Holding On or Letting Go: Inheritance as a Liminal Experience

Victoria K. Wells*, Marylyn Carrigan, Navdeep Athwal

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)
69 Downloads (Pure)


Marketing and consumer research has drawn attention to life transitions as critical sites of consumption but has insufficiently explored bereavement, a universal life transition that can involve (un)wanted inheritance, initiating a potential cycle of retention, reimagining or disposal. Life transitions represent potentially transformative moments of consumption when individual consumption can be more positively redirected towards sustainable choices. Using semi-structured interviews and qualitative data, this study critically investigates the cycle of inheritance consumption, informed by Evans’ understanding of consumption with an emphasis on both acquisition and disposal. The study uncovers three liminal stages: separation and detachment; instability, ambiguity and prolonged liminality; and stability and completeness. First, we expand the scope of empirical consumer research by conceptualising inheritance as liminal. Second, we illuminate the inheritance consumption cycle, showing liminal inheritance stages are critical transition moments that trigger complex positive and negative emotional responses, with implications for whether goods remain suspended or pass into further utility. Finally, we extend liminality theory by conceptualising bereavement as a liminal life transition, and call for researchers to study inheritance beyond acquisition, since how inherited goods are retained or divested in liminal moments can have implications for sustainability and may provide opportunities to steer more responsible and fulfilling consumption with an emphasis on limits rather than excess.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)509-532
Number of pages24
JournalMarketing Theory
Issue number3
Early online date9 Mar 2023
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2023


  • Liminality
  • Sustainability
  • Consumption
  • Bereavement
  • Life Transition
  • Inheritance
  • bereavement
  • inheritance
  • consumption
  • life transition
  • sustainability

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Marketing


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