strategy of moving from observed towards the unobserved, hereby taking point of departure in empirical data. Based on observations the researcher will detect patterns and formulate general conclusions or theories (Sayre, 2001). Deduction on the other hand, implies that existing theory is used to shape the perspective that the researcher wish to develop and use throughout the research process. In relation to this thesis the starting point is in assessment of relevant theories. To us the field of consumer behaviour in relation to identity construction and symbolic consumption was not so new because of our elective course in “Symbolsk forbrug og identitet” (Red: Symbolic consumption and identity). Therefore we were already familiar with general streams of theories. Thus, this research is grounded in existing theories which serves as the background for this research and the process of data collection occurs in dialogue with existing theory. Thus, the deductive reasoning is the accurate point of reference. 2.3 Research Design The purpose of this section is to account for the research design of the thesis. We will account for the concrete research methods used when generating, collecting, analysing and interpreting the qualitative data. 2.3.1 Research Method In view of the research area of this thesis the qualitative research method is considered most appropriate for this study for several reasons. First of all we do not want to say anything about the prevalence of the subject but about its characteristics - we seek to go deep instead of broad. Thinking about our research question we have further considered that by using this method, the opportunities for uncovering unknown details will be greater as the respondents will have the opportunity to elaborate on their statements. We seek to explore subjective aspects in terms of how symbolic consumption is manifested in identity construction which is not easily quantified leaving the qualitative method as most applicable. Fur-

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thermore, this method will contribute with a richer explanatory and more elaborate view of the participants’ consumer behaviour. This method will give us more flexibility in data collection techniques, analysis and interpretation of data which we perceive as necessary. Furthermore, the qualitative approach will enable us to be close to the participants, interact with them, ask additional questions and thereby discover aspects initially unknown to us. As such the qualitative research method is said to be used “*...+ in the exploration of meanings of social phenomena as experienced by individuals themselves, in their natural context” (Kvale, 1994). 2.3.2 Research Approach As mentioned earlier this thesis investigates how identity is constructed through symbolic consumption among adolescent girls and the characteristics of their consumer behaviour. By implementing the hermeneutic methodology this investigation includes the interpretation of all texts and systems of meaning (Gadamar, 1960). This is in line with what Bernard Cova, French Professor in Marketing is saying “*...+ marketing must recognise that the consumers might find it difficult to reduce consumption to simple verbal labels” (Cova, 1996). Furthermore, the prior mentioning of identity construction as being a dynamic process underlines this as well as it is an active production that continually can be achieved through both verbal and non-verbal communication. Additionally and specifically referring to young peoples’ consumption, it has been stated earlier that: “Despite an intuitive recognition that consumption plays a significant role in young people’s lives, research has failed to identify adequate means for addressing the actual meanings with which young consumers endow the goods they purchase”. (Miles, Cliff and Burr, 1998) Therefore we have chosen a method that combines the visual (non-verbal) with the verbal meanwhile bringing about a dialogue between these two. This will provide us with a more holistic approach to the research area and enable us to take a look ‘behind the scenes’. Thus, we have chosen a sample selection of six adolescent girls who have composed collages and participated in in-depth interviews; this will be elaborated on in the following sections. Thus, focus will be put on creativity - hereby acknowledging the active and reflective consumer. 15 Thus, as David Gauntlett, British sociologist puts it: “The picture and the words together form
15

The formulation of the creative, visual and verbal research method is imspired by David Gauntlett (2007)

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a meaningful package – a subjective answer to the world, of course, but a rich one, which can be used to understand how participants see their worlds” (Gauntlet, 2007). Therefore our holistic method consists of three phases (cf. Figure 3): The first phase has the purpose of generating the visual, secondary data of the thesis. This will be produced by means of collages composed by the participating adolescent girls. The second phase will generate the verbal, primary data. This will consist of individual in-depth interviews with the girls, taking a point of departure in the collages they have made, prior to their interview. The third phase encompasses the analysis and interpretation of the primary data with involvement from the secondary data. All the phases will be elaborated on in the following sections.

Figure 3: Research Approach (Source: Own construction)

Sample Selection The sample selection for this thesis’ empirical research was carried out with help from our personal networks. Our ambition was to recruit eight girls attending any high school education and, if possible, attempt to get a geographical dispersion in order to gain a more representative picture. Nevertheless, we chose to disregard socio-economic backgrounds in order to ease the process. Furthermore, we wanted to recruit girls we did not know in advance in order to have an objective approach in the in-depth interviews in the capacity of our hermeneutic methodology. Thus, as we process the information we attain with our prejudices it was important to us that we did not have too many preconceptions about the participants. When choosing our sample selection we relied on Grant McCracken, American anthropolo-

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gist’s “The long interview” from 1988, in which he puts forward a range of rules of thumb for collecting a sampling group. In example “Respondents should be perfect strangers *…+ and few in number (i.e., no more than eight)” (McCracken, 1988).

Below is an overview of the six participating girls as well as their age, educational status and home town (table 1). We will further call attention to the fact that the participants are anonymous so their names are aliases.

Name 1 2 3 4 5 6 Camilla Stephanie Kathrine Cecilie Victoria Nana

Age 18 18 17 17 18 18

Year in high school Second year Third year Third year Second year Third year Third year

Table 1: The six participating girls (Source: Own construction)

To sum up we are dealing with a selection of participants with following characteristic: Girls, ages 16-18 years, attending high school and living in Copenhagen or north of Copenhagen. Thus, we failed in getting a geographic dispersal among the participants because of the limited access though our networks. It is though important to notice that our research seeks to gain insight into the lives of adolescent girls in relation to their consumption, interpretations and self-narrative and the relevance of the geographical dispersal is therefore less important. Further, it is recognised that every single individual hold a unique interpretation- and narrate position regardless of the homo- or heterogeneous demographic variables. 2.3.2.1 Phase 1: Secondary Data - Collages “A picture is worth a thousand words” is a saying that refers to the idea that stories can be described with just a single picture or that an image may be more influential than a substan-

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tial amount of text. Thus, this creative and visual research method is chosen in order to attain a broader empirical base prior to the in-depth interviews as it hopefully will give us an opportunity to get an even broader and more holistic insight into the life of the participants. As mentioned this creative research method works as a supplementary to our languagedriven research method. The problem with interviews is often that the agenda of the interview are set in advance. This leads to forcing people to verbalise something they may not have considered previously in any detail as the subjects often have been preselected as being of importance to the respondent. The creative method on the other hand lets the respondents more or less set the agenda. Physically the creative and visual research method allows the participants to spend time applying their playful or creative attention to the act of making something symbolic or metaphorical, reflect on it and then present it as a whole and ‘all in one go’, before they are asked to generate speech. (Gauntlett, 2007) In our case we had the adolescent girls make collages about their lives enabling them to tell their own stories and setting the agenda themselves for the subsequent in-depth interview. Thus, the visual and creative method gives us the opportunity to examine the way each girl chose to interpret her own sense of self (Ibid). As Gauntlett so simple puts it: “(…) when a research participant creates a static artwork, their work offers a simultaneous range of themes and interpretations which may be explored” (Gauntlett, 2007). The collage making In more practical terms the visual method was applied in the following way. The six adolescent girls were contacted and showed up in pairs of two. This was not planned in advance but happened to be the best solution logistical challenges taken into consideration. Most of the girls were obviously preparing for exams at the time we started the empirical data collection so we had to be flexible in terms of meeting their needs. The collage making took place at Daniel’s work as he had the necessary remedies to make the collages. The girls were given the instruction to make of collage with the headline: “Me and my life” by using the available magazines, newspapers, post-its, pens, etc. We elaborated on this title by explaining how it could be interpreted as, ‘what they spend money and time on’, ‘what they like to do?’ and ‘what is important in their lives?’

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The girls spent approximately two hours on the collages and during that time we were both present. This gave us an opportunity to small talk with the girls and let them get to know us under very relaxed circumstances. This turned out to have benefits in relation to the indepth interviews as the girls seemed very relaxed in our company. The task did not seem immense but rather pleasant and challenging and the girls seemed to enjoy the assignment. One of the reasons why the assignment seemed manageable to the girls could be, as Gauntlet expresses it, that individuals are used to create symbolic systems of objects to represent aspects of their identities (Gauntlet, 2007). 2.3.2.2 Phase 2: Primary Data – In-depth Interviews “Language may be needed to explain the visuals” (Gauntlet, 2007) so interviews were chosen in order to have more exhaustive empirical data. When considering the options for interviews we did not have any doubts. Focus groups were taken into consideration, but taking the collages and research question into consideration, this option was quickly eliminated. Thus, as the basis of the interviews were the participants’ individual interpretations of their collage focus groups would be pointless. Further on the individual in-depth interviews gave us an opportunity to gain a more reflective picture of how the adolescent girls create their individual identity and hear their own argumentation for choice of collage layout. In focus groups, participants also tends to influence each others’ responses while the in-depth interviews allows the participants to speak freely about thoughts and feelings in relations to the subject of attention without fearing what other people might think. In general the purpose with the in-depth interviews is to construct a situation where the participant can tell about experiences with departure in their own life world (Kvale, 1994). Interview guide Before we made the individual in-depth interviews we scrutinized the collages in order to get a picture of each of the six girls. As mentioned the actual interview had a point of departure in the individual participants’ collages as they set the agenda for the content of the interview. We had though prepared two simple questions that we thought of as being relevant and interesting to get an answer to: “What would you do if you won in the lottery?” and

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“Name something that you perceive as being an epitome of you”. In addition, we asked the girls if they had a Facebook profile and if we could see it as we had a preconceived conception that the profiles could be a another visual self-narrative. The intention was not to make a direct conclusion regarding their ‘online-identity’ but merely to add them to the secondary data. The overall mission was to let the interview itself and the participant direct the conversation in order to follow up continuously on the answers we received. For this purpose we used several floating prompts such as ‘parrot technique’, ‘repeat last word’, ‘active listening’ and pauses (McCracken, 1988). This again was in line with our hermeneutical methodology as we wanted to communicate our ‘new’ comprehension back to the participant and make them respond to this. In general, it is important to notice regarding the in-depth interviews that not all the interviews, and therefore the data cover all the same issues. If a particular topic is not mentioned by all the respondents out of our group of six participants it can still be a relevant issue. It may for instance be a particular manifestation of a certain consumption experience which is not equally salient in the minds of all participants. Nonetheless it can contribute to an important part of the overall picture. The interview situation In total we made six in-depth interviews. Every interview was carried out according to the same principles: The interviews took place in neutral surrounding (at Daniel’s work). The interviews were carried out in Danish. Three persons were present during the interviews - the participant and the two of us. The interviews were run by one of us, Julie, to not confuse the respondent. The other one, Daniel, controlled the electronics meanwhile supplemented with extra questions.

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The interviews were recorded on a dictaphone and on a videotape. The second because we wanted to have the opportunity to see where the participants point on the collage during the interview. Furthermore, every interview consisted of six phases: 1. Introduction Before we started the interview we gave a short brief about the purpose of the interview (to make a collage about their lives) and about the practical circumstances regarding the dictaphone and video camera. Furthermore we told them that the conversation was confidential and that they would be given an alias. We also made it very clear that there were no right or wrong answers. 2. Opening questions The first part of the interview began with small talk about what it was like to make the collage etc. in order to make a smooth beginning. 3. Exhaustive survey of the collage In the third part the collages were used as a starting point. The participants were asked to tell about their collages and elaborate on the chosen pictures and words. The interviews were more or less autonomous and our follow up questions popped up when we needed things to be elaborated on. 4. Two recurring questions We also asked all of the participants the same two simple questions as mentioned earlier, when we found it appropriate. 5. Additional remarks from the respondent In this phase we asked the participants if they had forgotten to put anything on their collages or if they had anything further to add. 6. Closure of interview Finally, we thanked the participants for the participation and stopped the recordings. Afterwards we talked informally about the interview and their thoughts about participating in

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order to continue the informal tone that had been present during both the collage making and the interviews. 2.3.2.3 Phase 3: Analysis and Interpretation Transcription of interviews The phase of transcription is where the interviews are transcribed and transformed from spoken language to written language. We have chosen to rely on Steinar Kvale, Norwegian Professor of Psychology’s approach to transcription. He phrases the phase as follows: “Transcriptions are not copies or representations of an original reality, but interpretative constructions that are useful instruments for the given purpose” (Kvale, 1994). As such there is a significant difference between whether the interviews are the fundamental basis of a sociolinguistic analysis where pauses and self-corrections play a central role or whether the interviews are the subject of a content analysis where the content itself is first priority. In order to consolidate the reliability of the transcription rules must be set and followed consequently (Ibid). The social scientific qualitative transcription tradition, advocated by Kvale, is employed and hereby a content focus with less detailed and varied transcription rules is utilised. Thus, we follow the transcription logic as follow: “It is reasonable to think that a transcription system should be easy to write, easy to read, easy to learn and easy to teach” (Bruce, 1992, quoted in Flick, 2007). It is though important to note that the transcription is not just a meaningless mechanical and uncomplicated operation. Rather, it is a transformation of meaning from one medium to another and involves both analytical decisions and interpretative consciousness. Language barriers All the interviews were carried out in Danish as we did not want the language to be a barrier for meaning declarations and phrasing. We are though aware that nuances and interpretations may be lost or changed in the language translations from Danish to English. Obviously this has meant a certain rewriting into English phrases that would cover similar notions. This is particularly important when dealing with slang - one example would be the Danish expression ‘sejt’, which will be translated into “cool.” This translation should bring about the i n-

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tended meaning but literally ‘sejt’ can mean tough. Therefore, meaning translations have been necessary from time to time in order to attain a valid translation. Encoding and categorization When the transcription transforms talk into text, the encoding and categorization will imply a closer look at the text with the purpose of structuring the text material. It is though important to notice that in the light of the hermeneutical interpretation praxis the researcher cannot disclaim personal experiences, prejudices and pre-understandings when handling the text materiel as it will reduce the reliability. Thus, we claim, that we cannot unprejudiced analyse the data but will always be motivated and predisposed to see certain themes and patterns. Therefore, the coding in this thesis is used as a way of systematizing, structuring and organising otherwise chaotic data material – a categorisation of the coded data. These categories can be defined as: “*...+ a covering term for an array of more general phenomena: concepts, constructs, themes, and other types of ‘bins’ in which to put terms that are familiar” (Lindlof & Taylor, 2002). In this way the data is reorganised in order to grasp the meaning - patterns and structures and connections within and between the individual interviews. Thus, the coding and categorisation reduce, sort and structure the data materiel as they focus on the manifested themes in the interviews. We have simply tried to create some structure and relations in the meanings being expressed which are not directly apparent. 2.4 Validity and Reliability According to Robert K. Yin, American psychologist, there are three recommended tactics to use for improving the validity in research: Multiple sources of evidence, maintain a chain of evidence and to have a key informant to review a draft of the study (1994). We have used multiple sources of evidence during the data collection such as articles, books and academic papers to get the most accurate picture of the phenomenon being studied. It has not been hard to find material about our theoretical approach but regarding our specific segment in focus it has - but that is also what triggered our interest to begin with. The principles of maintaining a chain of evidence is according to Yin (1994): “*...+ to allow an external observer to follow the derivation of any evidence from initial research question to the ultimate conclusion”. We have tried our best to do this throughout the entire thesis and the thesis will

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therefore have citations to all the relevant portions of the empirical data. Due to time constraint we have not sent all transcripts to each of the respondents to ensure validity. Another aspect of validity, more externally wise, involves the degree of generalization. Since the research involves only six respondents, also within a limited geographical area of Denmark, this aspect is not fulfilled unconditionally. Though the findings of this thesis might not be valid from a statistical point of view the objective of this thesis is to create a greater understanding for the subject under study and as such we believe the collected data fulfils that purpose. In relation to the reliability of this thesis this is defined as the degree to which a particular study can be replicated. We are aware that qualitative research can be seen as difficult to fulfil this criterion as it is impossible to ‘freeze’ the social settings (Brymann & Bell, 2003) Furthermore, reliability is more complicated to measure in a qualitative study than in quantitative research as qualitative research has more subjectivity involved (Gummesen, 1988). It is also important to notice that researchers differ and have different backgrounds and prerequisites and therefore can come to different conclusions when interpreting the data. However, as we are two writers of this thesis we hope to minimize the subjectivity as much as possible and thereby ensure reliability of this thesis. 2.5 Objectivity Objectivity measures the extent to which the researchers’ own values affect the conducted study. When interviews are conducted face-to-face there is always the risk that the interviewer might be leading the respondent with questions (Brymann & Bell, 2003). Another weakness is that the questions asked might be steering the collection of data too much (Brymann & Bell, 2003). This is why we let the girls make collages in order to let them set the agenda for the interviews themselves. The most important factor in relation to objectivity is to interpret the respondents’ answers in the right way and not let own experiences affect the respondents’ thoughts. In this study we did not share our own opinions and experiences when interviewing the girls and the answers were not commented on. Though with the hermeneutic phenomenology in mind the results cannot avoid to be based on personal i nterpretations of the meanings.

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2.6 Delimitations Notwithstanding the significance of this research study limitations are acknowledged as being inevitable. All the selections and de-selections we have made in our decisions making process are with emphasis on attaining a more informed, comprehensive and in-depth understanding on the subject of research but also to be realistic about the quantitative limitations of the thesis. Therefore we have been compelled to limit the scope of this study and make the segment in focus very narrow in relation to gender and age. Hence the findings presented are specific to the segment in focus and we do not claim to represent the whole population. We are aware that within the field of Interpretive Consumer Research there are an extensive mass of theoretical contributions. Therefore we found it necessary to limit the amount of theory and number of theoretical contributions in order to maintain a clear focus. Thus, contributions that we consider as essential for answering our research question were selected. Furthermore, it has been taken into consideration how each theory fits into the overall nexus of theories.

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PART 2 3. Theoretical Perspective and Foundation
In this section we will present the theoretical perspective and theoretical foundation which will constitute the point of departure for analysing this thesis’ research question (Figure 4). These will enable us to investigate how identity is constructed through symbolic consumption which in this thesis will be investigated in the perspective of adolescent girls. Furthermore, it will allow us to examine the consumer behaviour of these adolescent girls. The theoretical perspective forms the basis of our theoretical foundation by substantiating the two most essential concepts of this thesis. This sets the stage for understanding the specific theories, which constitute the theoretical foundation. The theoretical perspective is built on Anthony Giddens, British sociologist’s concept of identity construction and on Sydney Levy, American psychologist’s concept of symbolic consumption. Giddens has contributed with some of the most comprehensive work regarding identity construction in the late modern society, and in addition his work encompasses an emphasis on identity construction among the youth. Thus, Giddens has provided a very relevant and nuanced perspective for understanding the concept of identity and how it is being constructed and formed under the premises in the late modern society (Giddens, 1991). Levy’s article “Symbols for sale” from 1959, established the connection between products and the importance of their symbolisms. The article presented the perception that goods, besides for their utility value, are bought due to their symbolic value - what they mean (Levy, 1959). The theoretical foundation is constituted by several theories which as a whole contribute to a holistic approach for investigating this thesis’ research question. Following the emergence of interpretive consumer research an increasing emphasis was put on investigating the nexus between symbolic consumption and identity construction (Sørensen & Thomsen, 2006). All this research has resulted in several theoretical contributions among which we have selected a number of theories which we find most applicable for answering our thesis’ research question. The first contribution is the previously mentioned Grant McCracken’s theory concerning the creation- and movement of meaning in society. This article is presented in order to gain an

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understanding of how different elements, which are important for the adolescent girls’ identity construction, derive their meaning. This will be followed by a compounded theoretical foundation created by Elin B. Sørensen and Thyra Uth Thomsen, Professors of Marketing. Their framework originates from their article:”The lived meaning of symbolic consumption and identity construction in stable and transitional phases: towards an analytical framework”. The reason why we find this framework to be of great significance is because of its focus on the consumers’ lived experiences of the consumptions meaning hence supporting the method of the project. Another aspect that we perceive as relevant for this thesis is its integration of role transitions into the theoretical insight. This is found particular relevant in relation to our focus on adolescent girls who are on the verge of graduating high school and at the same time on the boarder of leaping into adulthood. (Sørensen & Thomsen, 2006). Hereafter we find it relevant to explore the relationship between consumption and the self. This will be done through Belk’s article “Possessions and the Extended Self” which investigates how possessions can be an extension of the self, and thus, how our self concept can be decisive for our consumer behaviour. This gives us an opportunity to examine the adolescent girls’ relationships to possessions. Similar insight will be provided by Susan Schultz Kleine, Robert E. Kleine lll and Chris T. Allens, American Professors of Marketing’s16 theory as it investigates how reflections are made in relation to objects which determines whether objects are found to be consistent with the sense of self. The next theoretical contribution, adding to the understanding of the relationship between consumption and the self, is Vanessa M. Patrick, Deborah J. MacInnis and Valerie S. Folkes, American Professors of Marketing’s 17 article “Approaching What We Hope For and Avoiding What We Fear- The Role of Possibles Selves in Consumer Behaviour”. In their article they underline how consumption can be based on several possible selves and how consumption is practised in order to approach a hoped for self or avoiding a feared for self. This will provide us with an optic for understanding how the adolescent girls’ aspirations and fears influence their consumption. The final part of the analytical framework contributes with a perspective of consumption as a social action. This is examined in Michael R. Solomon, American Professor of Marketing’s article, “The role of Products as Social Stimuli: A Symbolic Interactionism Perspective”. Herein
16 17

From now on refered to as Kleine et al. From now on refered to as Patrick et al.

