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Value: Intrinsic or Just Symbolic?

Value: Intrinsic or Just Symbolic?
Model wearing jewellery with large pieces photoshopped across the image

At the end of the day, luxury is and has always been symbolic.

Luxury, as promoted by a Euro-American culture has served as an outward-facing indication that people have financial means, sophistication and power of exclusive access. However, in recent times of mass luxury and discounting of luxury brands, the question becomes, “What am I paying for?” If everyone can get access, if the quality is subpar, if this same item will be sold at half-price in coming weeks, where is the luxury?

The philosophy of Western luxury, was first conceptually defined by Veblen [1], as a perceptual marker reinforcing an individual’s social stature. A visible signifier for affluent individuals to leverage their purchasing power to access rare and unattainable luxuries [2].

Homemade Luxury Jewelry by Adele Dejak


Middle-class consumers, and particularly emerging middle class consumers, feel pressured to purchase high value items to conform and comply to social norms that signal status to gain recognition from peers [3]. Such social groups are central in influencing deeply symbolic luxury consumption culture, and further establishes and reinforces culturally bound luxury concepts such as African luxury.

The meaning or essence of such luxury consumption may begin symbolically; however, a purchase that begins this way often evolves to true interest of what makes the items and services so special. This enhanced value for the customer through education builds a stronger loyalty and relationship between customer and brand.

In some countries and cultures, the consumption of luxury items is highly valued (and expected) social currency, not only for acceptance, but also as a necessity for gift giving. These cultural dynamics should not be underestimated as they influence and inform the perception of value by addressing and fulfilling complex personal and social imperatives.

In Yoruba culture it is an imperative to be industrious in life and generous in community by way of hosting others and distributing gifts [5]. The expression of luxury is communal. The moral Yoruba subject:

“must spend money on his [sic] house and on his clothes so that he can be well dressed. He must spend money on entertaining at the time of his annual religious ceremony, contribute generously to the ceremonies and funerals of his close relatives by birth and marriage, and entertain his guests and the members of his club in a manner befitting his means. A principal rule of Yoruba hospitality is that a man must offer food and drink to anyone who comes to visit him” [6].


Select one of the articles below from the reading material list and share your insights with the rest of your peers down below. In addition, reflect on you own luxury culture and how it might situate in your selected article.

Reading material:

The Psychology Behind Why People Buy Luxury Goods

The Psychological Appeal of Status Symbols

Who is the Luxury Consumer? A Guide to the Psychology of Luxury


  1. Veblen, T. (1899). Conspicuous Consumption. In The Theory of the Leisure Class. B. W. Huebsch.
  2. Kapferer, J. N., & Valette-Florence, P. (2019). How self-success drives luxury demand: An integrated model of luxury growth and country comparisons. Journal of Business Research, 102(May 2018), 273–287.
  3. Shukla, P. (2012). The influence of value perceptions on luxury purchase intentions in developed and emerging markets. InternationalMarketingReview,29(6),574–596.
  4. Shukla, P., & Purani, K. (2012). Comparing the importance of luxury value perceptions in cross-national contexts. Journal of Business Research, 65(10), 1417–1424.
  5. Bascom, William (1951), ‘Social Status, Wealth and Individual Differences Among the Yoruba’, American Anthropologist 53:4, pp. 490-505. DOI: 10.1525/aa.1951.53.4.02a00040.
  6. Boyer, Ruth (1983), ‘Yoruba Cloths with Regal Names’, African Arts 16:2, pp. 42- 98. DOI: 10.2307/3335848.
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Africa to the World: Analysing the Global Appeal for African Luxury Fashion

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