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Trying to Be Cosmopolitan


  • Thompson, Craig J
  • Tambyah, Siok Kuan


Cosmopolitanism is often heralded as a cultural orientation ideally suited to the sociocultural and economic complexities emanating from the accelerating pace of globalization. In this study, we analyze the consumption stories of expatriate professionals who are trying to enact a cosmopolitan identity. For these participants, trying to be cosmopolitan precipitates a nexus of salient experiential tensions and conflicts that are negotiated through their consumption and leisure practices. Although these expatriates identify with dominant cosmopolitan ideals of nomadic mobility and cultural adaptability, their consumer stories reveal a host of countervailing tensions deriving from emotional and interpersonal ties to home, desires for communal affiliations, and enduring preferences for familiar goods and places. We trace the history of colonial and patriarchal meanings that form the ideological underpinnings to these tensions. We propose that these ideological complexities and contradictions foster a paradoxical effacement of the conventional boundaries between work and leisure and between touristic practices and everyday consumer experiences. We discuss the implications of our analysis for theoretical conceptions of postmodern consumption and for consumer research on consumption goals. Copyright 1999 by the University of Chicago.

Suggested Citation

  • Thompson, Craig J & Tambyah, Siok Kuan, 1999. "Trying to Be Cosmopolitan," Journal of Consumer Research, Oxford University Press, vol. 26(3), pages 214-241, December.
  • Handle: RePEc:oup:jconrs:v:26:y:1999:i:3:p:214-41
    DOI: 10.1086/209560

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