Ethnography, lived experience and consumer research

This is an edited extract of my PhD methodology chapter covering ethnography and ethnographic methods. I hope this will be useful for wider audience, especially students who seek to understand the basic tenants of the approach. Full references are listed at the end of the entry.

IMG_0080Ethnography has its origins in anthropology and sociology (Carson et al., 2001; Hammersley and Atkinson, 2007) and has been adapted to become one of the indispensable methodologies of interpretive consumer research (Arnould and Wallendorf, 1994; Schouten and McAlexander, 1995; Belk and Costa, 1998; Hill 1991; Hein et al. 2011). It has been discussed as a research methodology which takes a collaborative approach with research informants to co-construct an understanding of their culturally infused meanings (Schembri and Boyle, 2013). Further, as Arnould and Wallendorf (1994, p.485) explained it is not just a form of data collection, but also a methodology that aims to understand the ways in which culture is simultaneously constructed by peoples’ behaviours and experiences. It is a creative process which enables experiencing, interpreting, and representing culture and society (Schembri and Boyle, 2012). The emic (subjective significance of experience) and etic (the researcher constructed, comparative, and interpreted significance of experience) nature of ethnography (Arnould and Wallendorf, 1994) is essential in understanding what people do in their everyday, mundane, cultural and sub-cultural contexts (Stebbins, 1997), understandings beyond what people say (Goulding, 2005), and interpreting their multiple and subjective realities (Arnould and Wallendorf, 1994).

In consumer culture research, ethnography has become a particularly useful approach when seeking to understand socio-cultural and situational meanings that underpin consumption behaviour (Mariampolski, 2006; Arnould and Price, 2006). When conducted appropriately ethnographic research methods have produced holistic insights into consumption practices in exclusive subcultures (Schouten and McAlexander, 1995), undesirable life circumstances (Hill, 1991), everyday lived experiences (Hein et al., 2011; Daly, 2001), and private family celebrations (Wallendorf and Arnould, 1991). In addition, ethnographic research design is flexible in adaptinIMG_0132g to understand personal and sensitive emotions entangled in everyday social interactions (Gumperz, 1981) and also especially useful in understanding meanings in everyday and mundane consumption practices (Cappellini and Parsons, 2012) because of their capability to observe informants in their natural setting over long periods of time while informants carry out their everyday tasks. However, negotiating access to the research contexts to explore their intricate consumption practices has always been a challenge for ethnographic researchers (Hammersley and Atkinson, 2007). In addition, gaining access is also important in terms of longitudinal immersion in ethnographic research (Hein et al., 2011), which enable the ethnographic researchers to understand changing consumer meanings over a long period of time. This adaptive and flexible approach facilitates trust in the informant-researcher relationship and makes informants feels more comfortable in the researcher presence.

There is no universal framework for conducting ethnographic research (Hammersley and Atkinson 2007). Instead, the composition of the approach should be decided on by the nature of the research phenomenon such as its complexity, frequency, and duration and also on the researcher’s prior experience and his understanding of the methods (Hammersley and Atkinson, 2007). As depicted in literature (Wallendorf and Arnould 1991; Belk and Costa, 1998), each ethnographic approach can integrate a unique blend of different research methods and still retain its capacity to produce rich data from multiple methods into useful etic interpretations. Especially as it embraces disjunctures of perspectives (Arnould and Wallendorf, 1994), adopting multiple methods furnishes rich interpretations of cultural meanings in complex research topics.

Conventionally, ethnographic researchers have integrated various observational methods (Wallendorf and Arnould, 1991), different forms of interviews (Belk et al., 1989; Hogg et al., 2004), and elicitation techniques (Heisley and Levy, 1991). For example, ethnographic observations help overcome self-censorship, social desirability, and bIMG_0088iases of acquiescence (Arnould, 1998, p.93) by focusing on perspectives in action (Belk and Kozinets, 2005). Ethnographic interviews bring ‘reflexive or prospective’ accounts (perspectives of action) of meanings that relate to informants’ past behaviours and future expectations (Arnould and Wallendorf, 1994). However, much of the richest forms of ethnographic data are generated from informal conversations, which takes place during a range of everyday experiences, predominantly, because of its spontaneous and informant-driven nature (Elliott and Jankel-Elliott, 2003).

