Is There a Self Beyond Identity: An Abstract
In general, past research on identity focuses on group identity and the self as it relates to group identity (Belk 1988; Sheriff 1936; Thompson and Loveland 2015). There is relatively less focus on the distinction between the self and consumption per se and the self and consumption as mediated by identity. In this research, we ask the question, as to whether in the context of consumption, there is a self that is distinct from group identity. We explore how this self may be conceptualized and identify future directions in which this exploration may take place. According to Social Identity Theory, the individual identity “I” is a composite of many group identities “We.” Group identities are the result of categorization processes wherein the individual begins to view her (him) self as a category representative based on a similar perception by other members of the group. An individual typically perceives themselves and is perceived by others to belong to multiple categories and a particular category may be highlighted in a particular consumption context.
The individual “I” is essentially a composite of many group identities “We.” The I and the WE are related in as much as almost all our consumption is related to our perceived group membership. In a market economy with particular emphasis on market segmentation and supply-side catering to the needs of groups of consumers, any individual consumption act whether it be a travel destination, hotel room, restaurant visit, purchase of a car or home has been performed in a similar way by many other consumers. The market economy has influenced human interaction in such a manner as to lead to individual behavior that consumes to satisfy the internal norms of the many “We.” Given the large influence of “We” and its impact on “I,” the question arises as to whether the “I” is truly distinct and if it even exists in the consumption context.
The “I” and “WE” are distinct in that the “I” in general is not expressed in a particular good or service, but more so in the process of aggregation by which a consumer creates a basket of goods. A series of consumption decisions based on group effects results in a basket of goods that is individualistic. The basket of goods produced by the many identities constituting the composite identity of an individual forms the basis for individual expression. In the consumption context, individuality in effect arises out of the combination of group identities and there is no individuality outside of group identity.