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Narcissism and the Consuming Self: An Exploration of Consumer Identity Projects and Narcissistic Tendencies

Consumer Culture Theory

ISBN: 978-1-78441-158-9, eISBN: 978-1-78441-157-2

Publication date: 22 November 2014



The purpose of this study is to investigate narcissism in relation to consumer identity projects. Narcissism is rarely the focus of consumer culture studies, though it resonates with theories of individualistic, consumption-driven identities, and is argued to be a pervasive social trend within a hegemonic consumer culture that places the individual center stage. We explore these themes in the context of emerging adult identity projects given arguments about increasing narcissism in younger generations.


Identifying eight participants using the Narcissistic Personality Inventory – four with high and four with low scores – we conduct in-depth interviews to explore their identity projects, narcissistic traits, and brand relationships.


Through idiographic analysis, we find that those with lower narcissistic tendencies seem to have a communal orientation to both people and brands, whilst those with greater narcissistic tendencies tend to be individualistic and agentic. We relate the narcissistic consumer to Fromm’s “marketing character,” proposing four themes that emerge from the analysis: liquidity; an other-directed sense of self; conformity; and the commodification of self.

Social implications

This paper discusses the societal implications of individualistic consumer identity projects, highlighting narcissism, a concept relatively neglected within consumer culture theory. Narcissism carries with it a host of societal implications, not least of which is a focus on the self and a lack of concern with the wellbeing of others.



Lambert, A., Desmond, J. and O’Donohoe, S. (2014), "Narcissism and the Consuming Self: An Exploration of Consumer Identity Projects and Narcissistic Tendencies", Consumer Culture Theory (Research in Consumer Behavior, Vol. 16), Emerald Group Publishing Limited, Leeds, pp. 35-57.



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