Skip to main content
Article thumbnail
Location of Repository

Globalising the consumer: doing politics in an ethical register

By N. Clarke, C. Barnett, P. Cloke and A. Malpass

Abstract

Consumerism is often held to be inimical to collective deliberation and decision-making of the sort required to address pressing environmental, humanitarian and global justice issues. Policy interventions and academic discourse alike often assume that transforming consumption practices requires interventions that address people as consumers. This paper questions the assumption that the politics of consumption naturally implies a problematisation of consumer identities; it argues that this connection between consumption and consumers is a contingent achievement of strategically motivated actors with specific objectives in the public realm. This argument is developed through a case study of ethical consumption campaigning in the UK. Existing work in geography on alternative food networks, commodity chains and fair trade acknowledges the political intentions of such initiatives but also expresses unease about the registers of ‘consumption’, ‘ethics’ and ‘responsibility’ in which they are embedded. Focussing on the discursive interventions used in ethical consumption campaigns, we argue that these are not primarily aimed at encouraging generic consumers to recognise themselves for the first time as ‘ethical’ consumers. Rather, they aim to provide information to people already disposed to support or sympathise with certain causes; information that enables them to extend their concerns and commitments into everyday consumption practices. These acts of consumption are in turn counted, reported, surveyed and represented in the public realm by organisations that speak for the ‘ethical consumer’. These campaigns also provide supporters and sympathisers with narrative storylines. We focus on one of these storylines, which re-inscribes popular discourses of globalisation into a narrative in which people are ascribed various responsibilities by virtue of their activities as consumers but also empowered to act ethically and politically in and through these activities. We conclude that ethical consumption campaigning is a political phenomenon in which everyday consumption practices are reconstituted as the sites for citizenly acts that reach beyond the realm of consumption per se

Topics: JA, HB, BJ
Year: 2007
OAI identifier: oai:eprints.soton.ac.uk:43304
Provided by: e-Prints Soton

Suggested articles

Citations

  1. (2005). A Life Stripped Bare: Tiptoeing Through The Ethical Minefield. London:
  2. (1998). Activists Beyond Borders: Advocacy Networks
  3. (2002). An Introduction to Ethical Consumer.
  4. (2005). Beyond the boycott: Anti-consumerism, cultural change and the limits of reflexivity’,
  5. (2004). Branded political communication: Lifestyle politics, logo campaigns and the rise of global citizenship’,
  6. (2003). Citizen-Consumers: New Labour’s Marketplace Democracy.
  7. (2003). Citizenship and civic engagement: Attitudes and behaviour in
  8. (2003). Comfort, Cleanliness and Convenience: The Social Organisation of Normality.
  9. (2003). Confronting Consumption. Cambridge MA:
  10. (2004). Consumer citizens and the Cities for Climate Protection campaign’,
  11. (2005). Consuming ethics: Articulating the subjects and spaces of ethical consumption’,
  12. (2004). Consuming narratives: The political ecology of ‘alternative’ consumption’,
  13. (2005). Consumption and theories of practice’,
  14. (1995). Consumption as the vanguard of history: A polemic by way of an introduction’,
  15. (2002). Drifting away from excessive consumption: A new social movement based on identity construction’,
  16. (2005). Ecological citizenship and ethical investment’,
  17. (2006). Environmental psychology and the geographies of ethical and sustainable consumption: Aligning, triangulating, challenging?’,
  18. (2002). Ethical Shopping: Where to Shop, What to Buy and What to Do to Make a Difference. London:
  19. (2004). Global Action Plan
  20. (1999). Governmentality: Power and Rule in Modern Society.
  21. (2002). Guest editorial: Anticonsumption attitudes’,
  22. (2003). Happy days? Freedom and security in a consumer society’, Renewal:
  23. (1999). In Search of Politics.
  24. (2005). Informing ethical consumers’, in
  25. (2005). Infrastructures of Consumption.
  26. (2004). Making Public Services Personal: A New Compact for the Public Services. Independent Commission Policy Report to the National Consumer Council.
  27. (2002). Making-up people’, in Historical Ontology. Cambridge MA:
  28. (1997). Mobilising the consumer: Assembling the subject of consumption’,
  29. (1993). Movements and media as interacting systems’,
  30. (2000). No Logo.
  31. (1997). Nourishing networks: Alternative geographies of food’,
  32. (2007). Political activism: New challenges, new opportunities’,
  33. (2003). Political Virtue and Shopping: Individuals, Consumerism and Collective Action.
  34. (2005). Politics in the supermarket: Political consumerism as a form of political participation’,
  35. (2003). Politics, Products and Markets: Exploring Political Consumerism.
  36. (2007). Problematising choice: Responsible consumers, sceptical citizens’,
  37. (2004). Reading fair trade: Political ecological imaginary and the moral economy of fair trade foods’,
  38. (2003). Responsibility and global labor justice’,
  39. (2004). Rethinking the “Good Life”: The consumer as citizen’,
  40. (2003). Second Hand Cultures.
  41. (1994). Social movements as historically specific clusters of political performances’,
  42. (2006). Space, time and political responsibility in the midst of global inequality’,
  43. (2004). States, markets and an ethic of care’,
  44. (2001). Taking Flight: The Rapid Growth of Ethical Consumerism – The Ethical Purchasing Index
  45. (2001). Taking It Personally: How Globalisation Affects You and Powerful Ways to Challenge It.
  46. (2005). The consumer as economic voter’, in
  47. (1996). The death of the social? Re-figuring the territory of government’,
  48. (2005). The duties of citizens, the rights of consumers’,
  49. (2004). The ethical complex of corporate food power’, Environment and Planning D:
  50. (2003). The Ethical consumer Report 2003. The Cooperative Bank.
  51. (1988). The Green Consumer Guide: From Shampoo to Champagne – High Street Shopping for a Better Environment.
  52. (2002). The invisible mouth’: Mobilising ‘the consumer’ in food production-consumption networks’,
  53. (2004). The legacy of luxury: Moralities of consumption since the 18 th century’,
  54. (1997). The legacy of the social: Market governance and the consumer’,
  55. (2006). The modern genealogy of the consumer: Meanings, identities and political synapses before affluence’,
  56. (2004). The new political economy of public life’,
  57. (2005). The Politics of Everyday Life: Making Choice, Changing Lives. New Haven:
  58. (2001). The poverty of morality’,
  59. (1999). The Powers of Freedom. Cambridge:
  60. (1995). The Unmanageable Consumer: Contemporary Consumption and its Fragmentations.
  61. (2002). Thinking habits into action: The role of knowledge and process in questioning household consumption practices’
  62. (2004). Tropics of consumption: Getting with the fetish of 'exotic' fruit?’,
  63. (1991). Varieties of positioning’,
  64. (2006). Virtue, responsibility and consumer
  65. (2002). Voluntary simplicity and the ethics of consumption’,
  66. (2005). What’s left? Just the future’,

To submit an update or takedown request for this paper, please submit an Update/Correction/Removal Request.