In addition to these traditional methods of data collection (Carson et al., 2001), researchers have also adopted various methods such as pictures (Holbrook, 2005; 2006), video (Belk and Kozinets, 2005; Basil, 2011), performative techniques (Foster, 2012), and various online methods (Kozinets, 2010; 2015). Virtual (Hine, 2000) and social media ethnography (Postill and Pink, 2012) have also contributed towards extending the flexibility and adaptability of ethnographic research. For example, using Facebook (Baker, 2013) and other internet and social networks (Jackson, 2012) in ethnographic research has enabled ethnographic researchers to explore sensitive emotions and understand complex social issues in more practical and less obtrusive ways (Langer and Beckman, 2005).

References:

  • Arnould, E., and Price, L. (2006). Market-Oriented Ethnography Revisited. Journal of Advertising Research, 46 (3), 251.
  • Arnould, E., and Wallendorf, M. (1994). Market-Oriented Ethnography: Interpretation Building and Marketing Strategy Formulation. Journal of Marketing Research, 31(4), 484–504.
  • Basil, M. (2011). Use of photography and video in observational research. Qualitative Market Research: An International Journal, 14(3), 246–257.
  • Baker, S. (2013). Conceptualising the use of Facebook in ethnographic research: as tool, as data and as context. Ethnography and Education, 8(2), 131–145.
  • Belk, R., and Costa, J. (1998). The Mountain Man Myth : A Contemporary Consuming Fantasy. Journal of Consumer Research, 25(3), 218–240.
  • Belk, R., Wallendorf, M., and Sherry, Jr., J. (1989). The Sacred and the Profane in Consumer Behavior: Theodicy on the Odyssey. Journal of Consumer Research, 16(1), 1–38.
  • Belk, R., and Kozinets, R. (2005). Videography in marketing and consumer research. Qualitative Market Research: An International Journal, 8(2), 128–141.
  • Cappellini, B., and Parsons, E. (2012). Sharing the Meal: Food Consumption and Family Identity. Research in Consumer Behavior, 14, 109–128).
  • Carson, D., Gilmore, A., Perry, C., and Gronhaug, K. (2001). Qualitative Marketing Research. London: Sage.
  • Daly, K. (2001). Deconstructing Family Time: From Ideology to Lived Experience. Journal of Marriage and Family, 63(May), 283–294.
  • Edirisingha, P. (2016). Setting up Home: Identity Interplay and Consumption in New Family Households (Doctoral dissertation, University of Otago).
  • Elliott, R., and Jankel-Elliott, N. (2003). Using ethnography in strategic consumer research. Qualitative Market Research: An International Journal, 6(4), 215–223.
  • Foster, V. (2012). Pantomime and politics: the story of a performance ethnography. Qualitative Research,13(1), 36–52.
  • Goulding, C. (2005). Grounded theory, ethnography and phenomenology: A comparative analysis of three qualitative strategies for marketing research. European Journal of Marketing, 39(3/4), 294–308.
  • Gumperz, J. (1981). Conversational Inference and Classroom Learning. In J.L. Green and C. Wallat (Eds), Ethnography and Language in Educational Settings, NJ: Albex.
  • Hammersley, M. and Atkinson, P. (1983). Ethnography: Principles in Practice (1st). London: Routledge.
  • Hammersley, M. and Atkinson, P. (2007). Ethnography: Principles in Practice (3rd). Abingdon: Routledge.
  • Hein, W., O’Donohoe, S., and Ryan, A. (2011). Mobile phones as an extension of the participant observer’s self: Reflections on the emergent role of an emergent technology. Qualitative Market Research: An International Journal,14(3), 258–273.
  • Heisley, D., and Levy, S. (1991). Autodriving : Photoelicitation Technique. Journal of Consumer Research, 18(3), 257–272.
  • Hill, R. (1991). Homeless Women, Special Possessions, and the Meaning of “home”: An Ethnographic Case Study. Journal of Consumer Research, 18, 298-310.
  • Hine, C. (2000). Virtual ethnography. Sage.
  • Hogg, M., Folkman Curasi, C., and Maclaran, P. (2004). The (re-)configuration of production and consumption in empty nest households/families. Consumption, Markets and Culture, 7(3), 239–259.
  • Holbrook, M. (1994). The Nature of Customer Value: An Axiology of Services in Consumption Experiences, In R. Rust and R. Oliver (Eds.), Service Quality: New Directions in Theory and Practice (pp. 21-71), Newbury Park: Sage.
  •  Holbrook, M. (2005). Customer value and autoethnography: subjective personal introspection and the meanings of a photograph collection. Journal of Business Research, 58(1), 45–61.
  • Holbrook, M. (2006). Consumption experience, customer value, and subjective personal introspection: An illustrative photographic essay. Journal of Business Research, 59(6), 714–725.
  • Kozinets, R. (2010). Netnography, London: Sage.
  • Kozinets, R. V. (2015). Netnography. John Wiley & Sons, Inc..
  • Mariampolski, H. (2006). Ethnography for Marketers: A Guide to Consumer Immersion. California: Sage.
  • Jackson Jr., J. (2012). Ethnography Is, Ethnography Ain’T. Cultural Anthropology, 27(3), 480–497.Langer, R., and Beckman, S. (2005). Sensitive research topics: netnography revisited. Qualitative Market Research: An International Journal,8(2), 189–203.
  • Postill, J., and Pink, S. (2012). Social Media Ethnography: The Digital Researcher in a Messy Web. Media International Australia, 145, 123–134.
  • Schouten, J., and McAlexander, J. (1995). Subcultures of Consumption : An Ethnography of the New Bikers. Journal of Consumer Research,22 (1), 43–61.
  • Schembri, S., and Boyle, M. (2013). Visual Ethnography: Achieving rigorous and authentic interpretations. Journal of Business Research, 66 (9), 1251-1254.
  • Stebbins, R. (1997). Lifestyle as a generic concept in ethnographic research, Quality and Quantity, 31(4),347-60.
  • Wallendorf, M., and Arnould, E. J. (1991). “We of Gather Together”: Consumption Rituals Thanksgiving Day. Journal of Consumer Research, 18(1), 13–31.

