Consumer behaviour in the context of life-threatening illness

Abroun, N 2019, Consumer behaviour in the context of life-threatening illness, Doctor of Philosophy (PhD), Economics, Finance and Marketing, RMIT University.

Document type: Thesis
Collection: Theses

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Title Consumer behaviour in the context of life-threatening illness
Author(s) Abroun, N
Year 2019
Abstract This qualitative study explores how cancer survivors as consumers negotiate their identity and respond to the threat of death through their consumption experiences. Previous consumer research showed that consumers negotiate, reach agreement, and construct their own self among the possible selves that could emerge in the relevant context in order to cope with stigma, threat, or any negative emotional stressor. However, it is unknown how they choose their preferred identities and negotiate among possible selves.

Hermeneutic phenomenology using life story interviews with 21 survivors was applied to find the underlying patterns in the nature of consumers' behaviours. Through each individual story, the researcher sought to explore the way in which consumers negotiate their identity and how their coping predispositions are reflected through their consumption behaviours. As a first level of analysis, the researcher started intratext-level analysis with an impressionistic reading of texts and analysing behavioural and psychological trends of each consumer. At this stage, the research focus was on interpreting the plot of each story. Through intratext-level analysis, narrative movement within two episodes, pre- and post-diagnosis, was identified for each participant. Through narrative framing, she also highlighted consumers' identity through their thoughts, attitudes, feelings, and self-expression. Consumption stories were also highlighted individually over time. Within this stage of the analysis, each participant¿s story was discussed, interpreted, and written. Through the writing process, the researcher focused on three essential concepts for each participant: consumers' perception of threat, their self-expression, and their post-diagnosis behaviours.

This study discovered four essential themes, Shangri-La, Furnace, Teeter-totter, and Reincarnated, as the four main worldviews through which consumers negotiate their identity and eventually engage with coping behaviours. Within these emerging worldviews, consumers assign their subjective meaning to the threat, reach an agreement regarding their identity, and engage in consumption practices/behaviours that facilitate and support coping and their identity. These worldviews were labelled by symbolic terms to make sense of consumers' internal world when dealing with the threat.

In the Shangri-La worldview, consumers approach the threat within an optimism and idealism lens. They are prone to selectively processing information and favourably conceptualising the threat. They never absorb cancer into their identity structure and deal with it through an ongoing narrative-normative identity style. Within the Shangri-La worldview, items/possessions continue to be consumed/preserved either as a means of bracketing off the disease to guarantee the continuity of pre-established self, or as means of magic to ensure the concept of self is fixed and impenetrable to threat.
Within the Furnace worldview, consumers perceive threat with negative, evaluative, and ruminative approaches. They see cancer as their identity subject to victimising/stigmatising. They frequently compare and perceive conflicts/holes/gaps between their current senses of self, previous self, and the ideal they desire. This mode of perception leads to self-conflict, self-confusion, and consequently seclusion and behavioural disengagement. Consumers¿ self-expression within the furnace worldview reflects the diffuse-avoidant identity in which consumers who confront identity confusion attempt to delay acting with conflicts. In turn they employ an avoidant self. Instead of solving the self-voids, they engage in consuming items and activities to escape from the holes.

Within the Teeter-totter worldview, consumers' mode of perception about threat is developed in a more rational and reflective way. Via questioning, learning and practising new courses, they attempt to accommodate cancer as a new aspect of their identity structure. However, they are still attached to previous meanings that they have already built around self/ life. In fact, they are teeter-tottering between narrative-normative and informational identity styles. Consequently, their consumption is served in paradoxical ways: avoidance vs. acceptance, escape vs. exposure, and self-deception vs. self-learning.
Eventually, in the Reincarnated worldview, consumers process the threat within an experiential lens rather than an evaluating, ruminating, biased, and judgemental view. They accepted their actual identity as a person who has lost some content and values and need to continue living with uncertainty. Consumers¿ identity expression in the Reincarnated worldview reflects an experiential/observational/dynamic/mindful style rather than an enclosed, diffuse-avoidant, and teeter-tottering style. According to the Reincarnated worldview, consumers also experienced conflicts between pre- and post-cancer identity. However, instead of bracketing off, escaping, and fluctuating, they applied a combination of resurrection, recompense, and reconstruction solutions.

Within these four worldviews, this study epitomised how discrepancies in the mode of perception could pattern varied self-negotiation styles and consequently, generate different kinds of behavioural responses, adaptive or maladaptive, for survivor consumers. These worldviews had been built by consumers themselves and they can be reformed or at least improved by the help of marketers, health practitioners, and policy-makers.
Degree Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Institution RMIT University
School, Department or Centre Economics, Finance and Marketing
Subjects Marketing Theory
Keyword(s) cancer threat
consumer behaviour
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Created: Tue, 09 Jul 2019, 11:19:08 EST by Keely Chapman
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