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the point of departure is taken in the role products play in everyday life and how the subjective experience imparted in the consumption of different products is part of the consumers’ structuring of social reality, self concept and behaviour – e.g. in role performance. In an attempt to give a better overview of the theoretical contributions we have made a visual model shown below:

Figure 4: Our Theoretical Perspective and Foundation (Source: Own construction)

3.1 The Theoretical Perspective The theoretical perspective forms the basis of our theoretical foundation by substantiating the two most essential concepts of this thesis – identity construction and symbolic consumption. 3.1.1 Identity Construction In order to discuss identity construction we need to shed light on the society of today in which the adolescent girls live. The society of today has many names -”the modern”, ”the late modern” or ”post-modern”, but either way it concerns the same reality; the society has changed and still does and so has the circumstances under which identity is constructed.

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Today, identity is both a personal self-definition but also a definition in relation to the outside world. In this way culture and identity work in a dialectical interplay and our identity becomes a product of our relations. The individual has become free to construct its own identity as a reflective project without it being predestined by upbringing, conditions and traditions. As Thomas Ziehe, German social psychologist, states: “Identity is no longer experienced as something one inherits and life is no longer predestined by the fixed lane of the personal biography. Today, identity can be tested, changed, stylised and taken back” (Ziehe et al., 1983) This is the reason why adolescents of today only to a certain extent can or will use their parents’ generation as a role model (Jacobsen et al, 1998). Few adolescents of today want to be like their parents and neither are they expected to be (ibid). As a replacement they get addicted to the ubiquitous media world which delivers the raw material for their identity construction. Therefore, it is up to the adolescents themselves to make their own choices by ascribing value to the objects and interpreting the symbols in order to find out what he/she stands for. The challenging task is to follow the ever changing world as it changes faster than the eye can move. Some adolescents will though experience this freedom as a burden as the identity construction and self-exploration is constantly forced and under pressure (Gytz Olesen et al, 2000). Even though the adolescents are increasingly free to choose what they want to do and who they want to be this freedom can be both liberating and troubling. Liberating in the sense of increasing the likelihood of one's self-fulfilment and troubling in the sense of increased emotional stress and time needed to analyse the available choices. Furthermore, a significant self-centeredness among the adolescents can appear as they are constantly forced to make choices while taking into account what is of personal relevance. As of now we have accounted for the age in which the adolescents live in order to gain an understanding of the circumstances under which they make their choices. Following section will elaborate on this issue with focus on the process of identity construction. As mentioned earlier the social constructivism is what frames our thesis as scientific approach and we use it to have a critical distance to phenomena otherwise perceived as innate. In this case the centre of attention is identity which is why we have chosen to take a

Symbolic Consumption & Identity Construction – A Study of Danish Adolescent Girls point of departure in Giddens’ theory about individuals’ identity construction 18 in the late modern society. This is done in order to gain insight about our target group. It is an evident choice as he covers the young and modern self, living in a complex world (Giddens, 1991). According to Giddens, identity is constructed through reflective processes – both consciously and unconsciously (Giddens, 1996). The interplay between the self and the outside world is manifested through a social positioning giving the individuals important experiences about themselves. In this way we believe identity to be a social construction. Giddens call it interplay between existentionality, the global impact and the intentionality, the changes generated by individuals’ own choice of life and lifestyle. It is this intentionality process, which deals with the construction and reconstruction identity 19 (Giddens 1996). This implies that identity is not a given and constant size, but a reflective ongoing process characterised by many choices: “The modernity confronts the individual with a complex profusion of choices and since the modernity does not rely on a unanimous fundament, there is little help to be found regarding what choices to make” (Giddens, 1996) This is opposed to the pre-modern society where social status more or less was predetermined from birth (Andersen & Kaspersen, 2004). Today, the individuals are subject to choices in all situations and no matter size or importance they will all have influence on the identity. In this way every choice has consequences and as an individual it is inevitable to make one as a de-selection is a selection as well (Giddens, 1996). Thus, everything we do constitutes who we are as individuals: “We are not what we are but what we choose to be” (Ibid). In this connection, Giddens refers to the ideal self as the one which the self wants to be (Ibid). This conception is important to the individual as it is a positive expectation and notion, which works as framework for the identity construction. According to Giddens the individual is also forced to choose a lifestyle as part of the identity which implies choices just as well. “These (and bigger and more existential choices) are deci-

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18

The various theoretical contributions vary between using the term ’creation’ and ’construction’ when referring to the identity project. We have though chosen to use the term ’construction’ in order to gain consistency throughout our thesis. 19 Giddens uses the term ‘self-identity’ instead of ‘identity’ but the meaning is the same. We have chosen to use ‘identity’ in order to sustain a consistency.

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sions, that does not only revolve around how you act but also who you want to be” (Giddens 1996). The word ‘choice’ refers to every decision you make in your daily life - what to eat, what to wear, who to socialize with, who to vote for, etc. are all decisions which position ourselves as one kind of person and not another. Lifestyle contains a set of practices that are necessary for maintaining the ontological safety. This is, according to Giddens, a ‘basic security system’ that is created in childhood and serves to maintain self-esteem and for the individual to avoid fear. Giddens refers to choice of lifestyle as being connected to habits and orientations. As individuals we act in order to feel a sense of belonging to one particular group of people with same lifestyle. Thus, the opportunities of the individual must be seen in the light of the group affiliation – one is part of a group and act upon it. This divides the individuals into segments: “Choices and activities within a certain lifestyle will often be segmental for the individual, partly because a lot of ‘milieus of actions’ exist” (Giddens, 1996). These segments are called ‘lifestyle-sectors’ and constitute a ‘time and space’-sector within the individual’s activities. Hereby individuals can act differently in relation to different activities in different contexts, e. g. playing football with some friends and partying with other friends. Being involved in all these ‘milieus of action’, hence having so many choices, can create a fragmentation of the individual and lead to a feeling of impotence in relation to the diverse and massive social world it lives in (Giddens, 1996). In the late modernity life becomes all about choosing and making decisions as the identity exists in the light of the ability to maintain a self-narrative. “A lifestyle can be defined as a more or less integrated set of practices, followed by the individual. Not only because such practices fulfil needs, but also because they form the self-narrative in a materialistic way” (Giddens, 1996). This self-narrative can be defined as a kind of self promotion. It cannot be fictive but must constantly embed the incidents from the outside world while assorting these in terms of maintaining the narrative about the self (Kaspersen, 2001). Thus, the choices we make are part of the continuous self-narrative and therefore part of the identity. The reflective project of constructing an identity is, in the late modern society, transformed into a striving for having the right products and for artificially created lifestyles. In this way it is possible for the individual to acquire a desired lifestyle through consumption.

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3.1.2 Symbolic Consumption The article ”Symbols for Sale”, proposed an end to the era of the Economic Man20 and presented the idea that people not only buy things because of their functional and practical value but also for what they mean (Levy, 1959). This entailed a transformation from a rational type of consumer to a consumer who was driven by emotions and who made choices based on products’ intangible assets. Levy noticed that consumers, when explaining why they were buying things, would explain it through a variety of logics that were different from the very rational criteria such as price, quality and durability. They would increasingly refer to convenience, inadvertence, family pressures and other social pressures, complex economic reasoning’s, advertising, and pretty colours. This also implied that consumers through their purchasing were aiming to satisfy many feelings, wishes and circumstances. Levy summed it up as a change in focus from, “do I need this?” to “do I want it? “and “do I like it?”. (Levy, 1959) This development was seen as the modern consumer taking the definition of goods into a new realm where the definitions were based on a language of symbols. Within this realm goods could have both personal and social meanings in addition to their functional meaning, depending on the consumer’s ideas and feelings towards the good. In this perspective goods were seen as psychological things, symbolic of the consumers’ personal attributes, goals, social patterns and strivings. In extension of this choosing or rejecting a good was an estimate of whether it was important or potentially important to the consumer; a reflection that encompasses an internal and external evaluation of the commercial objects’ symbolism and whether they were perceived as appropriate to the consumer. According to Levy the appropriateness of goods is determined by whether it joins with, adds to or reinforces the way the consumer thinks about him- or herself and hereby enhances the sense of self. Furthermore, Levy describes how the symbolism of goods is used in a way consistent with the image that the consumer wishes to obtain and the person he/her wishes to be. Hence, choices between objects are made based on which objects that are most symbolically harmonious with goals, feelings and self definition. (Levy, 1959)

20

Economic Man is the concept of man (human) as a rational, perfectly informed and self-interested actor, desiring wealth, avoiding unnecessary labour, and having the ability to make judgments towards those ends. (Institut for Fremtidsforskning, 2004).

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Additionally, Levy notices how objects’ symbolic language loads an object with meaning which means that objects’ symbolism also has the ability to categorise and delineate a person both in regard to gender, age, caste and class (Levy, 1959). Levy’s article sparked a new approach to view consumerism and is still today a frequent reference in consumer research. His thoughts and perspective on symbolic consumption were and still is prevalent in much of the more modern consumer research. 3.2 The Theoretical Foundation The theoretical foundation is constituted by several theories which as a whole contribute to a holistic approach for investigating this thesis’ research question. 3.2.1 The Movement of Meaning In 1986 McCracken published an article containing innovative thoughts on how cultural meanings of consumer goods are structured and moved in modern society. In the article McCracken states that consumer goods have significance that goes beyond their utilitarian, tangible and commercial values (McCracken, 1986). This significance is located in consumer goods’ ability to additionally comprise and communicate cultural meaning (Ibid). This cultural meaning is in a constant transit between several locations in the social world and is being influenced by individual and collective initiatives from designers, producers, advertisers and consumers. Primarily, the cultural meaning stems from a culturally constituted world and is conveyed to the consumer goods and from there to the consumer. Hence, meaning has three locations and two transferring leaps, one from the constituted world to the consumer good and the second from the consumer goods to the consumer (Figure 5). According to McCracken the mobility of cultural meaning in consumer society enables us to see consumers and consumer goods as way-stations of meaning which emphasises the structural and dynamic attributes of consumption. Secondly, it provides a perspective for understanding such phenomena as advertising the fashion world and consumption rituals’, ability to function as meaning moving instruments. This implies acknowledging that the consumer society contains a system that contributes with coherency and flexibility as well as incoherency and discontinuity. (McCracken, 1986)

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Figure 5: McCracken’s ‘Movement of Meaning’ (Source: McCracken, 1986)

The location of consumer goods’ cultural meaning resides in the culturally constituted world, which consist of individuals’ senses of the phenomenal world that is shaped and conformed to the beliefs and assumptions of the given culture. Hence, culture is the lens through which individuals’ views phenomena, and thus, culture can be defined as what constitutes the world by providing it with meaning. McCracken characterises meaning by two concepts; cultural categories and cultural principles which will be elaborated on in the following. (McCracken, 1986) Cultural Categories Cultural categories are the fundamental categories which are used to divide up and organise the phenomenal world. In relation to consumer research the most significant categories are those created by culture within human communities for instance class, status, gender, age and occupation. In contemporary western societies it is noticeable that individuals, to a certain extent, are what they claim to be. Furthermore, our cultures’ free structure allows a higher degree of self-definition in relation to which categories we belong to. In extension it should be noticed that cultural categories are subject to constant change and can both develop and disappear in conjunction with external manipulation from the meaning transferring instruments. (McCracken, 1986)

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The cultural categories are in fact intangible and invisible but are as a cultural grid constantly being substantiated by our human practice. Accordingly, members of a culture are continuously realising the categorical distinctions and the fact that the world they create is consistent with the one they imagine. This is among other things done by consumption of consumer goods and other objects that are tangible and physical carriers of cultural meaning. This emphasises that goods are manifesting the cultural categories and further that goods are materialising culture. (McCracken, 1986) Cultural Principles Cultural principles constitute the other concept of cultural meaning. Herein meaning resides in the values and ideas which make organisation, evaluation and construction of cultural phenomena possible. Thus, if cultural categories are the result of a given cultures’ way of segmenting the world into distinguished parcels cultural principles can be defined as the organising ideas by which the segmentation is done. Accordingly, cultural principles become essential in distinguishing, ranking and interrelating cultural phenomena, and thus, also how expressions are interpreted in various aspects of social life. It is though important to notice that cultural categories and cultural principles are interdependent. Thus, a goods’ expression resulting in the distinction of two categories does so because it encodes a part of the principle enabling the distinction. It is therefore both the cultural categories and the principles which constitute the organisation of the phenomenal world and the surrounding community’s effort to influence it. McCracken’s article especially emphasises goods’ ability to substantiate both the categories and the principles and thereby become both the object and the objectification of the culturally constituted world. (McCracken, 1986) The Transfer of Meaning – from the Culturally Constituted World to Good The meaning of goods is obtained through a transfer of meaning from the culturally constituted world onto the good. This can be achieved through several different vessels of meaning hereunder advertising and the fashion system. Advertising, for example, places a certain good within a social context which triggers a transfer of meaning from the culturally constituted world onto the product. This entails that the known properties of the culturally constituted world will reside in unknown properties of the good. (McCracken, 1986)

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In extension McCracken points out that there are several sources of meaning within the fashion system both transfer agents and media of communication. Overall three ways of meaning transferring to goods has been detected. The first is very similar to the way of advertising and concerns the fashion systems’ association and incorporation of certain goods with cultural categories and principles. More complex is the fashion systems ability to invent new cultural meanings through the help of opinion leaders. Opinion leaders, who by groups of society are put on pedestals due to their virtue, profession or accomplishments can by their use of societal standing, redefine a goods’ association to cultural categories and principles and hereby affect a new cultural meaning of a good. In contrast McCracken points to a third and more radical way in which the fashion system can undertake transferring meaning to a good - through subcultures in society. For example, groups existing at the margins of society such as hippies, punkers and homosexuals are mentioned to have a particular capability to question and challenge cultural constituted meanings. By neglecting established norms and conventions and creating new orders they also redefine cultural categories and principles. Thereby the innovative subcultures become meaning suppliers. (McCracken, 1986) The Transfer of Meaning – from Good to Consumer This section presents how the meaning residing in a consumer good can be transferred onto the consumer. McCracken suggests that this is done by rituals, where the cultural meaning is manipulated in an act of collective or individual communication and categorisation, e.g. transferring meaning from a good onto the self. Four rituals are recognised by McCracken; exchange, possession, grooming and divestment rituals. (McCracken, 1986) The exchange ritual is best known from traditional celebrations as Christmas, birthdays, weddings and anniversaries. The choice of gift to someone else is typically made based on which properties one wishes to see transferred to the receiver. Additionally, the receiver is not only receiving the actual gift, but is also made subject for a certain self concept, initiated by the gifts cultural meaning. A possession ritual is the act through which the consumer attempts to extract meaning from goods unto him-/her by displaying an ownership of the good. Though it is not merely owning the good, which is essential but the ritual of integrating the meaning of the good into one’s life. This is possible, for example, by personalizing a

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good resulting in the good obtaining both a public and a personal meaning. A grooming ritual appear when a consumer has to repeatedly use possessions and draw cultural meaning from it, in order to maintain the meaning. Typically this is possessions of a more perishable nature, which without grooming will lose their meaning. The divestment ritual is related to taking over possessions from a previous owner or when disposing a possession. When gaining ownership of something that has been previously owned as for example a house the repainting, redecorating, etc. will be a divesting ritual and be an act of erasing previous meanings of the possession. Similarly when abolishing ones ownership of something the cleaning or un-personalizing is termed a divestment ritual. (McCracken, 1986) Overall McCracken’s theory can contribute to the understanding of how meanings of various consumption objects are derived, seen through the eyes of adolescent girls. This is essential for understanding the process in which the girls select or deselect between consumption objects. Furthermore, the theory encompasses rituals which can help us understand how meaning is transferred from goods onto the adolescent girls. 3.3.2 The Lived Meaning of Symbolic Consumption and Identity Constructi on It is fundamental in interpretive consumer research that consumption is a way of communicating and that consumption objects and practices are charged with symbolic meanings which enables these to be a part of consumers’ identity construction (McCracken, 1986; Belk, 1988; Sørensen &Thomsen, 2006; et al). Sørensen and Thomsen’s theoretical framework, in extension hereof, recognises that consumption is able to support an identity in multiple ways. Thus, it emphasises that symbolic consumption embeds not only common symbolic values’ but also private symbolic values (Sørensen & Thomsen, 2006). The presented framework builds on the idea that objects can play a role in consumers’ identity construction either through a signal value embedded in the object or through the experiential value that the consumers attains from it. The values residing in the object’s meaning can, according to the framework, be located in either a private- or common domain (Figure 6). These meanings which encompass the objects are what makes them applicable in the consumers’ identity construction and are suggestively also what makes them vehicles for continuous maintenance as well as acquisition or disposition of important life roles. (Sørensen & Thomsen, 2006)

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Figure 6: The lived meaning of symbolic consumption and identity construction (Source: Sørensen & Thomsen, 2006)

Signal versus Experience It has through numerous consumer research articles been substantiated that products can be conceived as vehicles for cultural meaning (e.g. McCracken, 1986). Consumption objects charged with a symbolic meaning of either cultural or personal character enables consumers to classify and communicate things about themselves to their surrounding environment andor to themselves (Belk, 1988, Holt, 1995, McCracken, 1986; et al). When consumers use their consumption and the associated meanings to communicate about themselves, these meanings undertake a value termed signal value (Sørensen &Thomsen, 2006). In contrast, there can also be a more experiential value of an object. This appears in situations where object’s meanings are derived from the way in which they affect consumers emotionally. In this perspective, objects can play a role in the consumers’ construction of identity by the way it makes them feel about themselves (Holbrook & Hirschman, 1982, Askegaard & Firat, 1996). When consumption objects’ cultural meaning provides consumers with a certain sense of self, the objects’ meanings are defined as being of experiential value (Sørensen &Thomsen, 2006). The experiential value of the consumption experience leads to a broader perspective for understanding “*...+ the leisure activities, consumer aesthetics, symbolic meanings, variety seeking, hedonic responses, psycho temporal resources, day-

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dreaming, creativity, emotions, play and artistic endeavours” (Holbrook & Hirschman, 1982). Hence it becomes easier to approach an understanding of the irrational and emotional determined choices made by consumers and the role of fantasies, feelings and fun within these choices (Ibid). Private versus Public The symbolic meaning of consumer products can, according to Marcha L. Richins, American Professor of Marketing reside in either a common- or a private domain (Richins, 1994). A common symbolic meaning is when there, within a society, culture or larger group, is a certain degree of consensus regarding the meaning of an object. Hereby, it is not said that there cannot be a variety or contrast in the perceptions among common meanings, which there often is, but merely that there must be, within a society, culture or group, a mutual understanding of an objects meaning. (Richins, 1994; Sørensen & Thomsen, 2006). An example of common meanings is the stereotyped perceptions that are common in the modern society, when ascribing specific types of goods to certain subcultures. Contrary to a common symbolic meaning is a private symbolic meaning, which means that the object has a meaning apart from the common meaning. The private meaning stems from a personal interpretation of an object’s symbolic meaning, which typically is rooted in a personal history with the object. Richins, points out that the private meaning often is attached to the common meaning and that things with a private meaning therefore also include a shared common meaning (Richins, 1994). Love letters exemplify this as they are commonly perceived as something sacred and special that a good partner would save and treasure. At the same time, these love letters have a separate private meaning that differs from the common meaning. Symbolic Consumption and Personal Transitions Since interpretive consumer research recognises that our identity is an ongoing reflective project, resulting in consumers’ constantly changing identity, there has been an understandable interest in investigating the transitions in our identity, which is most distinctive. These transitions are particularly evident when transcending from one role to another, which have large influence on a person’s future life, such as becoming a mother for the first time, for

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example (Fisher & Gainer, 1993; Jennings & O’Malley, 2003). The essential idea is that when transitioning into a new role it implies leaving a previous role behind. This transition is reflected symbolically through consumption behaviour and acquisition of new products or activities (Sørensen & Thomsen, 2006; Noble and Walker, 1997). In addition, leaving an old role can be marked symbolically by disposing old possession, activities and behaviours, which are associated with the former role. The origin for this focus on transitions in life roles or identities stems from Arnold Van Gennep, French anthropologist who worked distinctively with what he called “rites of passage” (1960). Van Gennep detected three phases of “rite of passage”: The separation from a former role or identity, the transition which features the adaptation and creation of a new role or identity and finally an incorporation phase where the person integrates the new role or identity into the self. This concept of role transition is further elaborated on, as it is integrated with the four categories of identity related symbolic consumption (table 2). This integration is illustrated below:
Maintenance of identity Common signal I see myself according to a generalized understanding of the product. Role acquisition I see myself approach my new role by acquiring the product in accordance with the generalized understanding of it I see myself approach my new role by acquiring the product in accordance with my own understanding of it. I experience myself approaching my new role by acquiring the product in accordance with the generalized evaluation of it. I experience myself approaching my new role by acquiring the product in accordance with my own appreciation of it. Role separation I see myself distance myself from my old role by giving up the product in accordance with the generalized understanding of it.

