The Belonging Paradox: The Belonging Experience of Committed Uncertain Members
Harris, Garth Everett
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The existing literature in marketing and consumer behavior tends to adopt a somewhat static view of membership and belonging, focusing on the status uncertainty that surrounds new group aspirants. In the literature, the portrayal of becoming a member is one of a logical step-by-step process as members move toward the top of the social hierarchy and secure status. An underlying assumption of this process is that once an individual secures membership through status, that individual is no longer uncertain about their membership or belonging. This thesis presents an alternative to this static step-by-step view and introduces the idea of the belonging paradox. A belonging paradox is a recursive cycle of an unsolvable duality of simultaneous inclusion and exclusion that can result from idiosyncratic factors such as gender, race, disability or self-doubt. This thesis also develops a new conceptual framework or perspective on the concept of belonging by integrating Uncertainty-Identity Theory, Self-Verification Theory and Symbolic Self-Completion Theory into a more dynamic and fluid understanding about the nature of belonging. Through the introduction of the belonging paradox and the new conceptual framework of belonging, a more comprehensive understanding of belonging emerges. Specifically, the belonging paradox suggests that beyond the initial stages of striving for group membership, uncertainty of belonging can continue to be a pervasive, continuous struggle even for committed hardcore group members. Through an analysis of the skateboarding subculture, this thesis illustrates how members continuously construct and shape their own belonging experience within groups. It also demonstrates the different ways members use consumption to try to cope with the duality and constant tension of the belonging paradox as well as explores the link between uncertainty and the ability to play with identities. This leads to a number of theoretical and managerial contributions.
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