09 September 2006


Here’s some more wisdom (see yesterday’s post) from Russell W Belk, sociologist and consumer behaviorist, and his inquiry into consumer behaviour and consumption:

“…Possessions are an important component of sense of self. The most direct form of evidence is found in the nature of self-perceptions. Additional, especially striking evidence is found in the diminished sense of self when possessions are unintentionally lost or stolen. More evidence in the role of possessions in sense of self comes from anthropological studies of the way possessions are treated ritually and after death.”

We are what we have. It’s a simple concept, and a basic premise of consumer behaviour. But, it has boggled the minds of the best psychologists, sociologists, consumer behaviorists, advertisers and marketers for half a century at the least. For, as it turns out now, this simple concept is really a combination of two others. Not only are we what we are seen to be (the ‘me’ concept), we are also what is seen to be ours (the ‘mine’ concept). It seems we, as human beings, create our identities using both these – the ‘me’ and the ‘mine’ – concepts.

A lot of research is available defining the ‘me’, but it is in the inquiry into the ‘mine’, in the last 20 years or so, that has now led us to believe that our identities are not complete unless we take into account all our material possessions, the people we are connected with, and our experiences. Even our memories of the past.

That’s where Russell W Belk, among several other notable psychologists, sociologists and consumer behaviorists, comes in. Professor Belk contributes the metaphor of an ‘extended self’ as a possible explanation for the reason why we tend to create meanings for ourselves with, and through, objects and our surroundings. Why we tend to extend ourselves into the objective world around us; and, in turn, create our selves. Professor Belk suggests that the answer lies in our desire to possess… to collect… to acquire.

Dr Jan S Slater, who pursues this point further, elaborates his thoughts on possessions in his dissertation, ‘From Trash to Treasures’. He refers to Russell W Belk throughout his dissertation, particularly in ‘Chapter Two: Collecting Literature’, where he gives us a meaning as to why we would want to possess: “To possess something is to have it under one’s mastery or control and to identify it as one’s own. Possession may be individual, joint, or shared. Although objects of possession are most often tangible, possession may include certain experiences and knowledge, symbols and, in some cases, other persons (Belk, 1982).”

What are we, really, without these possessions?

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