Moving up, down or sideways? Exploring consumer experience of identity and status incongruence

Sofia Ulver, Jacob Östberg

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

27 Citations (SciVal)


Purpose - The purpose of this article is to argue that consumers experience conflict not only when in identity transitions or social status transitions but also in-between these two, and that the relationship between these two is becoming increasingly important to address. First, this is done by identifying how status transitions (vertical movements) overlap but differ in some important respects from identity transitions (horizontal movements), and second, the consumption strategies used by people when these movements lead to an experience of conflict between one's (new/old) identity role and (new/old) status position have been demonstrated. Design/methodology/approach - In this multi-sited, qualitative data collection, the phenomenological and ethnographic interviews have been conducted with 35 urban middle-class consumers in their homes at three culturally and historically different sites (Sweden, Turkey and the USA). Findings - The importance and kind of a consumption strategy to resolve the status-identity incongruence relates if it is mainly a vertically or horizontally determined transition. To consumers with a main focus on status change - characterised by hierarchical and competitive dimensions that identity role transitions are free from - the engagement in consumption becomes more important and intense. Practical implications - Marketers have historically mainly been engaged in static categorisation and segmentation of consumer lifestyles. By instead emphasising consumers' life transitions and their accompanying status-identity conflicts, marketers may consider the implications for market communication. Social implications - Given that liquid modernity (Bauman, 2001) and its loose social structures forces the middle-class to become increasingly socially mobile, matches and mismatches between identity and status positions ought to become more common and the resulting consumption strategies more sophisticated. This research offers a first, tentative framework for understanding these conflicts in relation to consumption. Originality/value - Although lifestyle transitions have often been elaborated on in consumer research, the differences between social status transitions and identity transitions, and especially the conflict in-between these two, have not been paid its deserved attention. Based on multi-sited, qualitative data collection, concrete consumption strategies following the experience of status-identity incongruence have been identified. The results also contribute to a better understanding of the growing uncertainty and volatility of social status positions in contemporary middle-class consumer culture.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)833-853
JournalEuropean Journal of Marketing
Issue number5-6
Publication statusPublished - 2014

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Business Administration


  • Identity
  • Transition
  • Consumption
  • Consumer culture
  • Social status
  • Incongruence


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