A community psychology of object meanings: Identity negotiation during disaster recovery

Stacey Menzel Baker, Ronald Paul Hill

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

32 Scopus citations


What do material goods intended for personal consumption mean to community? We use the extreme example of natural disaster recovery in a community to explore this question. Our work describes how members make sense of material objects that transition from private to public possessions (damaged goods) and public to private possessions (donated goods). By blending consumer and community psychology perspectives with our narratives, we employ a three-dimensional framework for analyzing object meanings: (1) material objects as agents of communitas (a shared sense of "we"), (2) material objects as agents of individualism (a focus on "me"), and (3) material objects as agents of opposition (the "we" that speaks for "me" and "us" versus "them"). This theoretical frame allows us to show how different conceptions of identity lead to conflicting meanings of objects within community, and to explain how and why object meanings shift as objects move across time and space from private to public and from scarcity to abundance. We also provide implications for coping with disasters that consider collective and individual identities as well as oppositional stances in between.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)275-287
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Consumer Psychology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jul 2013
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Applied Psychology
  • Marketing


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