 

 

Writing a critical literature review

Writing a literature review is an essential component of undergraduate as well as postgraduate studies. Being “critical” within the review of literature is often emphasised in academia yet most students struggle to understand the attributes which constitute a “critical literature review”. Therefore, in this entry, drawing from few of my recent readings (Saunders and Rojon 2011; Hart 1998), I summarise key attributes of a critical literature review.

Critical review of literature needs to demonstrate a comprehensive understanding of extant theories, debates and issues relevant to research aim and objectives. Its arguments need to be clear, logical and cohesive. A critical approach to review literature needs to develop the researcher’s own appraisal and judgement of extant literature using appropriate language. In addition, it also needs to provide a critique of conventional as well as dominant discourses of knowledge while remaining critical of the potential objectivity of the researcher’s own arguments (Mingers 2000). Saunders and Rojon (2011) defines being critical as a “combination of our knowledge and understanding of what has been written, our evaluation and judgement skills and our ability to structure these clearly and logically in writing” and identifies several key attributes of a critical literature review.

Identifies and evaluates the most relevant research (and experts) relevant to the topic

It is impossible to review every single piece of literature in the relevant topic. A critical literature review does not aim to provide a summary of everything that has been written on a topic. It rather needs to acknowledge and engage with key academic theories, both seminal as well as current, within the chosen research phenomena. In addition, the critical literature review needs to inevitably acknowledge the works of experts within the field as it aims to inform research objectives and position the research. One of the common observations at undergraduate as well as postgraduate literature reviews is that they end up being uncritical summaries of previous literature. As Hart (1998) points out these are ineffective in achieving the objectives of reviewing literature and serves little value than an “annotated bibliography”. On the contrary, a critical literature review needs “to combine the academic theories and ideas thematically to form the critical review” (Saunders and Rojon 2011). In so doing, a well-written critical literature review is capable of identifying clear gaps in knowledge that has not been explored in previous literature.

Adopts a structure that creates a thematic funnel

The structure of presentation and the logical relationships between topic discussions are both important aspects of a critical literature review. It is useful to view the literature review as a “thematic funnel” that begins with a thematic overview of the key themes and ideas before narrowing down to more specific theories and frameworks relating to the specific focus of the study. Constructing a critical voice includes engaging with literature that informs research aim/objectives as well as opposes the discussion within the study. This is a crucial step towards remaining objective within the review and providing a comprehensive picture of the extant literature review. It is also imperative to distinguish facts that have emerged in previous research from the opinions of the authors (Saunders and Rojon 2011). Therefore, a critical literature review is a cohesive review of relevant literature that is organised into a logical funnel-like structure.

