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Using Greimas' semiotics in ethnic consumer research

Vol. 58 No. 2, 2016 p.201–226

Virginie Silhouette-Dercourt and Christel de Lassus

With a rapidly growing number of consumers experiencing migration around the world, the need for new research methodologies to understand ethnic consumption becomes more pressing for managers operating in global markets. The objective of this contribution is to show that Greimasian semiotics is a very relevant interpretive framework to capture the symbolic and dynamic dimensions of ethnicity. In the context of a three-cities research programme (Paris, Berlin, Kuala Lumpur), we use the spatial identity semiotic square to interpret consumers' discourses in the context of dominated and non-dominated acculturation experiences. We show that informants' discourses are structured around four identity anchors and that dual culture consumers use products, brands, ingredients and retail environments to construct their identities. Managing two spatial reference points within a coherent self can be, at times, challenging for consumers coming from 'third' or 'first' world countries. The issue is even more pressing for ethnic consumers who experience discrimination, since they are constantly reminded of their difference. This research confirms the relevance of semiotics, in terms of market research methodology, for grasping the deeper symbolic dimensions of ethnic consumers' discourse.


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