Private Signal

I see myself according to my own understanding of the product.

I see myself distance myself from my old role by giving up the product in accordance with my own understanding of it

Common Experience

I experience myself through the product according to generalized evaluations of it.

I experience myself distance myself from my old role by giving up the product in accordance with the generalized evaluations of it

Private Experience

I experience myself through the consumer product according to my own appreciation of it.

I experience myself distance myself from my old role by giving up the product in accordance with my own appreciation of it.

Table 2: Symbolic consumption and identity construction in stable and transitional phases (Source: Sørensen & Thomsen, 2006)

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In relation to the research question of this thesis we find this framework relevant because of its holistic approach to symbolic consumptions and identity construction combined with the aspect of role transitions. These elements are found highly relevant for both the research method as it focuses on the consumers’ lived experience of the consumption meaning and research subject, adolescent girls, as they are, both in terms of age and education, in a transitioning phase. 3.3.3 Consumption and the Self In this section, theory investigating the relationship between consumption and the self will be presented. We will begin by employing Belk’s theory concerning possessions as an extension of the self and then elaborate on various degrees of attachment between possession and the self, through Kline et al.’s theory of how possessions can be “me” or “not me”. In extension of this we will elaborate on Patrick et al.’s theory of how possessions can be employed in order to establish a hoped for self or to distance oneself from a feared for self through symbolic consumption. 3.3.3.1 Possessions as an Extension of the Self Belk’s research delves into five main areas regarding possessions and the extended self. Firstly, it is investigated how possessions are able to play a large role in the sense of self, secondly what functions the extended self serves and thirdly which different processes that deals with self extension. Additionally attention is drawn to a number of particular categories of possessions that are often woven into the sense of self. The concept of the extended self does not confine to solely external objects and personal possessions but also encompasses persons, places, group possessions as well as more literally possessions such as body parts and organs (Belk, 1988). What determines whether objects can become viewed as part of the self is dependent on the individual’s ability to exercise power or control over them (McClelland, 1951). This implies that we can infuse possessions with our identities but also that possessions may impose their identities on us (Belk, 1988). This explains how possessions for example a sports car, can influence a males sense of self and make him feel more masculine or as a 40 year old writer once has put it: “a tomcat on the prowl” (Belk, 1988).

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Integrating possessions as part of our self can be achieved by creating them or altering them. It can also be achieved as a result of an investment of psychological energy in an object that an individual has dedicated time and attention to acquire (Csikszentmihalyi et al, 1981). Loss of possessions demonstrates how identity can be integrated in many of our possessions as loss of possessions can entail a loss of part of the self and in extreme cases lead to grief and mourning similar to the grief and mourning of losing a loved one (McLeod, 1984: Donner, 1985). This is evident when possessions are related to a memory of someone or a memory that carries special affection to the self. When losing the possession one also loses the linkage to this person or memory and therefore a sense of self (Ibid). Possessions can both be a literally extensions of the self, in enabling the individual to physically do things one would otherwise not be capable of - as tools or weapons do (Belk, 1988). Additionally, possessions can also be a symbolic extension of self in the way they permit us to convince ourselves or others that we can be a different person, than we would be without these possessions, e.g. uniforms (Tanay, 1976). Thus, having possessions can provide us with the ability to ‘doing and being’, an area that has been further investigated by Jean Paul Sartre (1943) who suggests that our only motivation for acquiring new possessions is to enlarge our sense of self (Belk, 1988). In addition, he also states that observing what we have is the only way to find out who we are which indicates that having and being is different but inseparable (Ibid). Overall this illustrates how possessions can become an extension of the self and that possessions help consumers learn, define and remind themselves of who they are (Belk, 1988). Regarding our research area this theory can contribute to the understanding of how possessions can be an essential part of the adolescent girls’ self and even enlarge their sense of self. 3.3.3.2 Consumption as “Me” or “Not Me”. This thesis’ emphasis on construction of identity and its manifestation in consumption involves an investigation of the relationship between individuals and possessions. This includes delving into how individuals can have various attachments to different possessions or actions and what distinguish these relationships. Kleine et al. present an understanding of several different types of material possession attachments in their article from 1995: “How is a Possession ‘Me’ or ‘Not Me’? Characterising

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Types and an Antecedent of Material Possession Attachment”. They found that consumers distinguish between objects based on whether they are coherent with how they perceive themselves suggesting that consumers perceive possessions as them or not them. In this perspective, various degrees of attachments and so called “me-ness” or “not me-ness” exists. Thus, different types of attachments are explored and further how these attachments can be associated to different aspects and facets of an individual’s life story, i.e. identity. (Kleine et al, 1995). It has through previous research been substantiated that individuals use attachments to define and maintain their identities (Belk, 1988; Sørensen & Thomsen, 2006). Further on identity is reflected in the individual’s life story which encompasses various roles both present, past and anticipated future selves (Kleine et al, 1995). Hence the fundamental dimensions of attachments are made up by the various life stages that constitute an individual’s life story (McAdams, 1985; Kleine et al, 1995). As such possessions with a strong attachment are

bound to be more affectively charged and held more dearly than possessions of lesser attachment. Meanwhile other possessions can be autonomous in relation to the consumer’s sense of self (Kleine et al, 1995). This theory is employed in order to gain an understanding of how the girls distinguish between various consumption objects based on their symbolism in relation to present, past and anticipated future selves. This perspective is further treated in the following theory. 3.3.3.3 Consumption and Possible Selves Extensive psychology research suggests that the self concept is a multifaceted entity encompassing several selves which can be positive, negative, past, present or future oriented meanwhile descriptive or normatively based (Markus and Nurius, 1986; Markus Ruvolo, 1989; and others). These different possible selves are according to Hazel R. Markus and Paula Nurius, Professors of Psychology a manifestation of enduring goals, aspirations, motives, fears and threats (Markus & Nurius, 1986). This view was later elaborated on by Elissa Wurf, Professor of Psychology, and previously mentioned Hazel R. Markus who hypothesised that two basic processes exist in which an individual can attain a growth or personal change in pursuit of whatever goals they might have. The first process is the personalisation of motivation which en-

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compasses a creation of a possible self that one will aspire towards. The second process is validation which is the process in which an individual strives to substantiate and prove the existence of the possible self (Wurf and Markus, 1991). These fundamental insights are significant for Patrick et al.’s article “Approaching What We Hope For and Avoiding What We Fear: The Role of Possible Selves in Consumer Behaviour”. According to their research the way we see ourselves physically and as a self concept is influential on our consumption. Thus, we use consumption objects to come closer to the person we wish to see us self as, hence achieving a hoped for self or avoiding a feared for self (Patrick et al. 2002). The symbolic consumption can be manifested through products, services and activities which through a reflective process are evaluated whether or not they are contributing to achieving a hoped for self or avoiding our feared for self (Ibid). Through Patrick et al.’s research it becomes evident that the possible selves are found within most life domains. Their research put forward occupation, physicality, personality, economy and family, as domains in which possible selves are particular obvious. This theory will contribute to an understanding of within which domains adolescent girls display a hoped for self or feared for self and how these possible selves are navigated among through the use of symbolic consumption. 3.3.4 Consumption as a Social Action After having explored possessions’ ability to influence the sense of self, through its symbolic attributes, we will now elaborate on the significance of the products’ signal value and their impact on social interaction. Therefore this section will present a theory which emphasises the importance of a social perspective in determining the motivation and reasoning behind consumption behaviour. First we will gain an understanding of how our perception of social reality influences how we consume in our effort to orchestra various social roles. Applying this theory will help understand how adolescent girls, according to the way they perceive their social reality, adopt different consumption practises that they perceive as being appropriate and coherent with their roles - both those that are stable and those that they are transitioning into or from. Solomon investigates the role of products in consumers’ everyday life and brings forward a theory about how consumers’ subjective experiences with consuming different products, can play a significant part in the consumers’ structuring of social reality, self concept and behaviour (Solomon, 1983). The premises for this is that there is a social meaning - or a cul-

Symbolic Consumption & Identity Construction – A Study of Danish Adolescent Girls tural meaning (cf. McCracken 21) ingrained in the products which makes it possible to associate them to certain roles, behaviours and values (Solomon, 1983; McCracken, 1986). Thus, consumers rely on social meanings inherent in products in order to orchestra their social roles, especially when transitioning onto a new and unfamiliar role that is affiliated with a certain degree of insecurity (Solomon, 1983; Schouten, 1991; Noble & Walker, 1997). When applying Solomon’s perspective which underlines the importance of consumption as a social behaviour, conditioned by the social reality surrounding us, it is important to notice that this view should not be seen as mutually exclusive of the more experiential view held by Holbrook and Hirschman (1992). On the contrary it should be viewed as a supplementing perspective which recognises the role of products as social stimuli (Solomon, 1983). An essential aspect in Solomon’s theory is that products’ symbolism is used to define social reality and to ensure that behaviour accommodate that reality. Hence products’ symbolism is consumed with the intent to define and clarify certain consumption patterns associated with social roles (ibid). Because of this social information embedded in products is of great importance to consumers in order for them to optimise role performance and to shape their self image (ibid). The theory furthermore challenges the traditional marketing perspective which tends to view products as responses to behaviour and more or less neglect the importance of products as causes of behaviour (Kotler, 1976). Thereby the emphasis is put on the process that leads to the ultimate purchase decision while paying little attention to the processes in which consumers actually use what they have bought (Solomon, 1983). Certainly a product can play a large role in satisfying a need but products can also play a priory role which is antecedent to behaviour (Solomon, 1983). It has been ratified thoroughly that products can be a source of information regarding the individual possessing it (e.g. Belk, 1978). Implicit in this perspective lies that particular products contribute with information regarding individuals’ occupation of social roles and therefore that social roles are verified through the various products which accompany them. On this background Solomon suggests that the symbolism that is embedded in many products is
21

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Michael R. Solomon uses the term social meaning, while Grant McCracken uses the term cultural meaning. The two terms has the same meaning, but to ensure consistency we will use the term social meaning in this section.

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one of the main reasons why they get bought - because we as individuals are being evaluated and systematically positioned in the social reality based largely on the nexus of the products that surround us. The premise for this is that product symbolism which is instrumental in assigning meaning to others are identical to the one used by individuals to assigning social meaning to themselves. Furthermore a self definition process can entail the following behaviour in accordance to a behavioural script, indicating that symbolic consumption can exert an a priori effect on role definition and interaction (Solomon, 1983). Additionally, it is recognised that the role of products in relation to self image is dependent on the individual situation and can be relevant in some situations and not in others (Ibid). 3.4 Theoretical Summary We have now presented the theoretical contributions which constitute our theoretical foundation (figure 7). As mentioned earlier these will enable us to investigate how identity is constructed through symbolic consumption which in this thesis will be investigated in the perspective of adolescent girls. Furthermore it will allow us to examine the consumer behaviour of these adolescent girls. The following will sum up the theoretical foundation’s relevance in relation to analysing this thesis’ research question. Overall McCracken’s theory can contribute to the understanding of how meanings of various consumption objects are derived, seen through the eyes of adolescent girls. This is essential for understanding the process in which the girls select or deselect between consumption objects. Furthermore, the theory encompasses rituals, which can help us understand how meaning is transferred from goods onto adolescent girls. In relation to the framework of Sørensen and Thomsen it is particularly relevant because it applies a holistic approach to identity construction and symbolic consumptions and incorporates the aspect of role transitions. These elements are found very essential for both the research method as it focuses on the consumers’ lived experience of the consumption meaning and the research subject, adolescent girls, as they are both in terms of age and education in a transitioning phase. Furthermore, theories investigating the relationship between consumption and the self are found relevant. Belk’s theory contributes to the understanding of how possessions can be an essential part of adolescent girls’ self and even enlarge their sense of self. Kleine et al. provides us with an understanding of how adolescent girls distinguish between various con-

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sumption objects based on their symbolism in relation to present, past and anticipated future selves. This is supplemented by Patrick et al.’s theory which examines the domains within which adolescent girls display a hoped for self or feared for self and how these possible selves are navigated among through the use of symbolic consumption. Finally, Solomon’s theory of consumption as social stimuli will help us understand how adolescent girls according to the way they perceive their social reality adopt different consumption practises that they perceive as being appropriate and coherent with their roles - both those that are stable and those they are transitioning into or from.

Figure 7: Theoretical Foundation (Source: Own Construction)

3.5 Theoretical Annotation As mentioned we have chosen theoretical contributions that we perceive as relevant in terms of answering our research question. It is though important to notice that our holistic employment of these theories may lead to overlaps between them but also dispensable theoretical subsets. This will be uncovered in our analysis of adolescent girls’ identity construction through symbolic consumption. Herein it will become evident which elements of the theoretical contributions, which are applicable for analysing the identity construction process. In extension hereof we recognise that our chosen theoretical contributions use various terms for exemplifying symbolic consumption objects i.e. possessions, goods or products.

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Our perception is though that each of these terminologies covers the same. Thus, we believe that consumption can be both tangible and intangible as for example services and hobbies which is in alignment with much interpretive consumer research (e.g. Holbrook, 1987; Sørensen & Thomsen, 2006). Therefore we advocate that all theoretical insights presented in this literature review can be applied to symbolic consumption as this is viewed in a holistic way.

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PART 3 4. Analysis
This chapter contains our analysis of six adolescent girls’ self-narratives in relation to addressing the objective of this thesis: How is identity constructed through symbolic consumption among adolescent girls and what characterises their consumer behaviour? The analysis will be divided into two sections each with a specific focus. The first part of the analysis will draw a portrait of each of the six adolescent girls. These will encompass the underlying reflections in their sense making of symbolic consumption in order to give us a profound understanding of how they construct their identity. Furthermore, it will reveal the adolescent girls’ individual trademarks as consumers. The insights we attain through the portraits will,together with the interviews,form the basis of the second part of the analysis. As opposed to the individualistic perspective in the first part of the analysis, the second part aims to uncover the characteristics of adolescent girls’ consumer behaviours entailed by the way they use symbolic consumption to construct their identity. 4.1 Analysis Part 1 – Portraits of the Adolescent Girls The aim of this first part of the analysis is to get a profound understanding of how the adolescent girls construct their identity through symbolic consumption.

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4.1.1 Portrait of Cecilie

Name: Cecilie Age: 17 years old Civil status: In a relationship Family: Mom and dad Education: Second year in High School Student job: Works in a clothing- and interior shop but starts a new job soon in the local church. Disposable income: 700 DKK in allowance and 1800 DKK in salary. A total of DKK 2500 a month. If I won in the lottery...” I would put it in a savings account and then put some of them into my own account, so I could buy a flat screen TV and a new computer. Then I would buy a lot of clothes and a lot of shoes *…….+ I would probably buy some good things and save up the rest. I would not just spend them all at once.” (l. 722ff) 2223

22

When referring to the interviews, we refer to a line/lines in them. E.g. 722 refers to line 722, 722f refers to line 722 and the next line and finally 722ff refers to line 722 and the next ones. . 23 It is important to notice that some quotes may appear twice in our analysis.

Symbolic Consumption & Identity Construction – A Study of Danish Adolescent Girls Characteristics of Cecilie 24 Cecilie can be described as an oppositional consumer as she has a very obstinate attitude towards certain types of consumer behaviour. She is quite judgemental and very aware of how she does not want to be perceived and who she does not want to be pigeonholed with. Therefore she pays a lot of attention to the consequences of her actions and focuses on making decisions that approaches her hoped for self, but most importantly avoids her feared for self. She generally possesses a large degree of self control and knows what is necessary in order to be perceived in a specific way. Her identity construction process and hence consumption practices can be characterised as being strongly influenced by the institutionalised understanding of how symbolic meaning of different consumptions are interpreted. Thus, she relies on the common symbolic meaning in her decision making. These shared meanings allow Cecilie to presuppose that her interpretation of reality is in line with the interpretation of others. Self Image Cecilie’s oppositional behaviour is exemplified in her dissociation to certain values and way of life in general. She is a strong advocate of being ‘a fighter’,but nevertheless makes no secret of her periodic failure within this area. Hereby she expresses her hoped for self which she elaborates on in the following: “You should fight for what you want. I do not always do it but I think you should and I wish I was better at it [...]if there is something you want, you should do it instead of thinking,that ‘someone is better than me’. You are allowed to use your elbows *...+” (l. 298f + 304f) In extension hereof she indicates that this primarily is the case when it comes to education and love – fighting for the man you love and the future you want. Cecilie’s fighter spirit is additionally reflected in her idolizing of Angelina Jolie. “She *Angelina Jolie+ is the fighter type. She is independent and the ‘I do what I want’ type and I like that. She is not the pretty girl type but a bit rawer.” (l. 351f). Hence Cecilie characterises the ‘fighter type’ by express24

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The content in the “Characteristic of X”-sections in all the portraits, have no source reference, because the content will be substantiated with references in the ‘self image’ sections.

