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A study of consumer's identity construction within food culture

Tonner, Andrea and Hart, Susan and Hewer, Paul (2012) A study of consumer's identity construction within food culture. PhD thesis, Marketing.

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This thesis explores the relationships between consumers, society and food, with the aim of understanding how individuals create self-identity through food culture. The study is based within Consumer Culture Theory, particularly the body of work considering consumers‘ identity projects and makes theoretical contribution therein. It focuses within food culture because it encompasses universal consumption which is: mundane and symbolic, social and personal, incorporates both work and pleasure and as such contains distinctive insight for consumer identity. Food consumption is also both practice and policy relevant representing the world‘s largest industry and a key governmental priority. The findings of this narrative study show that people construct self by negotiating the territory between established theoretical traditions, understanding their own identity as more nuanced than the extremis positions can suggest. The main theoretical contribution in this area is a refinement of extant models of extended-self. It considers that factors of unextended-self are uniquely configured. It finds that consumption can be both instrumental to maintaining unextended-self and a factor of extended-self in its own right and that in this second state it should be understood within a separate category distinct from sans-consumption self. It proposes that understanding how consumer culture becomes subsumed into extended-self requires examination of three distinct matters: characteristics of incorporation, means of incorporation and relevant incorporation activities. The thesis also contributes to theory upon the social antecedents of identity and consumption. It finds that personal unique constructions of family and friendship are the most enduring and directly impactful relationships. Food culture maintains these relationships while simultaneously being influenced by them and the antecedents of self-identity which they represent. It concludes with implications for social marketing which embrace the influence of niche-groups upon individuals and for food marketers to ensure opportunity for consumer identity work as part of branded relationships