Cathy McGouran

Cathy McGouran

PhD Thesis Title: Exploring Non-Consumption and its Effects on Consumer Well-Being.

Supervisor: Professor Andrea Prothero

External Examiner: Professor Pauline MacLaran, University of London


The primary purpose of Cathy's PhD was to explore the experience of denied materialism as an expression of a lifestyle choice known as voluntary simplicity, and to provide a rich and deep understanding of the process.  To achieve this aim,, she conducted a mixed methods study, utilising depth interviews and autoethnography. Participants agreed to curtail their consumption expenditure for purchases deemed by them to be non- essential.

The literature review draws upon the areas of consumer society, materialism and voluntary simplicity. It is observed that prior research studies on materialism are concerned with measuring it or inferring it from other constructs, but the topic has been under-researched with respect to understanding how possessions are used. Voluntary simplicity, often viewed as the opposite of materialism, had yet to be researched in an Irish context. In addition, in 2008, the Irish economy was experiencing a cataclysmic global recession that impacted Ireland and its people. This is the context in which the research study took place.

Eight participants from Dublin, Ireland were recruited for the study. They agreed to opt out of mass consumerism and to reduce their consumption, by only buying necessities (with necessities being determined by the participants themselves), for the duration of the study (three months to one year). The research consisted of a number of in-depth, unstructured, phenomenological interviews and autoethnographic journal entries. The purpose of the interviews was to allow the researcher to gain an in-depth understanding of another person’s experiences. This is also a key feature of autoethnography, which was used by the author to understand her own experiences. In this way, the methodologies complimented one another.

The findings highlighted both successes and failures that were observed by the participants. With regard to successes, it was noted that in some cases, participants chose to forgo some desired items, whereas in others, items were acquired without the need to purchase them. Participants also lapsed on occasion. Such lapses concerned four primary themes: concern for aesthetic well-being, lack of time to fully engage with the research, occasions such as birthdays and Christmas, and the need to spend money on experiences.

The conclusions highlight that participants found themselves unable to forgo the purchase of consumption experiences, and also the purchase of material objects necessary to allow them participate in these experiences. Both activities were deemed to be essential by participants. The findings describe such purchases and highlight the importance of the consumption of objects as facilitators of consumption experiences. Arising from these results, the author presents a number of recommendations for future research.

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