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ing her condemnation of women’s old-fashioned gender role pattern and refers to Angelina Jolie as representing the contrary. In this way Cecilie once again constructs her identity by stating what is not her as she clearly distances herself from a specific symbolic meaning that resides in a common domain. Thus, Cecilie appears to distance herself from the male chauvinistic mindset and instead have a more modern perception of gender roles containing a more feministic point of view. Her stand in relation to her future role signifies how her own self control is manifested in her morale. Another way this opportunistic view of life is expressed is in her perfectionist characteristic. This behaviour is especially manifested in Cecilie’s relationship to school as she is very devoted to her school work (e.g. l. 683ff). This behaviour is exemplified with the word ‘geek’, when she is asked about a word that defines this. She elaborates on it by explaining how she gets irritated if she does not understand things. In this way being a perfectionist resides in a private experiential domain, as this behaviour is a necessity in order to avoid sources of irritation. Cecilie underlines her oppositional consumer position in relation to her perfectionist behaviour by stating: “*…+ I do not comprehend people in high school, who do not care about school. Why spend time on it then? Why not do it properly and then relax in a couple of years? Then you have a future instead of spending three years on nothing. That is when I really think, why? It is so easy to concentrate and then it gets easy to go to school” (l. 716ff) Accordingly, nothing could be further from her mind than lazy and sluggish people which she clearly dissociates herself from – indicating that this kind of behaviour is not her. Cecilie does though reflect upon the perfection issue and emphasises that not everything needs to be perfect, only the things that interests her. (l. 713f) Another way the oppositional consumer behaviour is manifested is when Cecilie narrates about appearance. In regards hereto it shows that she is very focused on not being pigeonholed with a certain segment, the ‘eighth graders’, which is a segment she strongly dissociates herself from. When asked “What is not cool to wear?” Cecilie replies: “It is the ‘eighth grade’ style. Everything is just a little bit too tight, too short and too much Gucci. Too much make up, too black around the eyes and too much foundation. It is just really, really not me” (l. 520ff). She further distances herself from brand clothing as she defines these ‘eighth graders’ to represent this as well. In extension, Cecilie explains why brand clothing is not her

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because she thinks of it as farfetched and easy bought and a little too much like “Look how much money I have.”(l. 480f). Furthermore, she emphasises the stupidity in spending so much money on things that is out of fashion shortly (l. 484f). So even though Cecilie recognises the commonly shared meaning of brand clothing she defines herself by explicitly distancing herself from what we may call ‘the pressure of consumer culture’; the oppressive idea that brand clothing makes good style. She cannot relate to it and it is definitely not her. Thus, the ‘eighth graders look’ with brand clothing and too much make up do not support her identity construction because of its private signal value. Cecilie’s dissociation from the ’eighth graders look’ reflects the development she has gone through, as she explains how one’s attitude towards brand clothing changes from when you are a child and up till today: ” When you are a child it *brand clothing+ does not really matter but then you get older and style starts to matters and then brand clothing starts meaning something. I think that in the eighth grade you had the idea that when something looked expensive it radiated better style. But this disappeared after lower secondary school. I actually think there is a shift just before high school. Now, I feel it is not so important anymore, on the contrary. “(l. 472ff) This displays how Cecilie is well aware of the different role transitions she has undergone within the last years and how brand clothing act as a common signal source that can be helpful in such role transitions. Additionally, it exemplifies how possessions are shed or neglected when they no longer fit the self-image, as in the case of Cecilie, where the images of the objects have changed. Another way the dissociation from a previous role is manifested is in her language - more precisely her use of slang words. Cecilie explains how she has forbid herself to use the words ‘nice’ and ‘fesent’ (red. in English ‘lame’) any longer. They have become ‘ugly words’ that she relates to the ‘pop culture’ which she wishes to distance herself from, as she perceives it as not her (l. 357ff). Cecilie’s choice of bicycle additionally reflects how a possession can help define who we are (Belk, 1988). Cecilie has a classical lady bike which she thinks makes her look more ladylike and feminine and, as her friends once stated, ‘happy and glowing’. Her boyfriend on the other hand thinks she should ride a racer bike. This she has declined as she does not want to look too masculine or ‘look like a fool’ (l. 159ff). As such the oppositional consumption pattern continues and so does the reliance on common signal values.

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Cecilie is clearly very engaged in her appearance regarding style but the case is the same when it comes to her more physical look though still with the oppositional approach. Hence she recognises the common signal meaning that resides in not having a fit body which supports her in her attempt to keep slim as being fat is definitely not her. When asked why she wants to keep slim she replies: “*…+ one has to *keep slim+. I just do not want to be fat because it is not a good signal to send, to be fat. People know so from the media and everything. It is not popular to be fat. It is being criticized tremendously. I just think I want to look nice because then I feel good about myself.” (l. 60ff) In this way she expresses how she feels obliged to stay fit in order to avoid her feared for self, being fat, meanwhile approaching her hoped for self, looking nice. Her aspiration resides in the public signal domain but with an experiential aftermath as she justifies her argumentation with the allegation that “Everybody wants to look nice” (l. 67). Meanwhile Cecilie clearly dissociates herself from those who are lazy and indifferent in regard to their appearance as she is not like that. As she expresses it, she does not understand people who just “*...+ sit on their ass and watch their body rot up” (l. 85f). Once again this shows how Cecilie can be a condemning and distancing consumer. Cecile goes on to explain about her disassociation from overweight people by arguing how being overweight can have unfavourable consequences for example in a job situation. She argues: “She *the overweight girl] may not look so authoritative and it may have to do with control. If you cannot control your own body how can you control other things? *…+ It is just something about the look. Even though they [the slim and the overweight] have the same skills you would probably choose the slim one“(l. 92ff). In this way, the symbolic meaning resides in a private understanding of how these two things go together and support Cecilie’s identity construction process in being a ‘slim girl’. In general, this oppositional behaviour displayed by Cecilie leads to a view of her self-image as being largely determined by a projection of how others see her – hence her self-concept becomes a result of others’ appraisals both imagined and actual (Solomon, 1983).

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4.1.2 Portrait of Victoria

Name: Victoria Age: 18 years old Civil status: In a relationship Family: Mom, dad and a younger sister. She lives as a foster child with her aunt. Education: Third year in High School Student job: Disposable income: DKK 1200 a month. Additionally, she receives subsides from the the local authority because she lives with her aunt. If I won in the lottery...:”I would buy an apartment or go travelling and shop till I drop” (l. 663)

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Characteristic of Victoria Victoria clearly has kind of a two sided approach to life – an independent and a dependent. On one side she is a very casual girl with a more or less hedonistic approach to life and an autonomous sense of self deriving symbolic meaning from a very private resource. On the other side she is also very dependent on her peers and surroundings in relation to both copying and distancing herself from the behaviour pattern of others. Thus, she is both what is termed a follower (Rogers, 1983) but also an oppositional consumer who relies on the common understanding of certain signal values. In general, she is well aware of the institutionalised understanding of certain consumer behaviour but still chooses to rely on the more private symbolic meaning which covers her own experience with the consumption objects. Furthermore, the signal value comes across as being less important than the experiential value as Victoria emphasises how objects appeal to her emotions. This is manifested in the way her mood, in the specific consumption situation, often sets the agenda. Self image Victoria’s role as being dependent on others is particularly evident when the conversation revolves around her friend, Eline, as she clearly has an influence upon Victoria’s consumption practices. Eline is the one that sets the agenda on several occasions and acts as an opinion leader and thus she functions as a vessel that transports meaning to objects and behaviour for Victoria. Eline’s influence is evident in everything from Victoria’s choice of cigarette brand, music and choice of bars and nightclubs (l. 118 + 223ff). Victoria herself describes Eline as following: “It is Eline who makes the party vivid and who knows all the cool music and all the cool places to go” (l. 226). Victoria simply copies the consumption pattern of Eline and hereby defines herself though shared consumption symbols. The reasoning behind this copycat behaviour does not appear to be an idolising of Eline but merely because she is indifferent and ignorant about where the party is at. Victoria states it as follows: “I think it is because I do not know where to go in town. If she [Eline] says she wants to go to a particular place, I just say ‘fine’.” (l. 168ff)

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It is though noticeable that Eline’s dominant role and influence not always control the behaviour of Victoria. When it comes to the specific experience of going out Victoria knows what she wants and expresses a more autonomous preference. As such Victoria describes a good night out as follows: “*...+ it is typically her [Eline] one has to follow, and she wants to go where all her friends are. Then I am more into just walking around and figuring out what I feel like as we just go walking around finding various different places.”(l. 241ff) Even though Victoria is largely influenced by Eline she does not ignore her own personal needs as she derives meaning from consumer objects, by the way in which they appeal to her emotions thus making her choices based on how she feels. As such Victoria’s consumption is often very emotionally controlled and therefore it relies heavily on how she feels at the moment of the consumption. This is reflected in various aspects of her consumption. Chocolate, for example, is primarily consumed by Victoria when she has a bad day and feels a bit depressed making it an experiential source as it contributes to making her happier (l. 225ff). Her state of mind also determines what kind of music she prefers and vice versa. If she is having a bad day her preference leans towards angry Danish hip hop music and if she is relaxed and dazing she prefers happy and cheerful music. Music, she explains, can also be used to change her mood: “If it is really happy music I cannot help being in a good mood even if I have had a bad day. So the music affects my mood but my mood affects my music choice as well.” (l. 152ff). This underlines how different consumer behaviour fits different consumption situations denoted as ‘consumption by circumstances’. From one moment to the next she can change from being sad to happy by using chocolate or music to approach her hoped for self. In regard to shopping it is slightly more indefinable what determines if she is in the mood because, as she describes it: “When I have that feeling, that “fuck I really need something practical”. But it can still be a while before I feel like actually buying something. I really have to be in the mood for shopping.” (l. 307f). Another way in which Victoria’s more autonomous but also hedonistic behaviour is expressed is in relation to her clothing and appearance. She makes it clear herself by saying:

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“No, that is not so important *others’ opinion+. It is more important that I like the things myself.” (l. 527). This is an expression of Victoria’s sense of self which implies that she sees herself as someone who acts as an individual without regard to norms and trends around her. She also demonstrates a striving for experiential values. This view is reflected in the way she describes herself as a relaxed type and how this self-image is manifested in her consumption: “It is wearing something comfortable – nothing to tight. I think that signals that one is relaxed and down to earth.”(l. 299f). This also illustrates her hoped for self in terms of being a relaxed type and additionally explains how she personally attempts to support this by wearing certain clothing which she perceives as being relaxed - hence the experiential value resides in the private domain. The importance of clothing’s experiential value is also revealed when Victoria talks about how she likes wearing colourful and gaudy clothing and how it affects her: “*...+it looks more fresh and you feel a bit more happy, than if you wear simply black clothing[...]then I can wear it and look down at myself and become happy”(l. 531ff). This all displays how clothing is related to Victoria’s sense of self through her private experience of colourful and gaudy clothes. In addition, Victoria obviously has read a lot about the common meaning of different colours in relation to how they affect your psyche. She explains the effect of the colours as follows: “Black means grief and makes you a little sad. Red means aggressive but also happy and romance. Pink is more the girly colour. Therefore colours mean a lot but I mostly think about which colours suit me. It does though also depend on the mood I am in.”(l. 532ff) This illustrates how she uses this common knowledge as inspiration in her decision making but relies on her own private evaluation in the long run – her own interpretation of which colours she finds suit her. She further displays once again how her mood has a great impact on her consumer behaviour as it more or less sets the agenda for her choice. Victoria’s neglecting of the common interpretation of her appearance and of signal values’ importance for how she dresses stands in an interesting contrast to how aware she is about what kind of clothing that is not her – her oppositional stand. When asked where she would go shopping if she won the lottery she does not mention any store names in particularly but

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solely that: “I would go into all *stores+ except Gucci and Louis Vuitton *...+” (l. 667). This implies that those two specific brands very clearly are perceived as not her. Earlier in the interview a possible explanation is given when Victoria describes a ‘pop girl’: “She is someone who wears brand clothes such as Gucci and Louis Vuitton and who dresses provocatively. She also wears too much makeup. I cannot stand girls like that.”(l. 282f).This gives a good indication of Victoria’s feared for self - the fear of being seen as a ‘pop girl’. Hence these brands are symbols of a subculture to which Victoria ascribes a certain set of values and behaviour, which Victoria does not identify herself with; it is not her. This appears when she is asked “what do brands tell about the people who wear them?”: “They are maybe a little bit like “I do not want friends who wear anything else than neat clothes because otherwise I will not be seen on the streets with them” or something like that. I am not a brand animal at all and sometimes I can wear the ugliest outfit – I am a bit more relaxed and I would like my boyfriend to be so as well *...+”(l. 290ff) This exemplifies how her self-definition often is based on her oppositional behaviour, explaining who and what she is the opposite of. Thus, she explains how it is important to her that her boyfriend is also relaxed and dresses thereafter and does not spend time on his clothes and his look (l. 293). This will seemingly give her a feeling of consistency in her relaxed self image. Overall, Victoria’s identity construction process is characterised by a more or less bipartite consumption pattern. She copies the behaviour of others but still states her autonomous sense of self. She thinks emotionally and makes decisions based on the experiential value meanwhile calling attention to signal value regarding others’ behaviours in relation to manifesting her own.

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4.1.3 Portrait of Nana

Name: Nana Age: 17 Civil status: In a relationship Family: Dad, stepmother and a younger sister Education: Second year in HTX Student job: Receptionist in a karate club Disposable income: DKK 1400 in salary and 350 in allowance (‘money for food’). If I won in the lottery...:” I would buy my own apartment, save some money for my family and friends and give the rest to charity.”(l. 723f)

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Characteristics of Nana Nana is what can be defined as an idealistic and critical consumer as she sets high standards for the things she consumes. Social responsibility and environmentalism in particular have a large influence on her identity construction and helps her approach her hoped for self as being a responsible consumer. To achieve this Nana relies mainly on an institutionalized understanding of how the symbolic meanings of different consumptions are construed in relation to supporting her identity construction. Besides relying on meanings residing in common domains she expresses how this idealistic consumer behaviour is a result of parental influence. Hence Nana has taken over her parents’ ideals and her values exist in the capacity of her parents’ values. These responsible consumption practices are further manifested in an unselfish behaviour as her identity construction at times is characterised as altruistic. She is very aware of her actions and the consequences and therefore very attentive about taking all elements into account, when making a decision. Self image Nana’s altruistic behaviour is manifested in her way of putting others before herself as she states: “Sometimes maybe too much” (l. 399f). She explicates this behaviour by saying “I just like it when everybody’s happy and feel good because then I am happy as well. I know it is important to think of myself, but I think I do. I am just happy when others are happy” (l. 402ff). Hereby, being altruistic acts as an experiential source in terms of giving Nana a feeling about herself as a person that makes others happy and therefore she is happy. This is further reflected in her response to what she would do if she won in the lottery as mentioned above. Furthermore, it is displayed in her job as partly voluntary at the karate club (l. 36). Even in relation to her religious affiliation this charitable and idealistic behaviour becomes evident. Nana has declared herself an atheist and argues for this belief by saying: “I think it is very abstract, maybe too abstract [to be a believer]. I far more believe in love and goodness and if you can find that out, everything will be alright” (l. 620ff). I this way she clarifies how she relies on more abstract and private values instead of the common religious ones. As such

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her religious affiliation supports her identity construction because of its signal value and its potential to provide Nana with a consistent sense of self. This behaviour pattern is also reflected in her general caring for others wellbeing. “Take care of yourself” it says on the collage. This finger-wagging is a result of the wakeup call Nana had when she realised several of her girlfriends were entangled in something bad (l. 383ff). She expresses how she herself is very aware of how to take care of herself: “I look after my body by doing karate and by eating properly. When the sun is out I wear sunscreen. I do not go out because I am not old enough *...+ I do not go home with a guy I do not know” (l. 390ff). This reflects how she relies on the common understanding in relation to being attentive and responsible. Nana explains that she has been very affected by the opinions of others since she was a little girl (l. 445ff). As such Nana’s individual self concept is a projection of how she appears to others – seeing herself as others do. Being recognised has always been an important part of her life and she has always tried to do her best in every sense. Thus, Nana consume for the purpose of clarifying behaviour practices with the anticipated and live up to expectations (l. 442ff). This self-sacrificing role that seems to have been all-important does though seem to be history as Nana puts her identity construction to the test by saying: “A month ago I sat down and tried to find out, what I wanted to do with my life. I just wanted to find out what I wanted to do. I am though still looking and that is why it says ‘I still haven’t found what I’m looking for’ on the collage.” (l. 448ff) Nana clearly indicates that there is role transition taking place. The unselfish behaviour is put on standby and her individual self identification is on the agenda. She clearly recon how symbolic consumption can support the identity construction as she states: “*...+ I made a pact with myself that I would not buy anything displaying ‘me’, before I knew who ‘I’ was. Further it needed to be something I wanted and not something I should buy in order to make a guy find me attractive” (l. 452ff). This underlines the fact that different consumption objects send different signals about their owner’s identity. She additionally defines her hoped for self as she enlightens her positive thoughts about others’ behaviours: “*...+ I like it best

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when people act like themselves and do what they want to do. I would be happy if I could be more like that” (l. 676ff). There is though a part of the identity which Nana is quite certain about and she offers an explanation as to why her responsible behaviour and eco-friendly consumption has emerged: “I have been raised to be like that [eco-friendly]. Why not be so if you have the opportunity to? My parents do not make much money and neither do I, but if I should spend my money on something it might as well be something properly [...] My parent are also very fond of organic things and local things because then the products have not flown far and they have been tilled properly. I can vouch for that myself” (l. 81ff + 68ff) This explains how Nana’s identity construction is based on fairly established and stable values manifested in her parents’ attitude. These meanings once again reside in a common understanding of how to behave responsibly and she clearly states that this is her. In addition, eating the right things is a way for Nana to maintain her identity. This environmentalism is further on manifested in Nana’s self-narration as she urges to action in her statements on the collage “Help fight global warming” and “Think of the environment surrounding you” (l. 695ff + 84ff) . Meanwhile she states her own correct behaviour as “Jeg har rent mel i posen” (. 138ff) (Red. “I have a clear conscience”) and elaborates on this, by pointing out her friends’ evaluation: “*...+ My friends think I am too ‘angel-like’ and that I always say ‘no, you cannot do that’ and ‘that is wrong’” (l. 139f). She augments for this behaviour by distancing herself from those who do not care – this is not me she states and comes with different examples of others’ uncomprehending behaviour. (l. 142f + 91ff). Thus, the role ‘responsible behaviour’ plays in Nana’s extended self involves the creation, enhancement and preservation of her sense of identity (Belk, 1988). As mentioned, Nana’s parents have had a large influence on her consumer behaviour. Among others they have affected her choice in clothes in some way as her responsible behaviour is clearly expressed in her distinct preference for clothing which is responsibly made. This is expressed when talking about brand clothes, as she says:

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“I am not absorbed in brands *...+ you pay an arm and a leg for brand clothes and the little label in the back. I think that is ridiculous *...+ I focus more on if it says ’made in china’ because then I do not buy it anymore. It is because I found a shop called CommonZenz that has organic cotton so the clothes are made properly. It is a bit more expensive but I do not care because it is clothes I can vouch for. Then your conscience is better too”. (l. 52ff) Nana is without a doubt a very considerate consumer. She clearly distances herself from overspending on indifferent things but proper things on the other hand are worth spending money on. This indicates which possessions she sees as identifying her and which contribute negatively to her identity, not her. Regardless of Nana’s conviction she apparently relies on the meanings residing in the common domain in relation to constructing her identity. Another kind of clothing Nana has a positive attitude towards is second-hand clothes as she is fond of the cheap prices and the aspect of recycling causing a minimum of waste. She further emphasises the more experiential values, as she states: “I think it is funny and more relaxing to go into such as shop [second-hand shop]. Then you can just rummage among all the clothes and just mind your own business” (l. 98ff). Thus, she likes the feelings she gets when shopping second-hand and it definitely appeals to her emotions similarly to the organic cotton clothes which gives her a better conscience. In a larger perspective Nana comes across as an emotional and responsible girl who is very reflective about her own self-image. She displays a clear perception of, which signal values that reside in the different consumption objects and her consumer behaviour therefore visibly reflects who she is supporting her identity construction.

