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Title:Social class consciousness and consumer culture in transition—exploring the "new poor" in Taiwan and the U.S.
Author(s):Chen, Wei-Fen
Director of Research:Nelson, Michelle R.
Doctoral Committee Chair(s):Nelson, Michelle R.
Doctoral Committee Member(s):Vargas, Patrick T.; Sandefur, Rebecca L.; Stole, Inger L.
Department / Program:Inst of Communications Rsch
Discipline:Communications and Media
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Subject(s):Consumer Culture
Social Mobility
Abstract:The examination of social class and consumption is often grounded in a static and fixed understanding of social class consciousness to assume that consumers identify with a particular social class so that they can perform corresponding consumption practices. This study offers a departure from that dominant perspective by discussing the fragmented social class consciousness of the "new poor," the younger generation who lost their economic security in the Great Recession in the end of the first decade of the 21st century. Their non-economic capitals (i.e., social, emotional, and cultural capital) acquired in their upbringing, include higher educational attainment, a middle-class taste, a safety net, and positive self-esteem and emotions. These forms of capital are incongruent with their current, low-level economic standing. In other words, due to rapid societal changes, the new poor are caught in double binds, i.e., the capital into which they have grown does not fit the changing economic environment so that their skills and knowledge have been devalued. Their multi-faceted social class consciousness can thus yield differing and ambivalent class-based implications. In this study, an interpretative, inductive, and Consumer Culture Theory (CCT) approach is taken to examine how new poor consumers interpret their identity strain and reproduce the in-between social position in everyday consumption practices. Through 20 in-depth interviews among self-defined new poor informants in Taiwan and the U.S., the finding suggests that they tend to view their social position as a "failed entitlement." In order to restore their failed entitlement to material well-being in the field of consumption, informants on the one hand develop a narrative that signals their non-economic capital through moderate consumption, while on the other hand "capitalize" their advantages to afford things that are out of their price range. These eclectic narratives and strategies differentiate them from other low-income consumers and/or middle-class counterparts. However, while their consumption practices reflect a balance among different forms of class-based capital, as well as an understanding of the new socioeconomic reality, they cannot be accumulated to help contribute to substantial improvement of informants' economic standing. As such, informants' disadvantaged economic position may be further marginalized their everyday shopping. This study employs a subjective and relative terms to understand consumers' deprivation experience, hopefully to articulate consumers’ behavior to their psychographic features, instead of standardized demographic variables. This study contributes to scholarly work striving to understand the social class implications of consumer behavior in today’s income inequality context. New poor consumers' practices reveal how social class can be signaled and reproduced in downward mobility, as well as how social class remains a key mechanism that mediates lifestyle variations in the contemporary marketplace.
Issue Date:2016-04-18
Rights Information:Copyright 2016 Wei-Fen Chen
Date Available in IDEALS:2016-07-07
Date Deposited:2016-05

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