Symbolic –Consumption, Brands and Self-identity: The case of young executives in Hong Kong

Mak, Connie (1999) Symbolic –Consumption, Brands and Self-identity: The case of young executives in Hong Kong. Masters thesis, University of Oxford.

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Item Type:Thesis (Masters)
Item Status:Live Archive


There is growing attention in the symbolic use of consumer goods in conveying and perceiving self-identities. The most intimate forms of possession – clothing and appearances – have also been widely studied in the West as a kind of lifestyle expression for self-construction and class distinction.

Although recently, interest in the booming Eastern consumer market has been aroused, the understanding of the material presentation of the self in collective cultures remains limited. Through an interpretive semi-ethnographic approach, this study attempts to investigate the extent to which Western theories on impression and appearance management are applicable to Eastern cultures.

The capacity to distinguish oneself as well as others through the manipulations of lifestyle and consumption – a form of cultural capital – has been found as not inherent but accumulated through a learning process. This research therefore tries to understand how and what kinds of cultural capitals in terms of appearance management are earned and learnt through time when people enter a new environment.

The early chapters of this thesis present a thorough review on the relevant existing literature which has led to the above research focus. In-depth interviews were conducted with 25 young executives from the Eastern society of Hong Kong, in an attempt to explore the process of inculcating the knowledge of differentiating work identities through material appearances since their joining of the commercial world. Information obtained from non-participant observations was also triangulated in the iterative and layered analysis, so as to deliver an exploratory-oriented repots with thick descriptions.

The research suggests that appearance management and the significance of working clothes in establishing identities are validated as culture-shared phenomena. The presentation of the self is found to be a highly “social” exercise under the collective culture, in which the audience plays an imperative role. Five distinctive learning stages, each embracing a surging degree of culminated cultural capitals, have be identified. The study also finds that distinctions made by more experienced professionals tend to be achieved through multi-media communications, incorporating the complementary material appearance and the immaterial cues such as demeanor and dispositions. This research therefore contributes by substantiating that cultural capital is far from being innately pre-disposed, but is accumulated through the process of learning. Acknowledging this axiom, the thesis also demonstrates how the existing theories on impression management can be more contributive if they address that their degree of validity could vary with the learning stages and socialization status of individuals. Some managerial implications, possible future agenda and methodological improvements are also presented.

Keywords:symbolic consumption, appearance management, self-construction, class distinction
Subjects:N Business and Administrative studies > N500 Marketing
Divisions:Lincoln International Business School
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ID Code:45944
Deposited On:05 Aug 2021 11:14

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