Three paths to disposition: The movement of meaningful possessions to strangers

Lastovicka and Fernandez’s 2005 paper examines the process of divesting meaningful goods to strangers. Much notable literature focus on goods’ significance to an individuals’ identity, most prominently Belk’s extended self theory. Further literature especially McCracken (1986) has identified the significance of the movement of goods as a mode of transferring meaning and Young & Wallendorf (1989) define divestment in two senses, emotional detachment and physical detachment and Belk (1997) also examines divestment in terms of zones (me vs not-me) The research involved two studies, the first examining garage sales, the second online sale of wedding dresses. Lastovicka and Fernandez’s study is interesting in that it examines divested goods in terms of positive or negative valence. Objects that are held in a negative light, which hold emotional meaning but are negatively charged are gladly divested to rid oneself of an object which was “never-me” an artefact that is never appropriated by the owner because they are disenchanted with the meaning of the object. Divesting enables a transition of meaning, ridding oneself of a high-society-associated punch bowl reinforces ones proud working class status, displaying that self is not only defined by what one owns but can be shaped by what one chooses to disown. The authors also identify past-undesired self as a reason for divestment; this valuation differs from the “never-me” idea in that the good, once appropriated and loved may now remind the owner of a painful or unhappy time, an ex-boyfriend’s guitar for example. Divesting the item associated with that past undesired self allows a movement towards a more ideal future self. Further, the study examines positive valence and divestment. This aspect is more painful for the seller as they still hold positive attachments to the good, the paper discovers distancing as a coping mechanism for those divesting positively valued goods, either physically away from the sale or by distancing the object from the main sale, in hoping that it won’t be discovered and sold. Divestment rituals are explored further with emphasis on retaining or eroding private meanings of goods. Iconic transfer is a mode of retaining private meaning (albeit in an incomplete form) from a divested good, taking pictures was cited as a way of keeping the emotional attachment of a piece whilst losing the physical embodiment. Eroding, as explained somewhat by McCracken (1986) involves the cleansing of personalisation or soiling of goods to be divested; by cleansing the self from objects it makes it easier for both the seller and receiver to part from and accept and appropriate respectively. The study also gleans the idea of a transitional space as a way of eroding meaning from objects; the subjects tended to use a room, basement, garage etc to store things away for extended periods of time; thus transitioning the object from me towards not-me; after all it is through investment and interaction that objects are appropriated (Csikszentmihalyi & Rochberg-Halton, 1981) Cleansing removes private meaning and serves to recomodify the object. Transferring meaning is also possible through divestment; by disclosing the story behind an object sellers are able to pass on some element of undesired past self onto a new owner, which acts as a healing process for the seller, the same can be true for positive valance; giving a sense of continuing the object’s meaning for the seller. Shared meaning(me-we) can take place when the seller finds a kindred spirit in the receiver, in fact some sellers in the study were unwilling to part with objects until they found a buyer who they deemed worthy to carry on the object’s legacy. This form of divestment can lessen the need of boundary crossing or transitional ritual. The boundary from me-we is more easily taken and porous. In summary Both objects associated with the past undesired self and those that were never fully appropriated are often eagerly divested and may not need to go through a transitional phase in order to be sold or discarded. Those objects which represent a past desirable self are hard to let go of, and may be consciously or unconsciously distanced from the buyer or seller in order to remove oneself from the act of divestment. If these objects are to be divested they often are cleansed and go through a transitional space to far remove them from the original owner. Iconic transfer through taking pictures etc, can allow the original owner to keep some semblance of private meaning from a divested object. Sharing the story of an object can help to transfer meaning to new owners either positive or negative, which can help to ease the pain of parting with an object, or to remove some of the negative private meaning through divulging the story. Share meaning can be attained when divesting highly prized goods to a kindred spirit who is seen to share the same passion for the artefact. Transferring in this sense is easier and the original owner may maintain contact with the buyer to assure that the legacy of the item is being carried on.  



Faculty of Media & Communication, Bournemouth University