What is contemporary global nomadism and how does it affect materialism?

April 16, 2012, University of Chicago

Is John Lennon's line "imagine no possessions" not as idealistic as it once seemed? According to a new study in the Journal of Consumer Research, globalization has led to a new class of "global nomads" who are less attached to material objects.

"No one has studied contemporary global nomads and their relationship to , and we can learn so much about how deterritorialization affects consumer culture from this unique and growing group of people," write authors Fleura Bardhi (Northeastern University), Giana M. Eckhardt (Suffolk University), and Eric J. Arnould (Bath University). "As possessions are seen as bumps on the road during geographical movement, the nomadic perspective challenges our existing views of possessions as central to consumer identity."

The authors conducted in-depth interviews with "elite global nomads," most of them from the United States, but several from the United Kingdom, Canada, Turkey and Romania. According to the authors, these nomads travel more than 60 percent of the year and tend to work for global institutions like the UN, IMF, World Bank, and global NGOs.

"Global nomads tend to form situational attachments to objects, appreciate objects primarily for their instrumental use-value, and value immaterial or 'light' possessions as well as practices," the authors write. And they need their possessions to be portable, like . They also value objects that help them stay connected to networks, like e-books and digital photos. "It is not the per se that is valued, but rather its accessibility. Thus, possessions are replaceable and are not salient or part of the individual's extended self." Unlike migrants and expatriates who long for a home and relationships they left behind, global nomads are liberated from emotional, social, and physical obligations.

"Globalization theorists argue that global nomadism will become more prevalent in the future, and thus the liquid relationship to possessions that we identify will become an important lens in which to understand the new role of objects in people's lives, as consumers will seek to temporarily access objects rather than own them over long periods of time," the authors conclude.

Explore further: George Clooney or Saddam Hussein? Why do consumers pay for celebrity possessions?

More information: Fleura Bardhi, Giana M. Eckhardt, and Eric J. Arnould. "Liquid Relationship to Possessions." Journal of Consumer Research: October 2012. ejcr.org/

Related Stories

Trash or treasure? Families and their beloved possessions

July 20, 2009

Whether it's grandpa's piano or a Nintendo Wii, certain objects become a part of family routines and histories. A new study in the Journal of Consumer Research helps explain why some possessions wind up in permanent storage ...

Online game theft earns real-world conviction

January 31, 2012

(AP) -- The amulet and mask were a 13-year-old boy's virtual possessions in an online fantasy game. In the real world, he was beaten and threaten with a knife to give them up.

Recommended for you

Unprecedented study of Picasso's bronzes uncovers new details

February 17, 2018

Musee national Picasso-Paris and the Northwestern University/Art Institute of Chicago Center for Scientific Studies in the Arts (NU-ACCESS) have completed the first major material survey and study of the Musee national Picasso-Paris' ...

Humans will actually react pretty well to news of alien life

February 16, 2018

As humans reach out technologically to see if there are other life forms in the universe, one important question needs to be answered: When we make contact, how are we going to handle it? Will we feel threatened and react ...

Using Twitter to discover how language changes

February 16, 2018

Scientists at Royal Holloway, University of London, have studied more than 200 million Twitter messages to try and unravel the mystery of how language evolves and spreads.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.