Contextualise and justifies aims and objectives

Reviewing extant literature has three useful functions within the research process. Firstly, it informs research aim and allows framing research objectives, especially during the initial stages of the research. Secondly, a comprehensive literature reviews allows positioning of the research in terms of the context and theoretical frameworks. This allows researchers to contextualise and justify their research. Thirdly, it also helps position the contribution of the study within the wider body of knowledge. In addition, it is also important to identify potentially appropriate methodologies referenced within extant literature that informs and supports the adopted methodological framework of the proposed study.

Comprehensive references and acknowledgements

Critical literature review needs to of course acknowledge the most important and relevant theories, frameworks and experts within the field. It is important to acknowledge seminal work that has inspired new thinking and identify the key current literature that has contributed to development of knowledge. Also, as Saunders and Rojon (2011) mention, it is useful to revisit literature during different stages of the study to review and acknowledge the most recent developments within the field.

References:

Hart, C. (1998). Doing a literature review. London, United Kingdom: Sage

Mingers, J. (2000). What is it to be critical? Teaching and critical approach to management undergraduates. Management Learning, 31(2), 219-237.

Saunders, M. N., & Rojon, C. (2011). On the attributes of a critical literature review. Coaching: An International Journal of Theory, Research and Practice, 4(2), 156-162.

Becoming a successful PhD Candidate: Self Reflections

Being “successful” as a PhD candidate carries a cliché and is subjective to individual interpretation. In my expectations the success was measured as my ability to navigate the journey within the 3 year period of my scholarship and become employed afterwards at least within three months of thesis submission. Even though I believe there is no universal receipt to become successful as a PhD candidate, my objective here is to discuss few characteristics/practices which were helpful for my successful completion and subsequent employment.

For the right reasons with the right people:

I believe the seeds of success in a PhD journey are planted as early as the application stage especially during the search for potential supervisors. First of all, I believe, one should only embark on a PhD journey for their true passion for research and academia. I have come across students who have embarked upon PhD programmes for many reasons ranging from their frustration of current life situation to their will to settle down in a desired country. All these could be situational realities in our lives, however, I believe the passion for research and academia should provide the fundamental driving force a PhD research journey. In addition, prospective students must also carefully consider the potential supervisory relationship more than the institution where she/he would actually undertake the work. The relationship with the supervisor is one of the most important factors that will shape rest of the academic/personal life during PhD research. Of course you are looking for a potential supervisor who is interested in your topic but you are also looking for a team of people that matches and compliments your strengths and weaknesses as an individual. As I will further discuss throughout this entry, managing relationship with supervisors is essential at all stages of the PhD journey. Your relationship with supervisors is so fundamental to success as a PhD as they will encourage your application processess, support  your journey, guide your research and finally promote you as a potential employee. In addition, these two factors are so fundamental for the success as a PhD because they could be all the motivation you may have during the long and routine emotional rollercoaster you are about to get on board. In fact, I believe being a brilliant student in the past has less to do with being successful at the PhD level. It is more of a statement about passion, personality and character.

Test of character:

The PhD journey can be an emotional rollercoaster not just in terms of the research journey but also in terms personal life. It is not just you who needs to be conscious about the emotional investment you would be undertaking but also the members of your family/extended family as they will also become an integral part of support or challenges for your eventual success. Your immediete family members such as partners and children will go through the PhD journey along with you, however, at times they will struggle to make sense of why you are going through what you are going through as a family. You should be prepared to empathise with your family members more than ever even though they might not understand the challenges and stress you are experiencing in your day to day research endevours.

There are routine challenges such as finding the informants, dealing with informants, getting rejected from journals, coping with uncertainty in the job market, finding enough money to cover monthly expenses and finding time for personal relationships to name a few. It is particularly tough when family members and friends could not relate and empathise with your experience. For these and many other reasons the PhD journey is a test of character more than any other. Therefore, in my perspective, the PhD journey is about mastering the ways in which to navigate such an emotional wilderness by mustering perseverance and learning to maintain a calm, undying focus while the world seemed to be falling apart around you.

