Consumer Acculturation within Cities as Sites of Consumption and Intercultural Interactions

Sorush Sepehr reflects on the article, “City, Consumption and Interculturalism: How Cities Can Facilitate Consumer Acculturation,” which was written with Hartmut Holzmüller, and Philip J. Rosenberger, III and published in Australasian Marketing Journal.

In this paper, we discuss how immigrant consumers’ engagement in city-related activities can result in the creation of a sense of belonging to the city and hosting society. But our research all started when an unexpected theme emerged while conducting another project. We were originally investigating how the rise of anti-immigration and xenophobic discourses are experienced by immigrant consumers. I was conducting in-depth interviews with first-generation Iranian immigrants in Dortmund, a major city in the western part of Germany, and after only a few interviews, an interesting theme started to emerge: the city plays an important role in some of the participants’ narratives of identity. Based on this theme, we started to ask, ‘How can cities facilitate immigrant consumer acculturation?’

Our findings showed that in a context in which the domination of anti-immigration and xenophobic discourses sharply divides the notions of the home (e.g. Iran) and the host (e.g. Germany) countries, the city can function as a bridge for immigrants to develop a sense of belonging to the hosting society. This is also because developing a sense of belonging to the host city is more relatable for immigrants as they experience the city in their everyday life, compared to the notion of country as a more idealist space.

Our findings showed the experiences of the city mostly take on consumption forms and are mediated through marketplace. We particularly found three ways through which a sense of belonging to the city is constructed amongst immigrant consumers:

  1. City-related rituals: engaging in routine, expressive and symbolic city-related practices – e.g. supporting the local football club.
  2. Nostalgic, private appropriation of public space: experiencing socio-spatial similarities between a specific place in the city of residence and a familiar space in the original home country – e.g. attending a weekly street market that resembles ones at the home country.
  3. Reterritorialization: engaging in the existing rivalries in the hosting society as a form of an ingroup-outgroup boundary-making process in relation to cities/regions (e.g. comparing the city with other cities in Germany based on the cultural attributes, quality of beer and carnivals).

One important implication of these findings is underscoring the necessity of bringing the conversation about diversity and diversity management to micro-level, everyday experiences. Currently, the dominant paradigm of diversity-management policymaking and research tends to categorize ethic minority people based on macro-level factors such as nationality, ethnicity and religion, which reduces these people to only one aspect of their being. Therefore, beyond the dichotomy of the home and host countries, there is a need for a more thorough understanding of ethnic minority consumers’ experiences in their everyday lives, in relation to the sociocultural and material properties of the spaces they experience (e.g. city, neighborhood, marketplace).

The findings of this study reminded me of an excerpt from a poem by Sohrab Sepehri, a 20th century Iranian poet:

Wherever I am, here I am
The sky is mine
Window, imagination, air, love, earth are mine
Why it should matter
If sometimes
The fungus of wistfulness grows.
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Sorush Sepehr

Sorush Sepehr is a consumer and marketing researcher and lecturer at the University of Technology Sydney, Ultimo, NSW, Australia. In his research, Sorush adopts a sociological and cultural approach to the study of consumers and market relations – how power structures in the marketplace and beyond form the consumer subject, and how these power dynamics are experienced by consumers. Sorush’s teaching is in the areas of marketing communications, strategic international marketing and consumer behavior.

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