Sunday, April 29, 2012

What is contemporary global nomadism and how does it affect materialism?

Is John Lennon's line "imagine no possessions" not as idealistic as it once seemed? According to a new study in the Journal of Consumer Research, globalization has led to a new class of "global nomads" who are less attached to material objects.

"No one has studied contemporary global nomads and their relationship to possessions, and we can learn so much about how deterritorialization affects consumer culture from this unique and growing group of people," write authors Fleura Bardhi (Northeastern University), Giana M. Eckhardt (Suffolk University), and Eric J. Arnould (Bath University). "As possessions are seen as bumps on the road during geographical movement, the nomadic perspective challenges our existing views of possessions as central to consumer identity."

The authors conducted in-depth interviews with "elite global nomads," most of them from the United States, but several from the United Kingdom, Canada, Turkey and Romania. According to the authors, these nomads travel more than 60 percent of the year and tend to work for global institutions like the UN, IMF, World Bank, and global NGOs.

"Global nomads tend to form situational attachments to objects, appreciate objects primarily for their instrumental use-value, and value immaterial or 'light' possessions as well as practices," the authors write. And they need their possessions to be portable, like portable electronics. They also value objects that help them stay connected to networks, like e-books and digital photos. "It is not the object per se that is valued, but rather its accessibility. Thus, possessions are replaceable and are not salient or part of the individual's extended self." Unlike migrants and expatriates who long for a home and relationships they left behind, global nomads are liberated from emotional, social, and physical obligations.

"Globalization theorists argue that global nomadism will become more prevalent in the future, and thus the liquid relationship to possessions that we identify will become an important lens in which to understand the new role of objects in people's lives, as consumers will seek to temporarily access objects rather than own them over long periods of time," the authors conclude.

EurekAlert. 2012. "What is contemporary global nomadism and how does it affect materialism?". EurekAlert. Posted: April 16, 2012. Available online:

Fleura Bardhi, Giana M. Eckhardt, and Eric J. Arnould. "Liquid Relationship to Possessions." Journal of Consumer Research: October 2012. For more information, contact Fleura Bardhi ( or visit


redbeard said...

I opened the post thinking it was going to be about the homeless youth culture which seems to exist in every city across the globe.

But it wasn't the subject of the post that was jarring, it was the tone and apparent audience.

So very disappointed to read something that sounds like it was to be delivered to marketing analysts going after a tiny but powerful demographic instead of for general science.

Tony D'Andrea said...

Interesting study, but a minor clarification on originality is necessary, as there are prior studies on global nomadism, such as those by Heather Hindman and mine (Anthony D'Andrea).

Back in 2007, I already used the concept of deterritorialization to interpret mobile cultures in my book "Global Nomads" (Routledge International Library of Sociology).

In sum, scholars need to be a bit more careful with claims of originality which academic publishers seem to quick to rebroadcast.

Thank you. Sincerely,

Anthony D'Andrea, PhD