Consumer Culture in Transition—The Consumption Habits and Mobility Experiences of Globally-Mobile Millennials from China

Published on: 2017-03-27


[Update on 2017.04.12] The venue is changed to IAS2042, 2/F, Lo Ka Chung Building, Lee Shau Kee Campus.


This project explores the consumption habits of emerging market consumers who are globally and upwardly mobile. While social mobility has been a common theme in the field of social science and is usually studied in macro-societal perspectives regarding mobility rates, this study joins an emerging scholarship in consumer research to examine how such transition into a new socioeconomic reality is lived at the individual level through everyday consumption. Data were collected in 2016 through in-depth interviews with twenty-seven first-generation Chinese international students, who were enrolled in a major U.S. university on personal funds. Three themes emerged in data analysis. First, informants weighed their capital loss as much as their capital gain, and perceived their upward mobility to be highly overlapped with geographically outbound mobility. Second, while informants were exposed first-hand to the western consumer society and employed western norms to interpret their consumption, they nonetheless referred to Chinese contexts to evaluate what the popular, legitimate imagination of “the west” would be. Third, informants’ mobility experiences have shaped their multiple forms of luxury consumption, namely, essential luxury, elite-class hedonic luxury, and ephemeral, experiential luxury.

About the Speaker

Wei-Fen Chen joined HKUST in 2016 as a post-doctoral fellow in the Institute for Emerging Market Studies after receiving her Ph.D. in Communications and Media from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Her research focuses on consumer culture and social stratification, particularly in regard to the psychographic and demographic features and consumption practices of individuals experiencing upward/downward social mobility. She was a recipient of the Fulbright Fellowship, the S. Watson and Elizabeth S. Dunn Fellowship, and the Dissertation Completion Fellowship from the Chiang Ching-kuo Foundation for International Scholarly Exchange. Before joining the academia, she worked as a government officer in Taiwan and was specialized in press liaison and media strategy.

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Photo by SimonQ錫濛譙 / Flickr. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

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