Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Business Administration




Interdepartmental Program

First Advisor

Nikhilesh Dholakia


With technological advance, virtuality and virtual consumption have been evolving to become increasingly important in marketing landscapes worldwide. Theoretical and methodological approaches for study of virtuality and consumption, however, have not kept pace. In terms of theoretical approach, the existing literature has been primarily focused on virtual consumption in virtuality as a place of “de-localization” and “de-realization” In terms of methodological approach, there have been various conflicting opinions concerning different methodological procedures to be followed. Moreover, in terms of empirical study, there is little existing literature dealing with virtuality and virtual consumption in context other than western. Given the fact that China is now the largest virtual goods market in the world and has unique sociocultural characteristics, studies on virtuality and virtual consumption in the context of China’s market are particularly needed.

To fill these research gaps, this dissertation aims to begin a process of theoretical and methodological renewal, and then to apply such renewed approaches to the study of virtuality and virtual consumption in context of China’s market.

Starting with introduction of major extant theories of virtuality and discussion of such theoretical perspectives in the context of studies of virtual consumption, chapter two of this dissertation presents a broader and integrated conceptual framework for analysis of virtual consumption, which is based on both perspectives of “virtuality as place”, and “virtuality as practice/process” Additionally, chapter two also identifies the research questions that have not been addressed in prior studies and will be addressed in this dissertation.

Chapter three examines the qualitative methods to be applied in study of virtuality and virtual consumption, with special focus on the methodological challenge and adaptation of ethnography, and demonstrates the benefits of using digital ethnography to take advantage of the opportunities offered by Web 2.0 and Web 3.0, and address the methodological challenges.

Applying the theoretical and methodological approach discussed in previous chapters, chapter 4 first generates a historical narrative of rapidly changed and persistently unchanged aspects of reality in China, as a larger place, that suits virtuality and virtual consumption. Then, the chapter explores how the Chinese post-1990 generation consumers, as the largest segment of virtual goods market in China, navigate between the virtuality and reality and mediates between the old and the new. The main finding is that through self-control, compromise, and negotiation in the process of virtual consumption, the Chinese post-1990 generation consumers strike a balance between their virtual world experience and their offline daily life, and develop a coherent perception of self.

Collectively, this dissertation has advanced the state of knowledge of virtuality and virtual consumption in general, and in China’s market context in particular.



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