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4.1.4 Portrait of Stephanie

Name: Stephanie Age: 18 years old Civil status: In a relationship Family: Mom, dad and three older brothers. Education: Third year in High School Student job: Works at the Danish National Stadium and sometimes as a babysitter. Disposable income: DKK 1200 in SU and app. DKK 2000 in salary. A total of DKK 3200 a month. If I won in the lottery...:”Then I would invite my whole family out travelling and buy some new nice things. Otherwise I would save up for an apartment but first and foremost I would go travelling. (l. 792f)

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Characteristic of Stephanie Stephanie can be defined as a very social girl for several reasons that all take part in her identity construction. First of all she values her friends and family and the common interest with horseback riding they have highly – Stephanie’s sense of self is derived from a private resource and states what is her. Secondly it appears that high school has an essential role in her life and a clear influence on her self-image as well. She has a high degree of insight into different role performances and relies on the shared social meaning inherent in her symbolic consumption in order to orchestra her own performances. This characteristic is especially evident when she delineates her peers and the social groups at her high school while expressing her attitude towards their consumption and behaviour, in order to state, what is definitely not her. In these situations Stephanie uses signal values to segregate between the groups but also to take her own stand as being opposed to several of them an placing herself in the middle – choosing the ‘happy mean’. In general, Stephanie’s identity construction is characterised by a profound sense of what is appropriate and sensible in relation to consumption and behaviour. There are clear indications of her being a reflective and competent consumer who is aware and articulate about the cultural categories and the cultural principles in her world. Hence she also appears to believe that her interpretation of the meanings is somewhat identical with the interpretation of others. Self image As mentioned earlier family and friends play an essential role in Stephanie’s life and she spends a lot of time with them as they have common interests they can gather around. She expresses her family relationship as follows: “*...+ They *the family+ mean everything. We do a lot of things together. We travel a lot and we are also united through sport. We are very much a ‘horse family’ that participate in competitions” (l. 18ff). This illustrates how her family takes part in defining her sense of self and thus is part of her extended self. The relationships to her friends are also of great importance and as with her family horseback riding provide several close friendships (l. 31ff). Horseback riding therefore appears to constitute the frame wherein Stephanie defines the one part of her self-image which is the focal point for a

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large part of her ‘private’ social life. This is further underlined in her of narration about the sport: “It means a lot to me, it really does. I have been horseback riding for a lot of years and it is part of my daily life. My big brother rides a lot and practices it on a high level so it means that it is a big part of family’s daily life as well. Furthermore, most of my friends practice it to. I really cannot imagine my life without horseback riding.” (l. 39ff) This illustrates how horseback riding can be defined as a self-identifying consumer behaviour as it reflects who Stephanie is as a unique individual and how she is connected to others. The other part of her self-image is defined by what is definitely not her. Stephanie’s high school in many ways constitutes the frame wherein she defines the other part of her selfimage. She does this by positioning herself based on her perception of different social groups (l. 345ff). As such Stephanie comes across as very aware of whom she does not wish to be associated with – something that is reflected in her symbolic consumption where she has a clear idea of what is her and not her in her aspiration for her hoped for self. Reflecting on her self-image she uses the social interaction between peers at her high school to position herself: “I am more that person in class who does not do the same as the others. I am a little more indifferent about whether I get invited to the right parties. That is, I am friends with all kinds of groups at school or high school whereas many of the girls are only friends with that one group because that is the cool group. So it is much divided in high school. But personally I do not care about stuff like that. I do not care for status and things like that. Not at all.” (l.323ff) Stephanie hereby distances herself from a certain segment to whom status and hanging out with the right people is important and explains that this behaviour is not her. At the same time she describes herself as someone that act’s autonomously of the group and who has a broad social network. This is cemented further and tied to her hoped for self when she continues: “*...+ I would like to have a good relationship with everybody and I do not want to go around feeling better than others. That is also how I feel it is” (l. 374f). Stephanie’s hoped for self signifies that identity construction is related to her social life - having a broad social network and being liked by her peers no matter what their position in the social realm is. This

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further manifests how she chooses the ‘happy mean’ and does not like to place herself on either side (l. 357f). The previously referred to group (the cool group), displays both behaviours but also consumption practices which Stephanie finds offensive and uses to define herself with by adopting an oppositional position. Stephanie exemplifies this as she talks about the status symbols that are widely used by the “cool group” and many of the girls at Stephanie’s high school, who look up to them: “Yes, many of the girls do that a lot [care about status]. They have to have the right things. The expensive things within bags, accessories, clothing and cars, but I really do not think those thinks are important.” (l. 369f). Stephanie hereby differentiates herself from these girls by rejecting their obsession with status and expensive consumption. Additionally, the girls’ aspiration to be part of the “cool group” of boys at high school is also repulsed by her: “*…+ there are many who look up to them. But on the other hand, many think they are not cool. That is what I think personally and I am not the type that is going to run around after them just to get a piece of sushi and a ride in their father’s car.”(l. 334ff) When speaking about appearance Stephanie is very clear about what is her and what is not her and who she does not wish to be pigeonholed with – stating her oppositional behaviour once again. This is mostly defined through a reflexive sense making where she ascribes symbolic meaning to various brands and styles based on a common signal value. In relation to her own symbolic consumption it is also evident that she has a clear cut opinion about what is appropriate and what is not. Thus, she finds that different consumption practices, behaviours and actions are related to certain social situations and applies to certain social roles. For example when she tells about how others’ appearance at her high school is incomprehensible to her: “I just think that if I sat in class with something very revealing clothes on in front of my teacher, then I would send the wrong signals. But I have many friends that does not care about that at all and who actually looks like someone who is going to a party when they come to school. I would never do that.”(l. 470ff) Stephanie clearly dissociates herself from wearing revealing clothes to school and sending signals, which according to her, are associated with a social role for going out. The meaning she derives from her peers’ symbolic consumption resides in the private domain and has a

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signal value as Stephanie perceives the clothes as an inappropriate uniform for school. The group of girls who display an inappropriate symbolic consumption according to Stephanie are also used to define what appearance she finds suitable for her various social roles, thus her consumption is decided by circumstances. This is elaborated on when Stephanie distinguish between clothing for going out and for going to school: “*...+ small dresses, or maybe not small dresses because I am not like that but something a little shorter or something a bit revealing [when going out]. Definitely a pair of stilettos, which I would never wear to school *…+ I think that is what I would wear going out, but never in school. I do not think it belongs there at all.” (l. 465ff) Using the signal value of clothing is not the only thing that Stephanie utilises in order to place those around her into segments as she uses makeup as well (l. 517f). In general, Stephanie is very focused on not being pigeonholed with different segments,something that is manifested in her dissociation with wearing revealing clothes to school and an extensive makeup use. A more elaborative reason for why Stephanie wishes to distance herself from this usage is because of those whom she associates it with: “*…+ if you see those small 13 year old girls who run around and try to look adult. Those I really do not want to be pigeonholed with *…+” (l. 456f). Hence the 13 year old girls are the segment from where the meaning of extensive use of makeup is derived and also the embodiment of Stefanie’s feared for self. Furthermore there is an aspect of role transition, as Stephanie explains: “*…+ I just think you had some phases when you where younger, where it was cool to wear make-up and where you had not learned to do it with style” (l. 444f). Hereby she indicates that a certain use of makeup belongs to a previous role, a role which she attempts to distance herself from by giving up that particular use. As such when possessions no longer fit the self image they are often shed or neglected (Belk, 1988) and to Stephanie it occurs because the image of the objects has changed. Stephanie is a very social girl, both in relation to friends, family and horseback riding but also in regards to high school. She is very aware of herself and her frame of reference and has a profound sense of behaviour decided by circumstances - she clearly appears to be a very reflective and competent girl.

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4.1.5 Portrait of Katrine

Name: Katrine Age: 18 years old Civil status: Single Family: Dad, mother and sister Education: Third year in high school Student job: None Disposable income: DKK 1100 in SU and DKK 250 in allowance. A total of DKK 1350 a month. If I won in the lottery...:”I would pay my mom and dad’s debt in their house *...+ Then I would give some to my siblings and then go travelling.”(l. 779ff)

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Characteristics of Katrine Katrine is the epitome of a creative person. She uses her innovative skills to create her own unique personality and identity and utilises the surrounding world and media to get inspiration, all in order to approach her hoped for self. Just like Cecilie she has a very obstinate attitude towards certain types of consumer behaviour and is very attentive to how she does not want to be perceived. Therefore Katrine is very aware of who she is and who she wants to be and is very reflective in relation to how thing are interconnected and how signals are interpreted by other. As such she is self-promotional and pays a lot of attention to how different consumptions objects can support her identity construction because of their signal value. Self image It is quite obvious that to Katrine self image and appearance are interdependent. She has a quote on her collage saying “clothes that speaks” (l. 184, which exemplifies this correlation, but also illustrates how the fashion system transfers meaning to the goods. Katrine elaborates on the correlation in the following: “*...+ clothes may say something about a person or a personality. Besides saying ‘she looks good in this outfit’ or ‘she looks funny in this outfit’, it *clothes+ is allowed to show something more. I mean girls who wear naughty clothes all the time send certain signals. I just think that if you wear a lot of colours and details it says that you are lively and dare to try out things. Therefore I think that appearance tells something about a person besides personal style.” (l. 185ff) In relation to her sense of self she describes how her own personal style reflects her own creative mind just like her love for painting and photographing does. This reflects how possessions help Katrine define who she is and contributes positively to her consumer identity construction – “this is me” The one thing that really whetted Katrine’s appetite for a unique and personal style was Sex and the City. She explains how that series is one of the contributors to her creative and courageous sense of self (l. 17ff + 130ff). It obviously does not only affect her style but also her self-esteem as she indicates how her experimental style also has had an effect on other parts

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of her identity – not only signal wise but also experiential wise. In the case of Sex and the City she relies on the shared meaning inherent in the common symbol system allowing her to assume that her interpretation of reality is reasonable with the interpretation of others. (McCracken, 1988) Before Katrine became an individuality-seeking girl in relation to style she was a communityseeking girl. She explains how her personal style only has changed within the last couple of years hereby indicating that a role transition has taken place. In extension hereof she narrates about how she was a follower in lower secondary school and just dressed like her friends even though the clothes rarely suited her. Then in the first years of high school she dressed very classical before she began to dress more uniquely. When Katrine looks back at how her style has developed she expresses how all her looks have had an impact on her style today - she has learned what is her and what is not her during the years (l. 111ff). As she reflects on the aspect of getting older in relation to fashion, she says: “*...+ when you get a little older you follow fashion but you also see what suits you and fits you instead of just following it blindfolded” (l.121ff) . This illustrates how the independent and self-reflective symbolic consumption increases with age. Thus, in relation to attaining a unique style consumption and identity construction are closely related and certain objects can be said to support Katrine in her acquisition of new and more mature and individualistic role. Katrine’s creativity and large focus on personal style is clearly a result of her need to differentiate but she also indicates how she has ambivalent feelings towards this: “*...+ I like to differ but not too much, because I actually do not like to be the centre of attention as it makes me really shy *...+ I like to transgress boundaries but still feel comfortable” (l. 193ff). Thus, she obviously derives the symbolic meaning from a very private resource, that is, her experience of standing out. As such she uses her personal style in order to approach her hoped for self as being unique meanwhile having in mind her feared for self – as being too self-promoting. An interesting factor that Katrine mentions, as playing an essential role in relation to her appearance, is others’ appraisal and recognition. It is known that others are an important mirror through which we see ourselves and so it is in Katrine’s case (Belk, 1988). Even though she states that she is not afraid of taking chances and trying out new and different

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outfits she pays attention to the feedback from friends. She explicates how it is among the girls that recognition counts the most: “*...+ I think that girls think a lot about whether other girls can see that you are wearing the newest new or something different [...] It is also among the girls you prefer to get the positive reactions” (l. 43ff). This illustrates that Katrine derives the symbolic meaning from a private resource, that is, her specific experience with other girls’ responses. Katrine also expresses how different looks and therefore signal values fit different situations and recipients. She narrates how going out often is linked up with shorter and tighter clothes as it is often more addressed to the boys but meanwhile expresses how the difference is not so drastic in her case: “*...+ to me, there is not a big difference between dressing for party and school, maybe a detail or so, but it is not great. Maybe I dress a bit more daring at parties [...] it is something about pushing the limits. It means that you dare to put on a little extra or take and extra thing off” (l. 59ff). This exemplifies that she is aware of the common understanding of dressing up but obviously relies on the private meaning of a party dress instead – making it look cool and different instead of making it look sexy. Hence she connects this experimental behaviour in relation to clothes with getting drunk as she explains how this is often related to doing things you otherwise would not have done. As such she obviously relies upon the social information inherent in different outfits to shape her self-image and maximize the quality of her role performance in various situations (Solomon, 1988). When Katrine is experimenting with new things, details in particular, she gets inspiration from a lot of different places among others Sex and the City, as mentioned earlier, magazines and travelling abroad. In her narration she explains what she uses these inspirational sources for: “If I think something is cool I either save up for it or make it myself *...+ I make a lot of the things I see myself because then no one else has them, I get them exactly the way I like and they cost a fraction of the ones in the magazines“(l. 132ff). This illustrates how the inspirational sources contribute in helping Katrine maintain her identity as being creative and unique. Katrine’s self-made creations also represent another way of incorporating possessions into the self – appealing to her own sense of self (Solomon, 1988). There is no doubt that Katrine is well aware of her self-identifying possessions reflecting herself as a unique individual – what is her. This is also underlined by her dissociation from the

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mainstream look as this is not her (l. 91ff). She clearly expresses how she does not want to be pigeonholed with specific others: “I have the exact same shoes at home *pointing at the collage+ but I cut out the price because I did not what you to think I paid DKK 3500 for them. I bought the exact same for DKK 850 [...] I think it is all the prejudice about people from up north where I come from. There you leave the DKK 3500 price tag on and use them once. I have just never, or maybe that is what everybody says, but I have always been taught to save up for things or work for it *...+.”(l. 139ff) Katrine clearly dissociates herself from clichés as she relies upon the social meaning inherent in the expensive products. Getting value for money is definitely her. She further reflects on this issue by explaining her brand-indifference and how brands are never noticeable on her (l. 204f). It does though seem like she has an ambiguous relationship to expensive items as she makes contradicting statements revealing an inconsistency in her possible selves. On one side she saves up money for being able to afford expensive things in magazines and on the other hand she does not want to be pigeonholed with those who do buy these expensive things. This illustrates a clear conflict between her hoped for self and feared for self. Katrine describes her collage and hereby gives an explanation to this contradiction: “*...+ You are more complex than what a collage can cover. I can be very outgoing, but also very shy and that is hard to illustrate on a collage. Therefore everything depends on the situation and su rroundings.” (l. 754ff). Overall, Katrine’s self-image is characterised by the use of self-identifying possessions reflecting who she is as a unique individual and in connection to others. It is evident that creative and experimental attitude is what propels her identity construction.

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4.1.6 Portrait of Camilla

Name: Camilla Age: 18 years old Civil status: Single Family: Dad, mother and a little sister Education: Third year in high school Student job: Works as a hostess in The Danish National Park in Copenhagen Disposable income: DKK 1100 in SU and DKK 1200 in salary. A total of DKK 2300 a month. If I won in the lottery...” I would go travelling with friends and family” (l. 778f).

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Characteristic of Camilla Camilla comes across as a typical ‘tomboy’ 25 and she clearly manifests herself through some of the distinguishing marks that are commonly known to characterise this social phenomenon. As such she typically wears masculine-oriented types of clothes and practices activities that are often considered to be the domain of boys and has a lot of friends that are boys. Thus, she occurs to rely upon the social meaning inherent in the different consumer goods as a guide to the performance of social roles. In line with this Camilla is a very experience seeking girl and she is not afraid of taking chances and push boundaries. This pursuit for self-optimisation meanwhile emotional stimulant appears to support her identity construction because of not only the experiential value but also signal value. Thus she utilises different consumption objects to help preserve her sense of identity as being non-girlish. Self Image Camilla is always on the lookout for new experiences that can give her self-satisfaction and appeal to her sense of self, which is manifested in her competitiveness. Hence she expresses how she has a soft spot for challenges as she cannot help accepting them: “I always accept challenges, always [...] I just think it is funny and it is also connected with honour. I just hate when people are challenged and then say no. I am not a wimp, I want to win [...] I would rather loose a battle and have tried” (l. 100ff + 117ff). This illustrates what is her, but also her feared for self as she clearly indicates who she does not want to pigeonholed with. Further, challenges appears to be both a signal sources by saying about Camilla that she is a fighter but also an experiential source, by giving Camilla a feeling of self-respect. The challenges she receives are often of boyish character such as doing a marathon, complete a half ironman, acquire a driver-licence in first attempt, doing a 3-4 month abdominal training program etc. (l. 110ff). This demonstrates how the symbolic meaning of accepting challenges helps Camilla identify group membership – being one of the boys instead of being a wimp. Camilla clearly makes no secret of her aspiration for doing her best and being the best which is illustrated in her winner instinct. When it comes to sport winning has a motivational role,
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According to Wikipedia.org, a tomboy is ”a girl who behaves according to the gender role of a boy”.

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which is illustrated when she talks about badminton: “*...+ I quickly found out that I was good at it and won quite a lot and because I won, I thought it was funny too [...] I just hate to lose. I think it has to do with honour. I do not know if it has to do with winning but more the opposite, that I do not want to lose” (l. 162ff). This shows how the symbolic meaning clearly reside in the private domain as it is Camilla’s personal history of encounters with doing sport and badminton in particular. In addition, it is revealed how closely connected hoped for and feared for self are. As such avoiding her feared for self, such as being a loser makes her approach her hoped for self as being a winner. In every sense Camilla mentions honour as having an essential role in the identity construction. She exemplifies this by narrating about her hoped for self: “I just want to be the best. Not just within sport but also in school. Just in general. I have always wanted to be the best [...] Then you are better than everyone else and not worse than anyone” (l. 172ff). Without a doubt she is the kind of consumer whose self concept it made up largely by others’ appraisals, both imagined and actual – she sees herself as others do relying on the signal value. It is though worth mentioning that she reveals how she also relies on the experiential value of being number one – deriving meaning from the way in which it appeals to her emotions and makes her happy. Thus, she states: “Knowing I am the best is good enough” (l. 179f). Besides striving for being top of the pop Camilla has another way of satisfying her need for new experiences and self-satisfaction. She simply loves travelling and going on adventures with her friends, the male ones in particular. She narrates about how being with them makes her ‘one of the boys’ underlining the definition of her as a ‘tomboy’ (l. 44ff). Camilla’s description of her ‘dream holiday’ exemplifies all this: “My dream holiday is with my friends on a sports camp with a lot of experiences and getting to try a lot of new things” (l. 69f). She elaborates on these action-packed holidays by explicating how it gives her experiences for life and good stories to talk about afterwards (l. 72f). This illustrates how these holidays su pport Camilla’s identity construction in the same way as the challenges do, though through the experiential value. In addition, the experiences which she has for life and share with her friends make the boys an even larger part of her sense of self. As opposed to this kind of travelling are the ones that include Camilla’s family. These comprise relaxation, good hotel, swimming pool, etc. (l. 58ff). This illustrates how her behaviour

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is decided by circumstances as different travel parties obviously include different consumer behaviour. As such her behaviour is made up largely of role playing. It has been clearly illustrated that Camilla has a very boyish consumer behaviour and therefore also a boyish identity. When it comes to appearance the case is the same. Camilla is well aware of beauty ideals and the connection between ‘health and slim’ but she has her own stance in relation to these issues. She makes no secret of her own unhealthy eating habits and she does not bother to count calories and go on diets because, as she states: “I think eating should be enjoyable and not be affected by the amount of calories. You should not just choose the low-fat as it has no taste. You should rather take the fatty one with a lot of taste otherwise you might as well do without” (l. 189ff). This demonstrates once again how the experiential value is very important to Camilla because she thinks eating should appeal to the emotions and not the rational mind. Meanwhile she dissociates herself from all those girls who are fanatic and only focus on their weight, definitely not her – those who uses eating as a means to the perfect look. Camilla has another way of stating this difference: “They *her girlfriends+ sit with their sorry salads while I sit with my burger with dressing” (l. 193f). Camilla is simply infused with more self-satisfying and experiential values that signal a very boyish identity. 4.1.7 Summary of the Portraits The portraits of the six adolescent girls have given us insight into the underlying reflections in their sense making of symbolic consumption and therefore given us a profound understanding of how they construct their identity through this. Our holistic approach, both methodically and theoretically, has revealed how the adolescent girls have a very different approach to consumption, as each and one of them display a unique consumer profile through their individual characteristics. Nevertheless it has become evident that there are several common features in the way the adolescent girls use the meaning of symbolic consumption objects to construct identity. Therefore we have composed a conceptual framework with the purpose of exemplifying how identity is constructed though symbolic consumption among adolescent girls which is help us answer our research question. Furthermore, the intention with this framework is to

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make it act like a map that can give coherence to future empirical inquiries concerning the identity construction process through symbolic consumption. 4.1.7.1 Conceptual Framework In the previous section we have applied the theoretical foundation to the analysis of identity construction through symbolic consumption among adolescent girls. The theoretical contributions which constitute our theoretical foundation have different focuses and impart different theoretical insights. Thus, they constitute a broad and nuanced theoretical foundation, where the individual contributions supplement each other in a manner that we considered amply for analysing our research question. We have nevertheless learned through the employment of the theoretical foundation that some subsets of the theoretical contributions appear to be dispensable for carrying out the analysis. Therefore we have constructed a conceptual framework (Figure 8) with the purpose of illustrating the process from the symbolic meaning being created until it is applied in the identity construction; this with point of departure in our research question and in accordance to our holistic approach. Thus, this conceptualisation implicates the elements of our theoretical foundation which are found to be applicable for analysing how identity is constructed through symbolic consumption, meanwhile deselecting the elements that are considered dispensable.