It is not just about the Thesis:

Most PhD students often get consumed with the challenges relating to their dissertation and often overlook several other areas that are important to becoming a successful candidate. In my view a successful PhD candidacy involves engaging with publications, attending conferences, constructing a network, sharpening teaching experience, engaging with administration and initiating public engagement as part of potential income generation in the long term. I believe a PhD candidate must invest time in learning to become an overall early-career academic rather than trying to prepare an exceptional dissertation. It is important that PhD candidates learn to take responsibility of their work as research progresses. For example, during the first six months you may find yourself relying more on your supervisors and this needs to transform in time for you to take more ownership of your work. This provides an indication of your maturity as a PhD candidate and helps you earn trust and respect of your supervisors.

Planning and Communication Essentials:

As I have discussed so far, PhD journey is lot about learning to manage emotions and becoming a skilful academic. This journey requires a considerable amount of careful planning on a consistent basis throughout the journey. It is important to plan ahead of time and keep writing on a daily basis from the very first day in the office. Developing academic writing skills takes a long time and will continue well into your early career academic life. In addition, maintaining a clear and on-going channel of communication with supervisors and other key people in the department is also an essential task of a PhD candidate. The supervisors’ role is to provide you with guidance; however, it is also important to remember their lives are much busier than yours with teaching, research, administration, other supervisions and much more. Therefore, it is essential to maintain a clear line of communication with supervisors about your plans/expectations and be understanding of their lives. Also, planning needs to go beyond academic life and should encompase family life as well. This will allow you and your family members to allocate an important time which will contribute to nurturing the relationships.

In summary, reflecting on my experience, a PhD journey inspired by passion for research and and supported by the supervisors helps you develop to become a successful early carrier academic. It is also a journey that must be navigated with courage, perseverence and patients.


Dr. Prabash Edirisingha

Lecturer in Marketing

Northumbria University

Newcastle Business School

Interpretivism and Positivism (Ontological and Epistemological Perspectives)

What is Ontology and What is Epistemology?  Ontology is the nature of reality (Hudson and Ozanne, 1988) and the epistemology can be defined as the relationship between the researcher and the reality (Carson et al., 2001) or how this reality is captured or known. There are two dominant ontological and epistemological traditions/ideologies: 1)Positivism, 2)Interpretivism. Positivism:   […]

The Story of Knives: An Argument for Functional and Symbolic Meanings of Objects

 

This is about two knives which I came across when I was doing my Masters dissertation and it all began with a small argument in the kitchen.

Husband: “This is the best. I like it because it is a one strike knife. It is very skinny but very sharp”

Wife: “I think this knife is better. This is very sturdy. That one is difficult to hold and doesn’t cut that well either”

Husband: “Well, it is because you don’t know how to use it”

On surface this sounds like any other simple conversation in our homes. As we live our everyday lives, we always exchange such dialogues with our partners, parents, children and other household members. Yet we don’t necessarily pay much attention to deeper meanings and emotions which can be hidden within such subtle and concise statements. These two knives did not have any brand associations. Both knives were purchased at a local car-boot sale in west midland England by the husband. However, not long after both individuals integrated the knives into their own cooking practices. Why these two knives were important in this family? Why was it important to understand the roles played by these knives in the family? We can seek some answers from Tim Dant (2005), the author of materiality and society. Then also we can rely on works of Daniel Miller (2008), who is one of the prominent academics in material culture research. Both these academics and many others have provided inspiration for me to begin my academic life. I firmly believe in Miller’s (2008) argument for a material culture lens to understand and theorize consumption.

We interact with mundane material objects in our everyday lives and these objects interact back with us in various forms. Dant (2005) has extensively discussed the process of material interaction and I think it provides an important framework to understand these two knives.

