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School of Business | Department of Marketing | Marketing | 2014
Thesis number: 13588
Authenticity of self through travel; examination of backpackers in South East Asia - an ethnographic approach
Author: Smart, Sebastian
Title: Authenticity of self through travel; examination of backpackers in South East Asia - an ethnographic approach
Year: 2014  Language: eng
Department: Department of Marketing
Academic subject: Marketing
Index terms: markkinointi; marketing; kuluttajakäyttäytyminen; consumer behaviour; matkailu; tourism; retkeily; camping; identiteetti; identity; etnografia; ethnography; Aasia; Asia
Pages: 85
Key terms: South-East Asia; tourism; authenticity; backpacking; existential authenticity; authenticity of self; ethnography; Kaakkois-Aasia; etnografia; reppumatkailu; turismi
Position of this research:

Existential authenticity (see Wang, 1999) is a relatively new concept; therefore it has not had the time to be researched very thoroughly in consumer research. Nevertheless, there does exist some noteworthy research conducted in consumer behaviour academia on the concept of existential authenticity. However, they do not examine existential authenticity as their main research question, but rather graze at the subject in relation to other issues under research. For example in consumer research academia, the attainment of one's authentic self (used as a synonym for existential authenticity) has been explored only recently by a few researchers (Beverland and Farrelly 2010; Rose and Wood 2005; Kozinets 2002; Belk and Costa 1998). These past research endeavours have explored the concept by investigating informants engaged in specific subcultures (Kozinets 2002; Belk and Costa 1998). However, Beverland and Farrelly (2010) & Rose and Wood (2005) in their research, depart from the examination of existential authenticity through investigating consumers engaged in subcultures. They are instead concerned on how authenticity is perceived by 'ordinary' informants. Their empirical research examines informants' through 'daily activities' that is watching reality television or using various artefacts to gain an in-depth understating on how they perceive authenticity. Therefore there is currently a research gap in consumer behaviour academia, as there is no research that examines the theoretical conditions for attaining existential authenticity empirically by researching informants that are not engaged in a subculture and are simultaneously engaged in leisure (i.e. non-daily) activities. This master's thesis aims to fill this gap in the current consumer behaviour literature. Furthermore, in tourism academia there has been experiential research conducted on the concept of existential authenticity (see Wang 1999: Steiner and Reisinger 2006), nevertheless there are only a few articles exploring the issue empirically (see Kim and Jamal 2007). Alas, most of the above mentioned articles, ranging from consumer behaviour to tourism studies, inspect the issue by examining informants attainment of existential authenticity through a geographical restricted, 'alternative reality' e.g. a Renaissance festival (Kim and Jamal, 2007), a fur trade re-enactment event (Belk and Costa, 1998), and a burning man festival (Kozinets, 2002). The goal of this research is to advance this stream of research by exploring the theoretical conditions that enable individuals to attain existential authenticity in a backpacking context. This is achieved by looking at the ethnography of backpackers during their journeys, which spanned a multitude of destinations (i.e. four countries). Hence answering the call put forth by Wang (1999: 366) to explore "existential authenticity" empirically in a tourism setting.

Objective of the research:

The main aim of this research is to understand what are the experiential conditions that enable consumers to attain existential authenticity through the context of backpacking, Existing consumer research on existential authenticity has been very theoretical in nature. Although there has been a noticeable amount of academic debate about the nature of authenticity, there exists very little empirical work on consumers' perceptions of attaining existential authenticity. A few noteworthy exceptions aside (see Beverland and Farrelly 2010; Rose and Wood 2005; Kozinets 2002; Belk and Costa 1998). Consequently, the goal of this thesis became one of inductively constructing a theory of the main experiential conditions that enable the attainment of existential authenticity, based on the words and actions of consumers engaged in backpacking. The literature on consumer behaviour, tourism and philosophy were able to provide a preliminary theoretical context from which to produce tentative ideas. The research approach is an ethnographic examination of backpackers in South-East Asia. As this research is interpretive in nature the aim is to gain more insights into the subject matter rather than producing broad generalizations.

Research method:

This research follows the philosophy underpinnings of existential-phenomenology as defined by Thompson et al. (1989) in essence "Existential-phenomenological understanding is attained by describing lived experience and the meaning that emerge from them. (Ibid: 139). This is achieved by researching 'other backpackers', hence the author himself is not researched as an informant. In order to gain an understanding of this complex phenomenon, I utilized an ethnography approach in data collection and coupled it with a grounded theory data analysis method. The ethnography methodology was deemed the most appropriate method as the means of divulging information about backpackers and to gain an in-depth understanding of backpacking as a consumption practice. In accordance with the practices of ethnography the author engaged in a four-month research trip to South-East Asia to gather material for this research.


The research was able to provide an understanding on how attaining existential authenticity had the potential to affect consumers' identity perceptions. Based on the preliminary theoretical framework, this research proposes a model, which is a modification of Wang's (1999) exploration of antecedents preceding the attainment of existential authenticity, as the primary theoretical framework. This model depicts the experiential conditions of how consumers were able to connect with their authentic selves in the context of backpacking. It suggest that the main experiential conditions were (1) a sense of freedom, (2) permissive behaviour with substances, (3) intimate relationships, (4) identity transformation, (5) forming self identity, (6) emergent new self, (7) kind of collaboration, (8) lasting friendships and (9) uniformity. Thus, providing some empirical verification of intra-personal authenticity and inter-personal authenticity (Ibid) providing a suitable framework to examine the experiential conditions that enabled the attainment of existential authenticity in a backpacking context.

KEYWORDS: South-East Asia, tourism, authenticity, backpacking, existential authenticity, authenticity of self, ethnography.
Master's theses are stored at Learning Centre in Otaniemi.