Figure 8: Conceptual Framework (Source: Own construction)

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The conceptual framework is based on McCracken’s theory of the movement of meaning. In accordance hereto the conceptual framework recognises that the meaning transfer from the culturally constituted world to the consumer object occurs through the advertising, media and fashion system, wherein subcultures are also included. In extension hereof we supplement and elaborate on McCracken’s theory, in regards to the meaning of consumption objects 26, in that we apply Sørensen and Thomsen’s theory, emphasising the lived meaning of symbolic consumption. This modification does not intent to neglect McCracken’s theory but merely to entail a more holistic approach. In this perspective the symbolic meaning attached to consumption objects by the consumer, tangible or intangible can reside in both the private and common domain and have both a signal and experiential value. Hence, the consumption objects may carry several meanings and thus support identity construction in multiple ways other than through the familiar common symbolic values of e.g. consumption stereotypes. It is important to notice when applying this framework that the lived meaning of symbolic consumption is only accessible through the consumers’ own expressions of their encounters with the consumption objects. In addition hereto Sørensen and Thomsen’s framework incorporates the perspective of role transitions which gives the conceptual framework an extra dimension. The subsequent part of the conceptual framework (following the arrows) implements the theoretical contributions/elements which provides an insight into the reflective process which is decisive for how the symbolic meaning of consumption objects are utilised in the identity construction process. Through the six portraits of the adolescent girls it becomes evident that the theoretical contributions by Belk, Kleine et al., Patrick et al. and Solomon are applicable for uncovering this. Belk’s theory provides an understanding of how consumption objects can be a symbolic extension of the self in the way they permit consumers to convince themselves or others that they can be a different person than they would be without these objects. Kleine et al.’s theory about the concept of ‘me’ or ‘not me’ supply the framework with an understanding of how consumers distinguish between various consumption objects based on their symbolism in relation to present, past and future anticipated selves. Patrick et al. provides a supplementing perspective as of how consumers use con-

26

McCracken uses the term ‘consumer goods’, but as mentioned in section 3.5, we perceive ‘consumption objects’ to be appropriate in relation to our holistic approach.

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sumption objects to come closer to the person they wish to be or see them self as, hence achieving a hoped for self or avoiding a feared for self. Finally, Solomon adds to the framework an understanding of how consumers according to the way they perceive their social reality adopt different consumption objects that they perceive as being appropriate and coherent with their various social roles. Thus, these four theoretical contributions make up a holistic theoretical approach that encompasses what we consider as a meaningful approach for investigating the reflective process which determine how the symbolic meaning of consumption objects are used in the identity construction process. Overall, the presented conceptual framework has the purpose of acting like a map that outlines the process of identity construction through symbolic consumption. It is though important to notice that the framework is only based on our study of six adolescent girls and therefore will need to be tested further before making conclusion regarding the validity hereof. However, it is our conviction that even though consumers are different their individual identity construction though symbolic consumption can be displayed by applying the conceptual framework, which is emphasised by the aspect of the individual’s lived meaning of symbolic consumption. Thus, we argue that the conceptual framework is applicable to future empirical inquiries concerning this subject matter. 4.2 Analysis Part 2 – Characteristics of the Adolescent Girls The aim of this part is to uncover the characteristics of adolescent girls’ consumer behaviour entailed by the way they use symbolic consumption to construct their identity. 27 4.2.1 ”Situoids” The term “situoid” was coined by Gitte Larsen at the Copenhagen Institute for Future Studies in 2006 (Cifu.dk) 28. The term was introduced as a description of the modern individual as one who does not build its self on clearly defined roles provided by the industrial society but forms its self based on situations and how they position themselves herein (Ibid). While CIFU’s work with the term “situoid” is largely related to the holistic lifestyle in the late modern society and particularly the work life we wish to advocate that the term is also applicable

27

The terms we use for characterising the adolescent girls are chosen based on the way we describe their consumer behaviour. Thus, some terms already exist others are self-made. 28 http://fremtidsblog.smartlog.dk/fremtidens-menneske---situidet-post61390

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to the manner in which the adolescent girls utilise symbolic consumption in their identity construction. How this perception has emerged will be elaborated on in the following. Throughout the interviews it has become evident that the adolescent girls’ consumption is related to the situations they are in. Thus, certain consumption practices are perceived as appropriate for some situations and not for others. This is especially obvious when the adolescent girls reflect upon their appearance in regards to choice of clothing and use of makeup. Here they clearly express that certain outfits can be respectively them or not them, depending on the situation and the role they intent to play in the given situation. This leads us to suggest that the application of the term “situoid” is also suitable for describing the adolescent girls’ distinctive consumption practices. As mentioned earlier some objects appear to be more influenced by this situational consumption than others and particularly clothing and objects with a significant signal value is encompassed by it. When Stephanie tells about what she wears when going out she also explains how she considers various clothing items’ appropriateness to be dependent on the situation: “Well small dresses, or maybe not small dresses, because I am not like that, but something a little shorter or something a bit revealing [when going out]. Definitely a pair of stilettos, which I would never wear to school *…+ I think that is what I would wear going out, but never in school. I do not think it belongs there at all.” (l. 465ff) This characteristic furthermore indicates that the way in which the adolescent girls’ identity is reflected in their symbolic consumption is much reliant on the social situations they are in and the role they seek to perform. The situational dependent behaviour additionally entails that adolescent girls often shift forth and back between different symbolic consumption practices as they attempt to clarify and define behaviour patterns which they associate with the wished for social roles (Solomon, 1988). This fragmented utilisation of symbolic consumption is carried out without any dissonance in their sense of self because it is commonly accepted that one can have mutual selves and various social roles (Ibid). In this perspective, the adolescent girls’ sense of self is similar to their symbolic consumption determined by the situation and how they position themselves in the social domain. As such different situations evoke different social roles and thus different sets of symbolic consumption practices. This,

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for example, is indicated when Camilla elaborates on how she dresses in accordance to different situations: “Sports brands is the kind of clothes that I like to wear on weekdays such as sweat suits or just something a little bit sporty *...+*‘party clothes’+ are something you wear when you go out or to discos. It is clothing that is a little bit shorter and usually in darker colours” (l. 268f + 280ff) This shows how Camilla defines various social roles that each comprises a certain symbolic consumption, supporting the performances of these roles - making the consumption a social stimulation. In extension it is also exemplified how they can be very articulate when it comes to defining the social groups and communities in which they are part of. According to McCracken’s theory regarding the movement of meaning the adolescent girls’ ability to decode the social reality relies on the understanding of the cultural categories and principles which enable meaning to be transferred from the culturally constituted world to goods. Within the social sphere the girls seem to position themselves in relation to others, thus undertaking a social role. In this way the situational consumption also takes into the equation which position is desired in the social group. The decisive factor hereto is typically the mood and spirit of the girls in the given situation. Hence the adolescent girls’ characteristic as “situoids” is determined by two factors. Firstly, there is the situation which sets the scene such as night life appears to do. Secondly, there is the social interaction within a group which is influential on the position the individual adolescent girl wish to attain. This position seems to be largely determined by the spirit and mood of the girl in the given situation. Vitoria displays this as she explains what she wears when going out: “I really often wear a dress from H&M which I really like and bought in Barcelona. But it also differs a lot. It depends a lot on where I am going because some places there is a kind of codex for what you have to wear especially in regard to shoes. Often, if I am going out with Eline for example and going to a gay club then I feel that I can experiment more because the vibe is like that, there. There, it is okay to come dressed up as something and everybody is sort of special in their style” (l. 335ff)

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Here Victoria explains how the social interaction has a considerable influence on her choice of clothing, a tendency which is detected broadly in the girls’ narrations. As a consequence of the situational consumption the adolescent girls’ symbolic consumption in relation to their identity construction can be perceived as being rather incoherent and fragmented. Nevertheless, the adolescent girls do not seem to have any dissonance in their sense of self caused by their frequent shift in symbolic consumption practices because they see all the various consumption practices as part of them - just belonging to different situations. The multiple consumption practices utilised by the adolescent girls for constructing identity are apparently not permanent but subject to a constant reflection and refinement. Hence it is common that the girls experiment with their consumption and behaviour to see whether it is possibly them or not them and whether it helps them approach a hoped for self and supports the intended social roles. As Katrine explains, she often experiments at home and tries out new styles which she subsequently can wear when going out: “It is because sometimes when I am bored, I like to try a whole new make-up for example or a whole new outfit which I maybe can be lured into wearing when going out. But then I am just at home. My mom laughs at me when I come down and is all dressed up. But I think that is the fun thing about trying things which you have not tried before. For example those old things I have not worn for ages and then suddenly put it together with something new to see if it works. Then you might as well do it when it is not in the last second and you are obliged to wear it going out even though it looks really stupid. I like to play with these things when I am bored” (l. 170ff) In this way clothing, accessories and make-up are subject to vivid experimentation and trial by the adolescent girls which can be caused by the extensive amount of inspiration and influence they are exposed to through the media, advertising and peers. When seeing new things they are evaluated in a reflective process deciding whether they could possibly be them and potentially be incorporated into a social role. To validate if this is the case, the girls simply try it out, both at home or in action when undertaking a social role. This can be carried out either at home as Katrine does or in a social relation as Cecilie often does: “It *cool clothes+ is something that has a cool cut or cool colours. Some clothing that makes you look good. But it is much dependent on the situation as well and what the plan is; if I am

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going out or just having a girl’s night. Sometimes I can think that something is cool right here and right now, because I have just seen it in a magazine and then try to imitate it but only for that one time. That is why H&M is so brilliant because there you can get clothing and accessories really cheap so you can easier try out new ideas and inspirations even though it is just for one night” (l. 487ff) The tendency to try out various things is also a way of navigating in the many fashion trends that the girls are exposed to both on a personal level - “is this me?” and “is it in alignment with my hoped for self?” and on the social level - “does this help me in my role performance?” The experimental consumption allows the adolescent girls to harmonise their consumption and avoid engaging in a symbolic consumption that entail a dissonance in their sense of self. This tendency has not emerged unnoticed within the field of marketing and consumers conducting this consumer behaviour have been termed “trysumers” (trendwatch.com). The fundamental characteristic of this kind of consumption is that the consumption objects are not implemented entirely into their lifestyle but merely appears on trial. This trial will then perhaps lead to incorporation but might as well be a onetime exper ience. “Trysuming” appears to be especially evident as the girls are transitioning between roles. Hence the graduation from high school and leaping into being a more independent individual in relation to choosing education or carrier, present an obvious role transition. Furthermore, their vivid social life and contiguity with various social groups and subcultures give the girls a wide range of new stages and thus possibilities to perform new social roles with enclosed new symbolic consumption. The consumptions’ coherence with social roles furthermore becomes evident in the adolescents girls’ role transitions when they explain particular consumption practices associated to a previous role. This indicates that consumption practices not only relate to different social roles, but also to roles within particular life phases. This is exemplified in Stephanie’s dissociation from first year students in high school: “When you are a first year student it is huge to start in high school because it is full of guys that are older than you. There are also a lot of parties and it is more okay to drink. It is a new and exciting world. That is how I felt when I started anyway [...] now I do not care about it. I

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have kind of tried it. You have also become older and have started being interested in other things than parties and the world of high school” (l. 384ff) The symbolic consumption as such can be a more or less integrated part of the girls’ identity construction as it constantly is subject to reflection and refinement in order to contribute best possibly to social role performance. In this perspective the symbolic consumption often undertakes the form of a materialistic self narrative. 4.2.2 Anti Brand Slaves It has been described through much consumer research how the inherent meaning in consumer objects can be transferred from objects to consumer through various consumption practices (McCracken, 1986; Belk, 1988 etc.). A transferral which enables consumers to use the symbolic value of what they consume to send desired signals to their surroundings or to conjure a certain sense of self. Clothing and accessories have typically been objects which have contained a strong signal value and have had a common shared cultural meaning due to the meaning transfer by the fashion system and marketing. Thus, branded clothing and accessories are also consumption objects which signify obvious symbolic consumption – a consumption phenomenon that is being detected among younger and younger consumers. This alleged tendency is portrayed frequently by the Danish media 29 who writes about the youth’s obsession with expensive brands and their extensive spending on branded clothing and accessories – claims that are based on large national surveys made by the National Consumer Agency of Denmark for example 30. Our research, on the other hand, draws a slightly contradictory picture of the 17 to 18 year old adolescent girls. The fundamental attitude t owards branded goods among these girls is first of all characterised by dissociation from large well known brands such as Louis Vuitton, Gucci and Dolce & Gabbana. This tendency appears to have several different explanations which we will elaborate on in the following. Through the adolescent girls’ self-narratives it becomes evident that they very often use well-known brands within clothing and accessories, to define who they are not. Thus, brands appear to be symbols of certain archetypes in which the adolescence girls mirror themselves. As such the meanings of the brands are derived through those who consume them
29 30

http://www.bt.dk/article/20080919/nyheder/709200003/ E.g. Forbrugerredegørelsen of 2005

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(McCracken, 1986). Therefore, it appears that an aversion towards a subculture or archetype leads to a dissociation from the brands these use. In example, when Victoria explains what, in her opinion, characterises a “pop girl”: “She is someone who wears brand clothes such as Gucci and Louis Vuitton and who dresses provocatively. She also wears too much makeup. I cannot stand girls like that” (l. 282f). This exemplifies how certain brands become a token for what is termed a “pop girl”, a stigma that is clearly unwished for and a sign of a feared for self. The aversion against “pop girls” is widely shared among the six adolescent girls who typically identify them through their extensive use of make-up and consumption of brands such as Gucci, Louis Vuitton and Dolce & Gabbana which they wear in a provocative way. As Stephanie explains, the “pop girls’” consumption practices are also associated with a certain type of behaviour: “*…+ it is the kind of girl you have one night stands with *…+” (l. 480). This gives a good indication of why this stereotype is subject to dissociation by the adolescent girls and why these brands have an undesired signal value – it is definitely not them. In addition, the tendency to be absorbed in brands is by the adolescent girls also seen as something that is related to younger teenagers and to their own past sense of self. Hence they describe the extensive use of brands as something which is predominant among secondary scholars: “It is the ‘eighth grade’ style. Everything is just a little bit too tight, too short and too much Gucci. Too much make up, too black around the eyes and too much foundation. It is just really, really not me” (Cecilie, l. 520ff). This underlines how the adolescent girls identify a certain nexus of consumption practices covering brands, make-up, appearance and age. Since these consumption practices and brands are related to eighth graders the dissociation hereto takes form of a role separation wherein the adolescent girls shed these practices in order to emphasise their leap into adulthood (Sørensen & Thomsen, 2006). Cecilie reflects on this role transition: ” *...+ When you are a child it *brand clothing+ does not really matter but then you get older and style starts to matters and then brand clothing starts meaning something. I think that in eighth grade you had the idea that when something looked expensive, it radiated better style. But this disappeared after lower secondary school. I actually think there is a shift just before high school. Now, I feel it is not so important anymore, on the contrary *...+ “(l. 472ff)

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As such the use of brands is portrayed as something that the adolescent girls affiliate with insecurity and unoriginality - personality traits which the adolescent girls perceive as prevalent among girls in their early teens, who attend secondary school. In extension hereof, the consumption of brands among young teenage girls is characterised as somewhat unsophisticated and primitive. Especially large well known brands, such as Gucci, Louis Vuitton and Dolce & Gabbana are seen as brands which contain a generic and easy bought signal value. Therefore the brands also appear to be unfit for supporting an individualistic identity which is a significant aspiration for most of the adolescent girls. Victoria further describes this: “I am pretty indifferent about whether the clothes I buy is brand clothing. I think much of it as very ugly and way too expensive and also impersonal [...]Things from H&M or elsewhere can be just as fine” (l. 285f + 315f). Furthermore, there is also a very clear attitude about the way brands are worn. Flashing a brand indicates bad taste and unoriginality while mainstream clothing such as H&M appears to be widely accepted and a very common place to shop for clothes. Overall the adolescent girls dissociate themselves from certain brands as these are associated with both what is termed a “pop girl” and also with young teenagers. Even though we advocate that global brands from the world’s most prestigious fashion houses generally are considered irrelevant by the adolescent girls and not them, it is not implied that brands altogether not are used by them. Hence, a much more positive attitude towards local Danish designers and less mainstream fashion houses is being expressed. This is exemplified by Cecilie when she narrates about which brands she likes: “ Those new Danish designers like Henrik Vibskov for example are really cool. I also think Chloé is cool” (l. 494). A potential explanation for this differentiation between brands could be, as noticed earlier, that some brands have a generic signal value. Thus, these brands become irrelevant building blocks in the adolescent girls’ identity construction because their symbolic value is not distinctive enough. In contrast, designers such as Henrik Vibskov and Chloé have stronger signal values because they are niche brands. The fact that not everyone knows the brands possibly makes them even more effective symbols, as only those who are “initiated” can decode them. Thus, it enable the adolescent girls to communicate much more knowingly to their peers or to those who they wish to commune with.

