We are what we share? A phenomenological study of the practice of sharing possessions on social media in the context of consumer identity projects

Camilla Wrang

Student thesis: Master thesis


Increasingly the online space has become an integrated part of consumers’ daily life. Consumers therefore do a great part of their identity work online. What they share on social media is generally assumed to be highly self-focused displays of possessions in order to promote a favorable impression of their identity. This resembles the postmodern assumption that individual consumers have become more superficial and less concerned with the value of close relationships than in pre-digital times. However, the deeper meaning behind consumers’ practice of sharing possessions on social media remains vaguely understood within the theoretical field of consumer identity. The thesis explores the underlying meaning of this practice on an individual consumer level and contributes to literature on extended self and narrative self within the academic field of Consumer Culture Theory. Through phenomenological, narrative inquiry of female consumers in Denmark, an interpretation of the practice of sharing on social media is developed on an idiosyncratic and a nomothetic level. On the nomothetic level, two global themes emerged which are essential for understanding why consumers engage in sharing on social media and how this practice contributes to the individual’s creation and validation of identity. The first theme, Routinized love-making, refers to the central aspect that sharing on social media it is above all a practice of reciprocal interest and care to preserve and strengthen social relationships which are intensely incorporated into the self. The second theme, Constructed narrative identity, refers to the construction of autobiographical memories which evolves into a self-reinforcing identity narrative guided by personal life themes and cultural norms. The findings lead to a discussion of two pertinent theoretical topics, namely agency-structure and online-offline, within the domain of consumer identity projects in Consumer Culture Theory. The discussion presents to two main arguments. First, social structures should be taken into consideration instead of giving primacy to symbolic individuation. The desire to preserve social relationships and therefore adhere to social norms play a significant role in consumers’ practice of sharing on social media. Second, the concept of temporal selves is highly relevant for understanding identity dynamics on social media and its close interrelation with physical identity. Sharing on social media reinforces an authentic and coherent sense of self with strong references to desired temporal self-dimensions.

EducationsMSc in Brand and Communications Management, (Graduate Programme) Final Thesis
Publication date2015
Number of pages87