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Cognitive Polyphasia, Cultural Legitimacy, and Behavior Change: the Case of the Illicit Alcohol Market in Kenya

Consumer Culture Theory

ISBN: 978-1-78754-286-0, eISBN: 978-1-78754-285-3

Publication date: 10 April 2019


Purpose: This chapter aims to illuminate the cultural perceptions of illicit alcohol and to examine the role of cognitive polyphasia in changing the perceptions and legitimacy of market practices.

Methodology/Approach: An ethnographic study of the Kenyan illicit alcohol market, which combined digital news media data analysis, with observation and interview data.

Findings: Cognitive polyphasia serves to delegitimize illicit alcohol by portraying it as incongruent with existing cultural beliefs, values, and assumptions. Illicit alcohol is portrayed as a contaminated product, a cursed business, a practice that causes cultural breech, and a scheme of witchcraft/sorcery used to enslave consumers. Findings also show that cognitive polyphasia involves drawing on traditional knowledge to explain misfortune and difficult social phenomena such as addiction. The delegitimation of illicit alcohol induces behavior and perception change. Consumers play an important role in this change process.

Research Implications: This research proposes the incorporation of cultural language into alcohol policy and education.

Social Implications: By illuminating social representations in the cultural-cognitive arena, a theory for applying these factors to change markets/behavior is proposed.

Originality/Value of Paper: The chapter highlights the delegitimation of market practices, unlike previous research that focuses on legitimation processes. This chapter also demonstrates how cognitive polyphasia, a scarcely researched concept in consumer research, can induce behavior change. This chapter also contributes to the literature on market/behavior change by revealing potential cultural-cognitive barriers to change.




The research was funded by Lancaster University Management School.


Mwangi, V.N., Cocker, H.L. and Piacentini, M.G. (2019), "Cognitive Polyphasia, Cultural Legitimacy, and Behavior Change: the Case of the Illicit Alcohol Market in Kenya", Bajde, D., Kjeldgaard, D. and Belk, R.W. (Ed.) Consumer Culture Theory (Research in Consumer Behavior, Vol. 20), Emerald Publishing Limited, Leeds, pp. 103-117.



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