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In this perspective the less mainstream niche brands become more applicable for the girls in order to associate themselves to certain subcultures. Hence the meaning of the niche brands can be understood through the common signal value when the adolescent girls see themselves according to the generalised understanding of the brands. Additionally, they can be understood through the common experiential value because the girls also can achieve a certain sense of self through the generalised understanding of the brands. A significant characteristic of the adolescent girls’ attitude towards brands is displayed in their economic reflections. It is a general perception that brands are relatively expensive and the extensive use hereof is also seen as economic irresponsible and absurd: “*…+ you pay ‘an arm and a leg’ for branded clothing and the label in the neck. I think that is a total laugh” (Nana, l. 55). Thus, it seems that the benefits of branded clothing such as a perceived superior quality or desired signal value do comprise a value proposition that is attractive enough for the adolescent girls. Instead they look to cheap brands, such as H&M or unknown brands because there is a better value for money. As Camilla explains: “I like some brand, but I cannot afford them. I think it is foolish to pay that much money for them. It is more important to me that it is cool clothing whether it is one brand or the other is less important. Of course there are some brands that generally make really nice clothing that I would like to have, but I also think that I often fall for clothes, where I do not know the brand” (l. 256ff). Through the six interviews it appears that there is a surprisingly small interest in branded goods overall. However, it becomes evident through the adolescent girls’ self narratives that they often mention well-known brands within clothing and accessories to define who they are, who they are not and to describe a feared for self or a role separation. The brands typically derive their meaning through those how consume them and thus dissociation from these consumers also entail a rejection of the brands they use. It is nevertheless noticed how symbolic consumption within clothing and accessories is alive and well but that it is characterised by disloyalty towards especially large mainstream brands such as Gucci, Louis Vuitton and Dolce & Gabbana. Thus, our respondents seem more attracted to personalising cheap H&M clothing and creating their own jewellery than spending a large amount on some generic symbolic product such as Gucci clothing. Though the media draws a picture of a youth

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that is obsessed with expensive brands, our research contradicts this and advocate that the adolescent girls do not aspire towards the use of mainstream branded consumption objects as they symbolise unoriginality, insecurity and the ‘pop girl’ phenomenon – therefore the term anti brand slaves. 4.2.3 Individualistic Social Beings As human beings we are in nature gregarious beings. While it may essentially have something to do with improving our chance of survival it is today one of the basic principles in society. In regard hereto the adolescent girls’ social lives are important to them which are displayed in various ways. Through the girls’ narratives the girls’ sense of community is manifested both in the form of shared interests and shared identity. It appears that the adolescent girls want to feel a sense of belonging and security in a world full of free choices and endless opportunities meanwhile striving for a sense of individuality. Thus, individuality and community are two words which both have an impact on the identity construction process of the adolescent girls without one precluding the other. The infinite number of options, regarding consumption, which exists in our society today, makes it complex to construct identity but it also contributes to an endless number of ways in which one can construct an individual identity. Sociologist Thomas Ziehe exemplifies this ambiguous tendency in relation to young people by saying: “You can observe how children and young people from the millennium use themselves and their individuality as their point of departure, meanwhile seeking for community and emotional and sensuous intensity in their relationship to the outside world.” (Quoted in Scott Sørensen 2002). As such identity has two sources as it is constructed partly by differentiating and partly by belonging to something. In the first part of this section we will elaborate on how the adolescent girls’ sense of belonging plays a part in their identity construction. Next we will elaborate on how their aspiration towards individualism and being unique is evident in their symbolic consumption. The adolescent girls' sense of community is manifested in several different ways as they narrate about their lives. Friends obviously play a large role and the girls have a lot of different

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friendships that are all brought about in various ways. Some friends are from back in primary or secondary school, some from their present high school class, some from handball, horseback riding, karate, etc. Regardless of this, having friends is of great importance and this is exemplified in how they love spending time with them. Victoria and Katrine love hanging out and gossiping with their friends as they think it is cosy (V: 42f + K: 284). Nana likes to sail with her friends as it is enjoyable and fun to her and Camilla loves to travel with her friends as she think of it as cosy, fun and exciting (N: 267ff + C: 31ff). Friendships can bring about fun and laughter but also make the girls feel secure. Camilla describes this by referring to her best friends as follows: “*they are+ someone I can trust, talk to and have a nice time with and someone who will always support me if anything happens” (l. 529f). This indicates that friends to some extent play a role much similar to what their families do - as security and close fellowship are also characteristics of the girls’ relationship with their families. It becomes quite obvious that family has a central role in the girls’ lives and supports their need for felling a sense of belonging. Katrine exemplifies this by saying: “I spend a lot of time with my family and I like that [...] I feel good about my family and at ease in their company and it is really a safety-base” (l. 382ff) and Stephanie underlines this by explaining “Cohesiveness in a family and mutual support means quite a lot [...] I would not be same without the support from my family.”(l. 65f) The community with friends and family are very often connected to a social event and shared interest in either a hobby or sport. As Stephanie expresses about the shared interests in her family:” *…+ we are also very gathered around sports. We are really a horse family that goes to competitions but also very much a football family.”(l. 19f) Besides the community the girls have through shared interests there is also much community which is concentrated around shared identity and belonging to a social group. This sense of belonging can often be manifested through shared consumption symbols which can help identify group membership and define group self (Belk, 1988). Thus, the girls use symbolic consumption to integrate themselves into a group or subculture. This mainly means utilising consumption objects of common signal value which enable their surroundings to place them within the social world. A way in which this is manifested in society today is in all the subcultures that exist. Stephanie exemplifies this by explaining how different groups exist at her high school and how they all have reasoning behind their existence: “There are ‘rich kids’,

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who want to show their superiority over everybody else, and then their copycats. Next are those who are indifferent but also those who try to go in the opposite direction such as the punks and hippies.” (l. 345ff) As such attempting to gain group membership and undertake the shared identity is both reliant on the common recognition of the shared consumption symbols and the respective groups’ accept of the integration. Being acclaimed by family or friends for certain behaviours is therefore important and the individual sense of self, in accordance hereto, relies on the opinion of others. Nana explains this behaviour by saying “*...+ It is probably something you become addicted to. When people think you are good at something they praise you and that is nice. It is always very nice when people like what you do” (l. 467f). Katrine augments with another insight hereto: “*…+ I think, that even though I will not admit it, I really think that girls dress up for other girls’ sake” (l. 44f). This indicates that girls seek for recognition among other girls when it comes to appearance. As mentioned in the beginning of this section the individuality is another important aspect in the adolescent girls’ identity construction. The symbolic meaning residing in consumption objects can in this process be used as self-identifying reflecting a unique individuality in relation to others. The adolescent girls all aspire to be recognised as unique individuals though they manifest it in several different ways. The experience of being unique even so always resides in the private domain. The girls’ aspiration towards being individualistic is expressed in their narrations about people who are different and in their narrations about their own feelings in relation to standing out. Cecilie for example expresses her aspiration in the shape of her hoped for self, as she explains about her respect for ‘artistic types’: “I get really inspired by people who are different [...] I think it is cool they dare to stand out. There are so many people that look alike. I wish I was better at it but it is often easier to copy others” (l. 213ff). Katrine on the other hand explains how standing out is her and how she loves doing it, though not outrageously, as she does not really like to be the centre of attention. To her it is personal style that matters and which makes her stand out. She explains how Sex and the City has had a great infl uence on her - not only on her personal style but also on her individual sense of self:

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“ *In Sex and the City+ there are not so many limits which, in some way, makes you feel like breaking you own or at least pushing them. And I think that is funny sometimes. I also think personally that you dare to wear something different and that makes you a little braver. In some way I think it has an influence in other correlations where I do not think of others’ opinion, but do what I want” (l. 18ff) Katrine explains how she is not afraid of breaking the guidelines but also recons the reactions it entails from others though she is okay with that. In extension hereof, Katrine describes how recognition from other girls matters. This exemplify how wanting to differentiate does not exclude the need of being recognised by others but underlines the delicate balance between individualisation and sense of belonging. As such the signal value is important to the girls but so is the experiential value. Nana expresses how she previously was addicted to the appreciations of others and relied on their opinions but then suddenly decided to focus on her own unique individual selfidentification instead (Solomon, 1986). In her quote she clearly recons how symbolic consumption can support this process: “*...+ I made a pact with myself that I would not buy anything displaying ‘me’, before I knew who ‘I’ was. Further it needed to be something I wanted and not something I should buy in order to make a guy find me attractive” (l. 452ff). This once again underlines the fact that different consumption objects sends different signals about their owner’s identity meanwhile stating how the private meaning can defeat the meaning of others. The sense of being individualistic is also expressed compared to personalising their look in relation to appearance, as is the case with Katrine. The girls often manifest their differentiation by means of little details reflecting how little things can make all the difference in the world. They are using colours, personalised features or unique clothes pieces to state their individuality and change the signal value of their look. Second-hand and vintage clothes are also popular as it gives the girls an opportunity for supporting their individual sense of self and to find clothes and accessories no one else has. Nana explains her point of view: “You can get a unique set of clothes cheaply if you are creative and you can buy something no one else has” (l. 114f). Camilla supports this simplified perception of what can entail a sense of individualism by telling how a pair of shoes or piece of jewellery can be the icing on the cake

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and underline individuality. She goes on to explain about a specific pair of red shoes: “It is such a small part of the entire outfit that it does not matter that they [the shoes] are distinctive. It is cool to use them in order to make the look a little different or funny” (l. 459ff). Like Katrine, Camilla neither makes a secret of how she enjoys feedback from other people as she explains how people address her to ask about her unique foreign jewelleries. She elaborates on it as she narrates about why she loves buying jewelleries abroad: “Then you can tell about the jewelleries e.g. ‘this I bought when I was in Paris’. There are a lot of exp eriences attached to them“(l. 93f). This once again manifests how the private experiential value is underpinning the feeling of being unique. When Katrine is looking to differentiate herself, she often experiments with her look by means of details and home made things using sequins, flowers and glimmer placed on spots unexpected (l. 85ff); a practice which is also used by many of the other girls. Stephanie, for example, likes to produce her own jewelleries in order to make them personal and unique which supports her in her sense of self as unique (l. 237ff). Thus, the girls’ creation of objects themselves makes their consumption objects a part of their extended self as they are utilised as supporting their sense of self (Belk, 1988). The sense of being individualistic is also expressed through the girls’ disassociation with the typical girly behaviour. Camilla exemplifies this as she tells how she always picks up gauntlets because as she says. “I am not a wimp, I want to win *...+ I would rather loose in battle and having tried” (l. 117ff) and Nana explains how she cause a stir as she is a girl doing karate which is primarily considered a male sport (l. 361ff) There are obviously a lot of different ways in which differentiation can take place. These girls exemplify how they try to comply with their aspiration for being unique but also express their need for social recognition and sense of belonging. Thus, the individualisation does not dissolve social cohesion but frames the sense of community in new ways. 4.2.4 Experience Seekers The term “Experience Economy” saw the light of the day in 1999 and augmented that the consumers demand experiences that via creation and transformation actively contribute to affecting and changing the individual and its identity (Pine & Gilmore, 1999). This perspective emphasises how some consumption objects can be an experiential source for the con-

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struction of identity, in the way it contributes to the consumers’ feelings about themselves (Holbrook & Hirschman, 1982; Askegaard & Firat, 1996). Even though the meanings of experiences are constructed in the culturally constituted world the way in which experiences appeal to each individual consumer is unique (McCracken, 1988). Each experience is subjective and created in interaction between the individual consumer and the external world – socially constructed. Thus, an experience is a subjective concept where the consumer’s state of mind, cultural background, etc. bears a meaning. The six adolescent girls all exemplify how the experiential value is an important factor in much of their consumption and therefore also in their identity construction process. To the adolescent girls consumption is often a mean to emotional experiences and in these cases it is the private symbolic meaning that tends to be the motivation behind their choices. Hence there is typically an individual reasoning behind the girls’ experience seeking behaviour which means that experiences are subjective as they range from fun and enjoyment to excitement and confidence. It is though important to take special notice of the fact that evaluation of experiences is hard to deal with and to some the evaluation may be in accordance with the common understanding of them. We argue though, that the girls mostly derive meaning from a private resource. Examples of this emerge when the adolescent girls describe their underlying motives behind choice of sports, hobbies, and social activities but also choice in clothes and accessories. Using hobbies as an experiential source is quite common among the adolescent girls as they employ them in order to support their own sense of self. It is though important to notice how the hobbies are both pursued alone and in the company of others. Thus, the hobbies can have an experiential value because it is a social event or because it simply enriches the individual. Nana explains how karate and sailing play an essential role in her identity construction as these sports and hobbies appeal to her social needs, emotions, well being and self-satisfaction. She displays this when she explains how practising karate can be stressful and hard work but still social, enjoyable and self-satisfying, which underlines the experiential value: “It is a tough sport but I think it is interesting to transgress boundaries that would not be possible elsewhere *...+ I find out new things about myself every time that is for sure” (l. 210f). The passion for karate is central in Nana’s sense of self and therefore it exists as an

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extension of her self (Belk, 1988). Additionally, Nana loves to sail and while karate is supporting her sense of self as a fighter, sailing supports her sense of self as ‘laid back’ and is also an extension of her self (l.239f). These two different experiential benefits exemplify how hobbies can induce different emotions and act as an extension of the self in diverse ways. Similar tendencies are displayed among the other adolescent girls. Stephanie exhibits how a hobby can satisfy several needs as she narrates about why she loves her favourite sport, horseback riding: “*...+ it is exercise and I think it is a fun and cosy sport. There are also a lot of girls which is nice. A lot of good friends” (l. 30f) Besides sport the girls have a lot of other hobbies that all appeal to their emotions and posses an experiential value. Many of these hobbies also derive their symbolic meaning from a private resource. Music is one of those hobbies that evokes a lot of feelings and play an essential role in the lives of the girls. In line with situational consumption different music fits different situations. Not only in relation to listening to music at home or at discos but also in relation to the mood in the given situation: “*...+ music plays a rather large role because I hear it when I am in different moods. Sometimes it *music+ can also affect my mood. If there is a song saying ‘bitch’ and ‘cow’ you do not get in a good mood because things like that pisses me off. If it is happy music I cannot help getting in a good mood even if I have had a bad day. As such music affects my mood but my mood affects my choice in music as well” (Victoria, l. 150ff). Therefore music occupies the role as an experiential source as it can make Victoria feel happy or sad. Camilla explains these different consumption situations by explaining how music can motivate her when exercising, bring out memories but also entail a self-reflection when relating to the lyrics (l. 578ff). Other hobbies can be characterized as loner hobbies such as painting and reading but they still bring about certain feelings and address different aspects of the girls’ identities and sense of self. This is exemplified when Victoria talks about her affection for painting: “I just love to draw and paint [...] I think it is nice and relaxing and sometimes you can escape from your frustrations and just disconnect” (l. 366 + 386) and Nana talks about her love for reading: “I love to read *...+ I am especially fond of historical books because I think I learn some-

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thing from them and I like learning something new [...] It is also funny to pretend you live in a whole other world. It is just peaceful to sit and be immersed in a book” (l. 531 + 546f). The symbolic meanings are obviously derived from a very private resource, that is, their specific experiences with the hobbies. In addition they seem to have a meditative function as they seem to underpin a need for mental get away. Clothing is another consumption object that offhand would seems to act as a signal source in the identity construction. As noticed earlier, the girls like the feeling of being unique but nevertheless rely on the common signal meaning to some extent, when striving to obtain this sense of self. We have though revealed a lot of private feelings related to wearing different clothes in the girls’ narratives. Victoria revels how different feelings are attached to wearing different colours in clothes. She narrates about this as she explains why she likes multi-coloured clothes: “*..+ it looks more fresh and then you feel a bit happier than if your wear s imply black clothing[...] I have also read a lot about the meaning of colours and I listen to it occasionally. Black means grief and makes you a little sad. Red means aggressive, but also happiness and romance. Pink is more the girly colour. Therefore colours mean a lot, but I mostly think about what colours suit me. It does though also depend on the mood I am in.”(l. 531ff) This underpins how clothes can have an experiential value as it has a clear impact on Victoria’s mood and appeal to her emotions. Katrine explains another way clothes can be used to generate a certain sense of self. She narrates how she loves to dress up at home when she is bored: “It is because sometimes when I am bored, I like to try a whole new make-up for example or a whole new outfit which I maybe can be lured into wearing, when going out. But then I am just at home. My mom laughs at me when I come down and is all dressed up. But I think that is the fun thing about trying things, which you have not tried before” (l. 170ff). This reveals how she also uses this little ‘game’ as a ‘test’ before she goes public with an outfit – revealing how the signal value plays a minor role as well. Travelling is a consumption object that at all times has seemed to comprise experiences and so appears to be the case for the adolescent girls. Camilla expresses how she loves to travel

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especially with her friends as it is cosy and fun and she describes her dream vacation as follows: “It is with friends on a sports camp with a lot of experiences and trying out a lot of new things [...] Then you get experiences for life. You get a kick and you have something to talk about afterwards and that is really great” (l. 69f). Travelling as a getaway from the daily life is also used as a reasoning. Stephanie explains how she likes to get away from school and just be herself and relax on the beach with a good book (l. 80f). Cecilie has the same urge for getting away but reasons with the need for experiencing something different and just get a breath of fresh air in the hectic daily life (l. 735ff). Another activity that is used as a mean to entertainment and addresses their feelings is the use of the internet. The social network Facebook is obviously a facilitator of interaction and amusement among the girls. Whether it is looking at friends’ pictures, taking tests or just chatting with each other, Facebook appeals to the their emotions. Cecile explains this by saying: “To begin with I used it *Facebook+ for all the funny and exiting things such as test etc. Now I mostly use it for the pictures. I think it is funny when others post pictures from a party or so” (l. 770f). Stephanie exemplifies another way of using the internet as she buys clothes online. She explains how it is different from buying clothes in stores by saying: “*...+ I think it is more exiting to receive a package at home as you wait for weeks for it to come. You also have to see if it fits [...] I also think you act more on impulse and do not think that much about it as you would in a store”(l. 735ff). This illustrates how online shopping can entail a feeling of taking chances and being impulsive and therefore appealing to the emotions. Overall consumption acts as a bridge to personal experiences and the girls’ hedonistic consumer behaviour is obvious as they spend a lot of their time and money on the hunt for cosiness, fun, excitement etc. The experiential values residing in the different consumption objects appeal to the girls’ emotion and in some cases create, enhance or preserve their sense of self. This supports their identity construction and makes the consumption objects an extension of their selves, although in very different ways. 4.2.5 Lifestyle Oriented Lifestyle can be defined as a manner of living that reflects a person's values and attitudes. It is a set of behaviours and practices that makes sense to both others and the person itself

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and is a mixture of habits, conventional ways of doing things and also reasoned actions. Therefore a lifestyle is “a means of forging a sense of self and to create cultural symbols that resonate with personal identity.” 31 Throughout the adolescent girls’ narratives it becomes evident that they are very lifestyle oriented. This is particularly evident in their approach to eating - and exercising habits which are issues that play a substantial role in the adolescent girls’ self image and thus their identity construction. The girls’ narrations about lifestyle within these two areas reveal that they are perceived as very interlinked and in the end of the day function as means to retaining an ideal self image and attaining their hoped for self, for the future. In addition, it is displayed how the media has a substantial influence upon the culturally shared meanings within this area. This is evident as the media appears to influence both the creation of the scare images but also the attitudes towards being overweight. Furthermore, it constitutes an extensive stream of guidance and advice on how to achieve the media manufactured female ideal. In the following we wish to elaborate on how the adolescent girls manage their lifestyles in their effort to approach a hoped for self. The adolescent girls display a clear perception of their hoped for self in relation to physical appearance – a self, which is heavily influenced by the media and its portrayal of women: “You have been raised with women magazines and advertising, which usually use slim women with 90, 60, 90 measures, nice skin and vigorous hair.”(Stephanie: l. 156f). As such the media clearly works as an opinion former as to what is looking good and what is not. These media created ideals are furthermore indoctrinated into the girls to such a degree that they function as motivations for the adolescent girls' lifestyle and attitude towards eating and exercising. As a result there is a predominant agreement among the adolescent girls about the ideal physical appearance. In a similar way the media has also been a vehicle for transferring meaning to the opposite ideal – being overweight. Accordingly, it appears that the adolescent girls are also very reflective when it comes to these “anti- ideals” – their feared for selves. When discussing the concept of being overweight it is revealed in a broad way that this is what constitutes the girls’ feared for self. As Victoria explains: “*...+ I really do not think that overweight people
31

www.britannica.com

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look particularly dishy or cool, so I would not like to become like that [...] I could not live with being really big”. (l.479f). This displays how the girls’ aversion towards becoming overweight is primarily based on the undesired signal value derived from a common domain. Nevertheless, being overweight is not only a negative physical stigma which reflects your lifestyle in relation to poor eating habits and lack of exercise; it is also seen as a mirror of people’s personality and character: “If there is someone sitting and hiring people for some cool job for instance where you have to have a certain authority and things like that, then it is no use if there sits a fat lady, even though she might have some good qualities. She [the overweight girl] may not look so authoritative and it may have to do with control. If she cannot control her own body how can she control other things? *…+ It is just something about the look. Even though they *the slim and the overweight+ have the same skills, you would probably choose the slim one“(Cecilie, l. 90ff). In this way being overweight is widely regarded as something that reflects a lack of discipline and control. Obviously it is not regarded as something that is attractive and desirable at an age which is much absorbed in getting the attention of the opposite sex and living up to the media’s portrayal of the ideal woman. The interesting thing is though that the negative signal value of being overweight is not solely related to the physical appearance. It also encompasses negative signal value, because it is seen as indicator of the individuals’ personality and backbone. The girls’ attitude towards being overweight is additionally marked by the way they perceive it is an individual obligation to look after one self. As such their own understanding and relationship to the influencing factors, eating and exercising, are projected onto their surroundings. Stephanie explains this as she narrates about health and exercise: “It means a lot. Well I think that you have to think about health and exercise because it really means a lot for your well being. I actually think that it is irresponsible not to take care of yourself by eating reasonable and stay in shape. It actually does not take that much.” (l. 131ff)). Furthermore, it cannot be neglected that the girls’ surroundings and their peers’ opinions are decisive for their focus on weight. Therefore it also appears to be obligatory to endeavour being slim - as Cecilie replies when elaborating on why you have to stay slim:

