The Fire of Desire: A Multisited Inquiry into Consumer Passion

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The Fire of Desire: A Multisited Inquiry into
Consumer Passion
RUSSELL W. BELK
¨
GULIZ GER
SØREN ASKEGAARD*
Desire is the motivating force behind much of contemporary consumption. Yet consumer research has devoted little specific attention to passionate and fanciful consumer desire. This article is grounded in consumers’ everyday experiences of longing for and fantasizing about particular goods. Based on journals, interviews, projective data, and inquiries into daily discourses in three cultures (the United States, Turkey, and Denmark), we develop a phenomenological account of desire. We find that desire is regarded as a powerful cyclic emotion that is both discomforting and pleasurable. Desire is an embodied passion involving a quest for otherness, sociality, danger, and inaccessibility. Underlying and driving the pursuit of desire, we find self-seduction, longing, desire for desire, fear of being without desire, hopefulness, and tensions between seduction and morality. We discuss theoretical implications of these processes for consumer research.

C

onsider a child’s Christmas anywhere in the world that
celebrates Santa and his avatars as magical gift-bringers.
For such a child, desire is palpable, and hope hangs as heavily as stuffed stockings on the fireplace mantle. Yet most prior understandings of consumers do very little to encompass the
excited state of desire that moves children and adults alike. This is not to say that desire has failed to seep into or
even permeate consumer research. In fact, many studies of
consumption touch upon phenomena intimately related to
consumer desire, even though an explicit development of
the construct is still lacking in the consumer behavior literature. There is also spreading consensus that much, if not all, consumption has been quite wrongly characterized as
involving distanced processes of need fulfillment, utility
maximization, and reasoned choice. Studies debunking this
perspective include those investigating impulse purchasing
(Rook 1987; Rook and Hoch 1985), compulsive consumption (O’Guinn and Faber 1989), hedonic experiences (Hol-

brook and Hirschman 1982), ritual (Rook 1985), rites of
intensification (Belk and Costa 1998), paradoxes of possession (Mick and Fournier 1998), sacralization (Belk, Wallendorf, and Sherry 1989), sacrifice (Ahuvia 1992), mystique (Schouten and McAlexander 1995), mystery (Belk 1991), temptation (Thompson, Pollio, and Locander 1994),

flow (Celsi, Rose, and Leigh 1993), play (Holt 1995), magic (Arnould and Price 1993; Arnould, Price, and Otnes 1999),
self-reward (Mick and DeMoss 1990), embodiment (Joy and
Venkatesh 1994; Thompson and Hirschman 1995; Zaltman
and Coulter 1995), vital energy channeling (Gould 1991b),
transcendence (Sherry 1983), pursuit of the sublime (Holbrook et al. 1984), and fantasies, dreams, and myths (Levy 1986, 1999). All of these studies investigate processes
closely related to consumer desire.
A sharp distinction between consumer desire versus needs
or wants is evident in the way that we refer to these concepts in everyday language. In a conceptual paper, we observed
that:

*Russell W. Belk is the N. Eldon Tanner Professor in the David Eccles School of Business, University of Utah, 1645 E. Campus Center Drive, Salt Lake City, UT 84112-9305 (e-mail: mktrwb@business.utah.edu). Guliz Ger is professor of marketing at Bilkent University, 06800 Bilkent, ¨

Ankara, Turkey (e-mail: ger@bilkent.edu.tr). Søren Askegaard is professor of marketing at University of Southern Denmark, Odense, Campusvej 55, KD-5230, Odense M, Denmark (e-mail: aske@sam.sdu.dk). This article is truly a joint effort by the authors, to the extent that we often can no longer distinguish who wrote what. The authors wish to thank the reviewers, the associate editor, and the editor for their help and advice

We burn and are aflame with desire; we are pierced by or
riddled with desire; we are sick or ache with desire; we are tortured,...
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