Luxury & Consumption in Postmodern Societies - How Can Non-owned Possessions Be Luxury to Consumers? An Explorative Investigation Based on the Example of Cities

Rhoda-Isabella Berger

Student thesis: Master thesis


“You are what you own” has long been a predominant wisdom in the field of consumption studies. With the booming Sharing Economy and the beginning of the present “Era of Access”, “you are what you share” became a complementary maxim. In fact, an increasing disconnection from material ownership is observable in today’s dematerialized postmodern Western societies. As ownership in strongly related to the concept of possession, the described trend has led to a shift of the value ascribed to possessions from owned to non-owned. In parallel, the dynamic concept of luxury has significantly evolved over the last decades. Luxury has moved from its origins in status consumption towards a more abstract concept - referred to as “New Luxury” - that is increasingly detached from specific product categories In fact, both concepts are compatible, as they have reached a state in which they serve rather abstract and hedonic functions, based on one’s inner-directed purposes of consumption and more reflected choices in terms of personal meaning in life. This implies a significant change in consumers’ needs and their perception of luxury. As the underlying meanings of nonowned possessions in the context of luxury to have not been explicitly researched in the field of consumer behaviour yet, this thesis addresses the question of how non-owned possession are perceived as luxury by consumers. Taking an inductive empirical approach, an explorative investigation based on the example of cities as potential non-owned possessions aims to understand how consumers perceive cities as luxury. Findings, based on the hermeneutic-phenomenological interpretation of results deducted from consumer narratives, revealed that city’s are perceived as luxury as consumers assign personal meanings in the sense of “New Luxury” to them. Further, findings led to an understanding of how cities represent a nonowned possession to consumers: through the incorporation of meanings attached to the city that are integrated in one’s extended self and thus enable the creation, enhancement, and preservation of a sense of identity. Hence, a city becomes a non-owned luxury possession, as it contributes to the construction of one’s self. Following this, and in a more general sense, non-owned possessions can be perceived as luxury in the light of the current conceptualization of “New Luxury”, as they contribute to the construction of one’s self and thus support one’s sense of identity. Thus this study proposes a complementary assertion to Belk’s (1988) previous accounts - “you are what you possess”. These findings have several implications for firms in the luxury industry in terms of how they can integrate the conceptualization of non-owned possessions perceived as luxury into their marketing and branding strategies. This research may be further developed by including different types of potential nonowed possessions, by investigating the perception of non-owned possession as luxury in Eastern societies or by examining the role of non-owned possessions as ne status currency for instance.

EducationsMSc in Brand and Communications Management, (Graduate Programme) Final Thesis
Publication date2016
Number of pages94
SupervisorsThyra Uth Thomsen