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The Nouveaux Pauvres of Liquid Modernity

Research in Consumer Behavior

ISBN: 978-1-78052-116-9, eISBN: 978-1-78052-117-6

Publication date: 7 November 2011


Purpose – The purpose of the current research is to enhance our understanding of how nouveaux pauvres consumers use consumption to cope with their life situations. We use the term nouveaux pauvres to represent middle-class consumers who experience a decrease in sociocultural status relative their previous situation.

Methodology – The data for this study were collected over a four-year period in Sweden, Turkey, and the United States. Various qualitative data collection and analysis methods were used, such as phenomenological and ethnographic interviews, as well as ethnographic observation.

Findings – We identify three different ways that nouveaux pauvres consumers experience their loss of status. Some experience feelings of shame and guilt, others are left in a vacuum and some grieve their lost identity position. We then propose three different strategies that nouveaux pauvres consumers might choose to cope with the loss of status. Some engage in inventing a new consumer role for themselves, others choose a more reluctant strategy of opting out of social circles and isolating oneself, and finally there are those that engage in straightforward reconstruction of their old identity. Furthermore, each of the three consumption strategies links to a specific kind of downward movement – from unfamiliar/familiar to familiar/unfamiliar social spaces – for each individual.

Originality/value of paper – The consumer experience of downward status transformations has been curiously neglected in consumer culture theory. Since contemporary consumer cultures are increasingly characterized by liquidity and movement, it is likely that the experience of descending in status will be more common in the future and therefore of utmost importance to understand more fully.



Ulver-Sneistrup, S. and Ostberg, J. (2011), "The Nouveaux Pauvres of Liquid Modernity", Belk, R.W., Grayson, K., Muñiz, A.M. and Jensen Schau, H. (Ed.) Research in Consumer Behavior (Research in Consumer Behavior, Vol. 13), Emerald Group Publishing Limited, Leeds, pp. 217-232.



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