08 September 2006

Self, extended self

“In its widest possible sense, however, a man’s Self is the sum total of all that he CAN call his, not only his body and his psychic powers, but his clothes and his house, his wife and children, his ancestors and friends, his reputation and works, his lands, and yacht and bank-account. All these things give him the same emotions. If the wax and prosper, he feels triumphant; if the dwindle and die away, he feels cast down – not necessarily in the same degree in each thing, but in much the same way for all.”

[William James, from his book The Principles of Psychology, Chapter X: The Consciousness of Self (1890)]

“We cannot hope to understand consumer behaviour without first gaining some understanding of the meanings that consumers attach to possessions. A key to understanding what possessions mean is recognizing that, knowingly or unknowingly, intentionally or unintentionally, we regard our possessions as parts of ourselves… That we are what we have is perhaps the most basic and powerful fact of consumer behaviour.
The premise that we regard our possessions as parts of ourselves is not new… If we define possessions as things we call ours, [William] James was saying that we are the sum of our possessions.”

[Russell W Belk, from his award-winning paper Possessions and the Extended Self (1988)]

Russell W Belk goes on to say that there’s a relationship between our possessions and our sense of self. This relationship is important not only
“to the understanding of consumer behaviour, but also on the premise that understanding the extended self will help us learn how consumer behaviour contributes to our broader existence as human beings.”

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