Summary of Richins, M. (1994) Valuing Things, Journal of Consumer Research by Laura Mihai

The key concepts presented in this article are related to meaning and value. Consumers own projects for the value they provide, and the value of possessions resides in their meaning. In terms of consumption, the value of possessions has an important role in defining the self and creating a sense of identity. The current research paper has three main objectives: 1. To discuss the meaning of a possession as the source of value for that possession 2. It examines the nature of possession meaning and makes a distinction between public and private meaning. 3. It examines the meaning ascribed to a possession by its owner (private meaning), as well as the meaning ascribed to it by members of society at large (public meaning) 1. MEANING AS THE SOURCE OF VALUE – economic value (the quality – price relationship) cannot fully capture the actual value of many of the objects owned by consumers; for instance, for some people, the most valued possession cannot be bought and sold (e.g: a photograph) – possessions play an important role in forming and reflecting the self, therefore the meaning of an object is an important source of value in terms of personal identity. 2. THE NATURE OF MEANING Semiotics: visible possessions are signs that are interpreted by observers in a given context by means of interpretive code. Connotation / Connotative Meaning: the subjective meaning an interpreter attaches to a sign in light of his or her cultural values Psychological Meaning: a person’s subjective perception and affective reaction.   3. PUBLIC / PRIVATE MEANING a. Public Meaning: subjective meanings assigned to an object by outside observers (non-owners) of the object, by members of society at large. – Although outside observers are likely to differ in some of the meanings they ascribe to an object, the general population is likely to agree on some aspects of an object’s meaning; these elements represent the object’s share public meaning. – Within a culture, the ascribed meanings of many symbols possess a high degree of consensual validation. – Although the public meaning of some goods might be stable over time, the meanings of others are dynamic – this can be influenced by TV characters, advertising, celebrities, etc.   b. Private Meaning: the sum of the objective meanings an object holds for a particular individual. It may include elements of the object’s public meanings, but the owner’s personal identity in relation to the object plays an important role. – The value and meaning of an object are cultivated over time and emanates from the psychic energy invested in it and the experiences related to it. Public Meaning has an important role in shaping desire, in determining the types of people hope to acquire. Private Meaning is more important in determining consumers’ feelings about the things they already possess.   THE SOURCES OF MEANING Meaning = multiply determined and multidimensional Dimensions of meaning for commodities: 1. Utilitarian value: commodities have value because of their usefulness. 2. Enjoyment: a possession’s capacity to enable some enjoyable activity or to otherwise provide pleasure. 3. Representations of interpersonal ties: possessions tat are gifts from a loved one, mementos, photographs. 4. Identity and self-expression: possessions reinforcing the sense of the self

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Faculty of Media & Communication, Bournemouth University