Walking beyond we are what we have: Making Distinction through "Gestalt Performance of Self"

Mak, Connie (2021) Walking beyond we are what we have: Making Distinction through "Gestalt Performance of Self". In: Standing Conference on Organisational Symbolism, 5-6 July 2021, Online/Copenhagen, Denmark.

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Standing Conference on Organisational Symbolism
5-6 July 2021, Copenhagen, Denmark.
"Walking beyond we are what we have: Making Distinction through ‘Gestalt Performance of Self’
Connie Mak
The en-route consumer-practices have long been overlooked in consumer research, even though tastes,
lifestyles and consumption practices are omnipresent on the street, on route to home and to places of work.
Applied to a study of impression management and construction of professional identity based on the
framework of Erving Goffman (1956; 1961;1963) and Pierre Bourdieu (1986; 1977; Bourdieu &
Wacquant, 1992), the rather new ‘walking-with’ method (Shortell & Brown, 2016) conducted over the to-and-from work routes proved to be effective in unearthing hidden memories and feelings of participants
which were not found in the traditional sedentary interviews used in the same study. The resonant effect
created by the physical surroundings and bodily movement generates valuable themes for understanding
impression management and social distinction through cultural capital in the workplace. One of the
pertinent findings to share in this paper is the ‘gestalt performance of the self”, which emphasizes the
holism of presentation to make oneself different from others rather than individual meanings of things as
we used to understand.
In the walking-with interviews, branded shops, service outlets and other lifestyle consumption seen on the
street do not only stimulate participants’ recall on their use of resources for forming distinctive
impressions at work, but also reveal the holistic meanings and complementarity among individual
possessions. The nuanced sharing of my participants on object-object (e.g. fountain pens and exquisite
notebooks) and object-person (e.g. fountain pens and calligraphy skills) interaction suggests that relations
among sign-vehicles (Goffman, 1956) must be well-comprehended and prudently articulated by the users.
The symbolism will drift if the contextual others are not in rhyme. My data show that a fountain pen will
fail to perform its high-brow meaning if there is no exquisite notebook or competent hand-writing to go
with it. So do cuff links without quality dress shirt and sartorial tastes, or woman’s suits without make-up skills and presentable demeanours. Therefore, to produce a ‘gestalt performance of self’, symbolic
entities must be discerningly employed in conjunction with the relevant others through the lifestyle
dispositions of the users.
The finding implies that if a person desires to project social distinction, the economic capital he or she
relied on must be accompanied with the associated cultural capital. The accumulated competence through
mundane practices (e.g. Warde, 2005; Watson & Shove, 2008) constitute the habitus that enables people
to synchronize objects through their earned tastes and skills. This finding calls for a reflection on the
notion of “we are what we have” (Belk, 1988; Dittmar, 1992; Wattanasuwan, 2005), as classified tastes
and lifestyles cannot be brought about without the cultural embodied sense of the users in orchestrating
resources in a complementary way. Creating a dialogue between the practice theories of Bourdieu and
the impression theory of Goffman has advanced our knowledge that it is not ‘what’ we consume that
signify who we are, but ‘how’ we consume by applying cultural know-how to contextualize resources.

Keywords:social distinction, impression management, cultural capital, gestalt performance of self
Subjects:N Business and Administrative studies > N500 Marketing
Divisions:Lincoln International Business School
ID Code:45846
Deposited On:25 Aug 2021 10:47

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