Someone had given a specific set of characteristics for these knives when they were manufactured. For an example, the manufacturer made it skinny, edgy, and sharp. It is obvious that a certain form of skill, method and manoeuvring are required to efficiently use it in consumption practices. As the husband argues, the wife does not know how to use it properly. The knife needs a thump, an adjustment of the holding angle and a specific movement to cut through tougher bones. What he really indicates is that she has not acquired the necessary level of skills to competently use the knife. So, it could be argued that the manufacturer intended the users to acquire necessary skills before using the object. Such skills can be provided at times but not always they are readily available and most of these skills are aquired through trial and error by the consumers. Consumers redefine and reinvent products during the process of seeking solutions to their existing consumption problems. We can question where and how the wife could learn skills to use the knife properly, especially when it was acquired from a second-hand market. Are there any instructions which came with it? Are there any helpful demonstrations provided by the manufacturers or marketers? These are just a few questions for corporate managers to ponder on but is a diversion from the objectives of this writing. Manufacturer embedded qualities pre-define the sorts of communication which will occur between the object and its users. However, it is not accurate to conclude that this will completely dominate all forms of material communication with the object. We routinely interact with objects on a daily basis and this is usually a socially or culturally acquired behaviour which is often taken-for-granted. In the case of the knife it cuts through meat and selected other foods, but struggles with harder meat bones. In order to overcome this obstacle the users needs to consciously change their actions (or the way he interacts with the knife), which is theorized as intentionality of act (Dant, 2005). This is a conscious alteration of existing material interaction with the knife in order to continue its functionality to achieve an intended outcome. This is exactly the thump, jerk and movement indicated by the husband, which must be acquired and excelled over time. Manufacturers and marketers can aim to enhance overall consumer experience by providing such information.

From a large number of past research we have come to understand that humans are materialistic creatures and try to attach various meanings to objects which they come to contact (Miller, 2008). We also try to extend our values, believes, and expectations (our identity) through our most cherished possessions (Belk, 1988). For example the knife I got from my mother may remind me of her and how she used to cook. So it is not just a knife but also a vessel which transported my mother and her culinary practices into my household.

The question I was really asking was that how far I will go to include this object in my household practices if it is not really serving its intended function, which is cutting. How long will I tolerate its lack of practical use considering its symbolic attachment to my mother? I think this is a question that consumer researchers or corporate managers must raise when talking about consumption of objects (products). Many products that surround us have functional duties. We spend our hard earn money on these objects. Also we draw a line of reasonable expectations in which we measure and compare value in use for the money we paid for these objects. The BMW or Lexus I may drive (maybe never) might say something about who I am, my social status, or about my success. However, it is still a ride which takes me from one place to another and there are other functional expectations I have entrusted upon this machine. There are also my preferences in terms of color, comfort, precision, control and safety. Am I willing to compromise any of these attributes to uphold another? Such as, am I willing to forget about safety just to display my social status and success? It is true that we cannot afford to be completely polarized in explaining such consumption choices? Understanding the level of compromise which we are willing to accommodate is probably more relevant in terms of understanding the ways in which we negotiate these sorts of choices in everyday practice. As consumers we make similar compromises in many of our purchases. We balance the combination between important physical benefits and sentimental meanings of products and negotiate these when making such choices. Some products are trivial in facilitating our routine lives, thus, the physical benefits of such products out weight the symbolic values. But on the contrary we also have objects which we hate to let go because of their symbolic meanings. The main argument of this entry is to argue that it is important to understand the interplay of different biographies (Kopytoff, 1987) of market place objects and to understand how people make choices by considering sorts of different symbolic and functional attributes of objects. It is also important to understand the sorts of factors that influence and contribute to such consumer decision-making.

On surface it is a simple argument and an everyday phenomenon. Thus, my long term objective and suggestion is to urge material culture and consumption researchers to explore the overlapping significances of symbolic and functional meanings of objects in defining consumption in market places and in our domestic spheres.

 


 

 Prabash Edirisingha

PhD Scholar, Department of Marketing, University of Otago, New Zealand


References:

Belk, R. W. (1988). Possessions and the Extended Self. Journal of Consumer Research, 15(2), 139–168.

Dant, T. (2005). Materiality and society. McGraw-Hill International.

Kopytoff, I. (1986).The Cultural Biography of Things: Commoditization as Process. In A. Appadurai (Ed.), The Social Life of Things: Commodities in Cultural Perspective (pp. 64–91). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Miller, D. (2008). The comfort of things. London: Polity.

