Liminality and consumption in the aftermath of a natural disaster

Pamela A. Kennett‐Hensel (Marketing Department, University of New Orleans, New Orleans, Louisiana, USA)
Julie Z. Sneath (Marketing Department, University of South Alabama, Mobile, Alabama, USA)
Russell Lacey (Marketing Department, University of New Orleans, New Orleans, Louisiana, USA)

Journal of Consumer Marketing

ISSN: 0736-3761

Publication date: 20 January 2012



This study seeks to examine how event‐induced outcomes impact consumption attitudes and buying behavior by surveying victims at distinct intervals following Hurricane Katrina, the largest natural disaster in US history.


Using van Gennep's liminal transitions framework and Belk's conceptualization of possessions and sense of self, the authors present findings from three studies: depth interviews of 21 victims conducted eight weeks after the storm; an online study of 427 victims that was conducted eight months following the storm; and a follow‐up online study of 176 victims that took place three years after the first online survey.


The results suggest that when significant life transitions occur, consumption behavior helps to facilitate the process and serves as a marker for each stage.

Research limitations/implications

Because many of the US Gulf Coast region's residents still struggle to cope with the devastation wrought by the storm, the situation offers a unique opportunity to investigate short‐ and long‐term effects of a single catastrophic event on consumers' view of possessions and subsequent consumption behavior.

Practical implications

The studies conducted by the researchers provide insight about the impact of stress and loss on natural disaster victim's purchasing behavior, both in the weeks and months following the storm as well as more than three years later.


The study explores the role of consumption in coping and recovery after a natural catastrophic event. It uses a historic US natural disaster to examine how emotional distress and associated loss of possessions have impacted victims' lives, attitudes, and buying behaviors.



Kennett‐Hensel, P., Sneath, J. and Lacey, R. (2012), "Liminality and consumption in the aftermath of a natural disaster", Journal of Consumer Marketing, Vol. 29 No. 1, pp. 52-63.

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Copyright © 2012, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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