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“*…+ one has to *keep slim+. I just do not want to be fat because it is not a good signal to send, to be fat. People know so from the media and everything. It is not popular to be fat. It is being criticised tremendously. I just think I want to look nice because then I feel good about myself” (l. 60ff) The adolescent girls’ aspirations regarding health are unambiguously connected with both exercise and certain ways of eating. Participating in sports is therefore partly motivated by staying in shape and avoiding the commonly agreed on feared for self of getting overweight. Though there is not only an undeniable focus on the physical appearance but also a much defined understanding of how this ideal is pursued properly and when it becomes obsessive and unhealthy. Nana reflects on it, in the following way: “It probably has something to do with our ideals, which has become way to thin. Models who almost look like skeletons on the catwalk. It probably also has something to do with girls mirroring in each other and in that way they affect each other. I think all of my friends feel like that and then it keeps on going in circles. It would be something different, if there were a couple of them that would say ‘hey, you look really good, so relax’. But I think it comes from ‘above’, with all the thin models running around.” (l. 495ff) The adolescent girls are as such very critical towards the fashion world’s extensive use of extremely thin girls, a scorn that is emphasised by some of their own personal encounters with anorexic peers. The interviewed girls, on the contrary, appear to have a very harmonic approach to their ideal physical appearance and of being healthy. Thus, there appears to be a shared aspiration towards attaining a balance between staying healthy and slender and not becoming overly obsessed or fanatic: “A healthy person is someone who eats right and exercises. But you should not be fanatic *...+”. (Camilla, l. 197f). Stephanie explains how such a balance is implemented by her: “If I have been out and have hangovers, then I typically eat ‘hangover food’ the following day because you need salt. Then on Monday I normally eat really healthy and do something active in order to balance the score” (l. 159ff). Their approach also embeds a hedonic lifestyle wherein junk food, alcohol, chocolate and ice cream are indispensable sources to enjoyment, and therefore a de-selection of these things appears to be undesired. One of the girls explains her point of view when discussing the rejection of food in order to maintain a physical ideal:

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“It is just boring not being allowed to eat a lot of things. Life is too damn short. I do not want to be the type that says ‘no, I am not having dessert’, when I am out eating with a party because I think that is kind of rude. Then you are not really participating in it [the meal]. Neither is it fun if you say that ‘I am not having anything to drink’, because you can gain weight from that. Then I would rather do it and then just give it some extra the next day in that stupid fitness centre” (Katrine, l. 449ff). The adolescent girls’ aspiration regarding being physically attractive is a part of a holistic approach towards living and staying healthy. In this approach the girls’ hedonic consumption of less healthy food is seen as an indication of how they have not become fanatic or obsessive. In this perspective their healthy lifestyle is perceived as a balanced lifestyle. Thus, the girls express how calorie counting and de-selecting sweets and other less healthy foods is not them. As Camilla explains it: “I think eating should be enjoyable and not be affected by the amount of calories. You should not just choose the low-fat as it has no taste. You should rather take the fatty one with a lot of taste otherwise you might as well do without” (l. 189ff). One of the explanations for this is apparently that they perceive an extensive focus on eating the right things as something that can very easily get out of control - a scenario that is as undesirable as being overweight. Hence there is also a great awareness on how girl often have a delusion of themselves. “*...+ I have thought more about it since my friend got anorexia. She definitely had a twisted perception of herself. We have a mirror where we workout and women obviously have a tendency to look at themselves in the mirror [...] I have heard girls before stand and say ‘oh, I am too fat’. Even the girls that train a lot who are slender and fit think that they just look wrong. I just do not get why they bother waste their time and energy on it. They should just be satisfied with how they look, especially when there is nothing to be unsatisfied about.” (Nana, l.483ff). Additionally, a lifestyle with strong emphasis on health, exercise and eating habits, seems to be related to the adolescent girls’ transitioning into adulthood. Thus, it appears that the adolescent girls adopt an increasing focus on attaining their hoped for self as they grow older. This focus is possibly caused by the media which contains a larger focus on these issues and

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features a steady stream of hints, tips and advises on how to eat and exercise right. Katrine explains how the media affects her in her lifestyle: “*...+I am a real slave for those dietary advisors so if I read somewhere that now milk products are not good, which I heard last week because there are some ingredi ents in it that the body cannot decompose naturally, then I immediately think that I have to stay away from that. Then you hear that carbohydrates are bad and then it is fat and suddenly the only thing you can eat is apples and that is just crazy. Therefore I think it is about reorganising your diet and the amounts and then exercising a lot” (l. 439ff) In concurrency with the girls being exposed to more media which focus on these issues they are also increasingly forced to relate to it. It appears though that the focus on eating and exercising as related to physical appearance, is something that has arisen after attending high school. This could possibly be associated with the more competitive environment, which high school entails. Stephanie exemplifies this when she narrates about the change: “I think you have become more aware *in high school+ about what is healthy and what is unhealthy and wrong and right. When you are little you just shovel in what your parents gives you. Now I definitely believe I think more about it. Especially here in high school. I go to an all girl class without boys, so there is a vivid talk there.” (l. 188ff). With the competitive environment in high school the adolescent girls’ awareness about physical appearance apparently increases and adds to the number of factors which play a role in the girls’ aspiration towards their hoped for self. It is evident that the girls are very reflective in their persuasion for their ideal physical appearance. There is no doubt though that the fashion world is one of the predominant factors in creating these ideals for physical appearance. Additionally, there are all the mass media and the women oriented media such as woman magazines in particular. They all have an extensive focus on how to achieve the ideal self through life style modifications implying exercise and diets. This comprehensive focus on the ideal appearance and on exercising- and eating habits has apparently gone so far that it has bred an opposition. The majority of the adolescent girls narrate about classmates who are anorexic and also about how they are witnessing obsessive behaviours in relation to exercise and eating. These narrations are very clearly not them and the girls very

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strongly dissociate themselves from this behaviour. The girls’ lifestyles can more be characterised by rational principles and beliefs which gives hope that common sense will prevail. 4.2.6 Summary of the Characteristics The insights we attained through the portraits have, together with the interviews, formed the basis of this second part of the analysis. As opposed to the individualistic perspective in the first part of the analysis, this second part has aimed at uncovering the common characteristics of their identity construction through symbolic consumption. Therefore, following five trademarks were identified as characterizing the adolescent girls’ consumer behaviour: 1. “Situoids”: It appears that the adolescent girls rely upon the social meaning inherent in products in order to guide their performance of certain social roles. This is manifested in the way the girls live their lives within several different social contexts and it is found that symbolic consumption is balanced and harmonised accordingly to the given situations. This further implies that certain consumption practices are perceived as appropriate for some situations and not for others. 2. Anti Brand Slaves: According to our research there are clear indications of how adolescent girls do not rely on brand meanings to construct their identity, on the contrary. The use of brands such as Gucci, Louis Vuitton and Dolce Gabbana is strongly affiliated with unoriginality, insecurity and the ‘pop girl’ phenomenon which the adolescent girls dissociates themselves from. Thus, the symbolic meanings of the brands are derived from those who consume them and the dissociation from these consumers also entails a rejection of the brands they use. Brands are therefore used to define who they are not. These dissociations from brands are though not an indication of a constant abandoning of branded goods, only the mainstream ones, as the girls signify how the more niche brands are appealing to them. 3. Individualistic Social Beings: It has further become clear how the adolescent girls use symbolic consumption to signify both an individualistic sense of self and sense of community. They girl mostly rely on the private meaning of consumption objects in their pursuit of individuality that is their own feeling of being unique (experiential value) and own interpretation of having personal style (signal value). The girls’ basic need for community is evidently covered by their relationships with friends and family. In addition the girls often attain a sense of community by employing shared consumption symbols. Thus, individuality and

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sense of community are two words which both have an impact on the identity construction process of the adolescent girls without the one precluding the other. 4. Experience Seekers: Having experiences is a great priority for the adolescent girls and the symbolic meaning of them which most often resides in a private domain, play a substantial role in their sense of self. This illustrates how consumption acts as a bridge to personal experiences as the girls spend a lot of their time and money on sport, hobbies and social activities in the hunt for cosiness, fun, excitement, etc. Thus, the symbolic values inherent in experiences play an essential role in their identity construction. 5. Lifestyle Oriented: Having a proper lifestyle is important to the adolescent girls. Our research has shown that aspects such as exercising- and eating habits encompass a strong experiential value but also a signal value which has a significant influence upon their self image. This is apparently caused by the media’s extensive focus on female ideals and on its negative portrayal of being overweight. It is illustrated how the girls are well aware of a lot of different lifestyles, such as the ‘obsessive’ or the ‘irresponsible’, and use these to manifest their own personal lifestyle. Thus, the adolescent girls display a reflected behaviour in this matter as their hoped for self is based on a balanced and harmonic relationship to exercise and eating habits.

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PART 4 5. Conclusion
This thesis’ research area was initially started by our curiosity related to how consumers manage to navigate in a society where the concept of consumption has been extended to encompass all aspects of our lives. The consumers have as such been provided with more and more building blocks and therefore ways in which they can communicate who they are and construct their identity. Thus, they are constantly forced to manoeuvre through this big and complex web of meanings and symbolism that the modern consumer culture has entailed. Curious to find out how this symbolic consumption is used to construct identity, our theoretical wonderment was established. We found this issue particularly interesting when it is put in perspective to various life stages that consumer goes through. The segment that we found to be particularly interesting was the first generation of “tweens” which today have become adolescents and are about to leap into adulthood. This, in some sense, marks a new breed of adults, who are more competent consumers than ever. Furthermore, girls were chosen as their identity construction appear to be more complex than boys’. This leads us to articulate following research question:

How is identity constructed through symbolic consumption among adolescent girls and what characterises their consumer behaviour?

The first aim of this thesis became to identify and attain a thorough understanding of how symbolic consumption is utilised in the identity construction. This was examined through adolescent girls’ self-narratives as these enabled us to get a profound understanding of the identity construction process. In order to attain as much insight as possible we chose a holistic research approach consisting of both a visual and a verbal research method in the shape of collages and interviews. The second aim was to uncover the characteristics of adolescent girls’ consumer behaviour by identifying the common features in their identity construction through symbolic consumption.

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The theoretical perspective and foundation framed our theoretical approach through which we conducted our analysis. The theoretical perspective formed the basis of our theoretical foundation by substantiating the two most essential concepts of this thesis – identity construction and symbolic consumption. The theoretical foundation was constituted by several interpretive consumer research theories which as a whole contributed to a holistic approach for investigating the nexus between identity construction and symbolic consumption. 5.1 Identity Construction through Symbolic Consumption among Adolescent Girls The portraits of the six adolescent girls gave us insight into the underlying reflections in their sense making of symbolic consumption and thereby gave us a profound understanding of how they construct their identity through this. These portraits show that the girls each display a unique consumer profile through their individual characteristics but nevertheless, there are several common features in the way they use the meanings of symbolic consumption objects to construct identity. Therefore we composed a conceptual framework (Figur 8) with the purpose of illustrating the process from the symbolic meaning being created until it is applied in the identity construction. The intention with this framework was to make it act like a map that could give coherence to future empirical inquiries concerning the identity construction process through symbolic consumption. The framework was composed on the basis of the relevant theoretical contributions/element from our theoretical foundation which was uncovered through the first part of our analysis, to be relevant and applicable for analysing how identity is constructed through symbolic consumption. The common pattern the adolescent girls display in relation to construct identity encompasses how symbolic meanings of consumption objects are derived and how these meanings are individualised as they are subjected to the girls’ lived experience of the meanings - residing in the private/common domain and/or having a signal/experiential value. The further process up till the meaning is applied in the identity construction contains the reflective process in which the girls select and deselect between the consumption objects based on their own sense of self. Thus, four theories are applicable for uncovering this reflective process. They provide understanding: How consumption objects can be a symbolic extension of the self in the way they permit consumers to convince themselves or others that they can be a different person than they would be without these objects; how consumers can distinguish between various consumption objects based on their

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symbolism in relation to present, past and future anticipated selves – the concept of ‘me’ or ‘not me’; how consumers use consumption objects to achieve a hoped for self or avoid a feared for self; how consumers, according to the way they perceive their social reality, adopt different consumption objects that they perceive as being appropriate and coherent with their various social roles. To sum up, identity construction through symbolic consumption among adolescent girls, can be illustrated as follows:

Figure 8: Conceptual Framework (source: Own construction)

5.2 Characteristics of Adolescent Girls’ Consumer Behaviour The insights we attained through the portraits together with the interviews formed the basis of the second part of our analysis. As opposed to the individualistic perspective in the first part of the analysis the second part aimed to uncover the characteristics of adolescent girls’ consumer behaviour entailed by the way they use symbolic consumption to construct their identity. Thus, five characteristics were identified describing the girls as: 1. “Situoids”, as their symbolic consumption is determined by the situation and used to optimise role performance. The girls live their lives within several different social contexts and therefore symbolic consumption is balanced and harmonised accordingly to the given situa-

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tions. Thus, they perceive certain consumption practices as appropriate for some situations and not for others. 2. Anti Brand Slaves, as they do not rely on brand meanings to construct their identity. The use of large mainstream brands, such as Gucci, Louis Vuitton and Dolce Gabbana, is particularly affiliated with unoriginality, insecurity and the ‘pop girl’ phenomenon which the adolescent girls dissociates themselves from. Thus, brands are used to define who they are not. This dissociation does though not include niche brands as these are appealing to them. 3. Individualistic Social Beings, as they use symbolic consumption to signify both an individualistic sense of self and group membership without the one precluding the other. The girls mostly rely on the private meaning of consumption objects in their pursuit of individuality, that is their own feeling of being unique (experiential value) and own interpretation of having personal style (signal value). The girls’ basic need for community is evidently covered by their relationships with friends and family. In addition, the girls often attain a sense of community by employing shared consumption symbols. 4. Experiential seekers, as the symbolic values inherent in experiences are important for the adolescent girls’ identity construction. Thus, consumption act as a bridge to personal experiences as the girls spend a lot of their time and money on sport, hobbies and social activities in the hunt for cosiness, fun, excitement, etc. 5. Lifestyle oriented, as they are reflective about the symbolic value in having a proper lifestyle. The is apparently caused by the media’s extensive focus on female ideals and on its negative portrayal different lifestyles, such as the ‘obsessive’ or the ‘irresponsible’, as the girls uses the dissociation from these to manifest their own personal lifestyle. Thus , the adolescent girls display a hoped for self which is based on a balanced and harmonic relationship to exercising - and eating habits and being healthy in general.

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5.3 Additional Key Learning’s In retrospect we have attained several learning’s which are beyond our conclusion. One of these regards our holistic research approach wherein we adopted a verbal and visual research method that we found to be overall rewarding. In particular the method proved suitable for carrying out research among the adolescent girls as it felt like a very pedagogical method that reduced the intense focus on the respondent, which for younger respondents could be uncomfortable and for the output, inconvenient. In addition to the composition of collages we had a preconceived conception that we could supplement these with the girls’ Facebook profiles as these have the potential to be visual self-narratives in the same way as the collages. The social network website, Facebook, nevertheless did not meet our expectations in regards to being a comprehensive source to information, as some of the girls hardly used it and was very uncommitted to it. Thus, we only used very little information retrieved through these. 5.4 Implications for Practitioners Understanding consumer behaviour has for a long time been a quest for marketers and the ways in which this has been pursued is endless. This has though become more and more challenging in the light of the more complex modern society as the consumer has been provided with more and more building blocks leading to more selections and de-selections among consumption objects. Therefore the challenge for today’s marketers is not to identify the building block but to investigate how consumers select and de-select between consumption objects and why. Therefore it is our conviction that we by uncovering how symbolic consumption is used to construct identity can supply marketing practitioners with new and inspiring knowledge about the reasoning behind different consumer behaviour/consumption practices. In relation to theoretical practitioners we argue that our thesis proves its relevance as well. After having worked intensively with various contributions within interpretive consumer research we found it to be a very fragmented field which encompass many interesting and very relevant perspectives in relation to consumer behaviour. Nevertheless the fragmentation within this field can make it a bit unapproachable for practitioners. Therefore we argue that our composition of the conceptual framework exemplify how interpretive consumer

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research can be approached and more easily applied in the daily work with consumer behaviour, as it explains how symbolic consumption and identity construction are interconnected. In extension hereof we believe that our findings can be an indication of which consumer behaviour there can be expected to emerge among tweens in the coming years. This perception is based on the KGOY phenomenon and the youth’s tendency to get its inspiration from those who are older. In accordance hereto we suggest that the characteristics of our respondents’ could soon emerge between younger teenagers or even tweens. Furthermore, this thesis illustrates the applicability of a holistic research approach containing both a visual and a verbal method when seeking to uncover more in-depth reasoning behind consumer behaviour. 5.5 Further Research As our research has been conducted within the limited segment of adolescent girls there is subsequently a large array of potential ways to extend our research and elaborate on our findings. First and foremost we find it interesting to see our research being conducted on a more representative basis as our sample selection consisted of six girls all living in the capital area. Therefore using a more geographical spread sample of respondents could uncover the similarities and differences among adolescent girls in the whole country. Another research project that we consider obvious is an investigation of gender differences. Taking into consideration that young boys have begun following in the footsteps of the young girls when it comes to luxury goods 32. It could be interesting to investigate whether the hitherto perception of a great difference between the gender’s consumer behaviour still exist. Thus, the application of a gender perspective could contribute to uncovering if boys use symbolic consumption in the same way as girls to construct their identity? Additionally, it could be very interesting to examine the influence of socio- economic factors in the social impact of some sort of economic change in order to uncover if these have an effect on the symbolic value of consumption objects in relation to constructing identity. Investigating how economic changes can affect consumption patterns and the way in which people behave and make decisions, meanwhile exploring if this have an impact on social

32

http://www.bt.dk/article/20080919/nyheder/709200003/

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attitudes and norms could be of great interest. What are the consequences of an economic recession in society? What influence does the parents’ economic situation have? It could further be interesting to investigate how the images of “hoped for” and “feared for” selves among adolescents and other segments are constructed. Which factors indoctrinate the different ideals? Is it the media, friends, family, peers? Such an investigation could prove relevant in uncovering both how great the media’s influence really is and the concept of opinion leaders and subcultures. Finally, we find that further research concerning life role transitions, ‘rite of passage’, could be of great interest. As it become evident though our research the adolescent girls have a very oppositional behaviour towards the ‘eight’ grade style’ and emphasise greatly on how high school has changed their self-image. Therefore it could be interesting to investigate the transition from lower secondary school to high school more in-depth. Additionally, the adolescent girls are very reflective about the life after high school and a therefore a further research merely focusing on the transitioning into adulthood could be obvious. 5.6 Validity of Research Results As mentioned in ‘Validity of Research Design’ validity involves the degree of generalisation. In relation to the findings of our research the conceptual framework has the purpose of acting like a map that outlines the process of identity construction through symbolic consumption, but we also argue that it is applicable to future empirical inquiries concerning this subject matter. It is though important to notice that the framework is only based on our study of six adolescent girls and therefore will need to be tested further before making conclusion regarding the validity hereof. However, it is our conviction that even though consumers are different their individual identity construction though symbolic consumption can be displayed by applying the conceptual framework which is emphasised by the aspect of the individual’s lived meaning of symbolic consumption. Furthermore, it is important to take into account that the conceptual framework is constituted by our chosen theoretical contributions and as interpretive consumer research encompasses a large number of contributions we do not exclude others to be applicable to the framework.

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