 

 

Sharing is Caring? Role of Objects in Constructing and De-constructing Domestic Meanings

We live surrounded by a plethora of objects which we interact with in our daily lives. Some of these object belong to us but some belong to other people and various social institutions. When we like or need something we usually plan and purchase it. But it is also important to notice that there are objects that we possess due to requirement and necessity rather than for wanting and preference. And most of the objects in our households are not owned by a specific individual.  They may be purchased by the adults but they are mostly shared with other household members.
The concept of sharing has gained little attention in the past but it is increasingly been recognized as one of the most common and important consumption practices in domestic environments. Is sharing is actually caring? This entry extends the argument that it is a consumption phenomenon that is complex and broad and should be conceptualized as something more than just caring. It is not only objects that we share with other household members. We also share what we have done, what we like to do and what we plan to do in our futures. Also we share a multitude of meanings with our partners, loved ones and other domestic members. For an example children may not need to own objects in their homes in order to use them. There is a culturally and socially bounded norm which makes them entitled to use domestically shared objects and stuff such as food, utilities, furniture and electronics. At the same time young children are guided and expected to take part in family consumption practices which are recognized as important and adopted by parents. However, as children grow older they may develop their own preferences in the process of defining themselves as individuals which can cause them to diverge from parental influences.  However the understanding is that they will not be given an itemized bill for consuming household resources once they plan to leave the parents.

Discussing this broad and rich topic is not the intent of this article. The goal of this article is to discuss the nature of shared meanings which we attach to objects in our lives and how such meanings define us as individuals and families. To be human is to make attachments. We keep on constructing and de-constructing attachments throughout our lives and we convince our selves that attachments compose an important entity of ourselves. We believe that our relationships with objects and other important things that we relate make us who we are. Consumer and material culture researchers have argued that possessions act as vessels which transport meanings from one generation to another. For an example, I came across a butter dish during my master’s research exploration which has traveled through generations and was idling in its new home at the time. However, it was a symbol of important meal time practices such as eating meals together and eating healthy meals. It was also an object which reminded the owner of her mother, aunt and their consumption practices. This example is representative of most of us and our relationships with objects. We all can recall of time which we held on to specific objects just because of the various meanings which were attached to these objects.

On the contrary we also dispose objects in our desperate attempts to de-construct existing attachments. This is perhaps why it is the engagement or the wedding ring that is usually left behind when a couple dissolves their affiliations. At one point in their lives they injected a stream of meanings, intentionally or unintentionally, into their rings and started to believe that the rings would signify and uphold the meaning of their marriage or whatever the future they anticipated together. The same meanings which are imbued in such objects would provide us comfort, security and motivation to adapt to uncertainties and challenges in our new lives. Ironically, we also believe that abandoning such sentimental possessions aids us in leaving the unpleasant memories from our failed relationships behind. This may be true for many objects which we associate with in our relationships. It also extends to relationships other than marriage or cohabitation. It could be our relationship with colleagues, our friends at school, our relatives, or our parents. These sorts of materialistic measures and representations are established to bring individuals together in relationships in our lives. Objects do not have to be expensive, old or rare in order to be significant for a relationship. Any object can be used to connect individuals. For an example, the rings represent a promise of important values for couples such as love, caring and support. Individuals have expectations from one another when they are in a relationship. These expectations can be any quality or value they view as important to them as individuals as well as for their relationship collectively. The object, whichever it is, becomes a representative of these expectations within the relationship. Not always these expectations are communicated, at least not verbally. They can easily be reservations of the individual and may surface when these are challenged by the other or by external social forces. People get frustrated and vulnerable when individual and collective expectations of a relationship are not met. We usually display our disappointment and frustration through communication with important objects that surround us. Abandoning the objects which are shared in a relationship between two individuals is a display of frustration and disappointment in the relationship. It is also a display of wanting to separate and how individuals communicate their feelings of despair and disregard for the other. Individuals may also believe abandoning such objects in a relationship as the best way to hurt the other by publicly displaying their discontinuing commitment to that relationship. It is true that we all are materialistic being and cannot live without interacting with the material world. The degree of materialistic  significance and intensity of attachment vary from one individual to another.

It is not just the objects that are shared domestically but also the meanings attach to those objects. As discussed these meanings can influence how we react in our lives and what sorts of factors influence our decisions. It is not just the display of caring. It is also a display of what consist of a specific family. As we understand the perception of family is a subjective term and it vary upon many factors. Whatever we share in our household and social relationships could stand for various important meaning. Understanding sharing as a form of consumption is a much complex task and the objective of this article is to provide a small entry to an array of related topics which may open up in time.