Consumers and morality

The moral complexion of consumption


Borgmann A. 2000. Journal of Consumer Research 26: 418-422.


In this article, Borgmann explores the notion of high levels of consumption as being morally objectionable, by further investigating the relationship between consumption and patterns of technology. The article ends with suggested directions for further research in this field.




The Moral Universe


Bentley T. and Stedman Jones D. (Eds) 2001. Demos Collection Issue 16. London: Demos.


This collection of essay about the ‘Moral Universe’ uses an ethical framework for examining contemporary social and political change. The essays speak to a number of themes, including diversity, globalisation, individualism and institutions. There are also a number of essays that directly address the topics of ethical consumption, trade and production.



Consuming morality


Wilk R. 2001. Journal of Consumer Culture 1(2): 245-260.


In this article, Wilk investigates the relationship between morality and consumption. Using theories of moral philosophy and contemporary examples from American culture, this paper makes the case for further study of consumption as an inherently moral issue in process and practice. 




Consuming risk, consuming science: the case of GM foods


Tulloch J. and Lupton D. 2002 Journal of Consumer Culture 2(3): 363-383.


Based on a study looking at risk according to British citizens, specifically interviews with people working in high technology or science industries, this paper discusses the risk associated with genetically modified (GM) foods. Personal experiences or biographies of risk are used to situate these concerns in the context of everyday food consumption.




The poverty of morality


Miller D. 2003. Journal of Consumer Culture 1(2): 225-243.


Miller sets forth the argument that, rather than the problem of overconsumption being the most pressing moral issue in consumption, what is actually needed for most of the world is more consumption. Set in a literature on morality and consumption, this paper argues for a more nuanced approached to this subject and for further research to consider the contribution of local (as opposed to American) consumer cultures.




(De)commodification, consumer culture, and moral economy


Sayer A. 2003. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 21: 341-357.


With a focus on how the commodification of how people value material items, practices and behaviours, and their relationships with others, this paper explores how contemporary ideas about morality and consumption relate to theories within the field of moral philosophy. Sayer draws on the works of Pierre Bourdieu and Daniel Miller, to discuss cultures of consumption as they may be configured in theory and in practice.




Things becoming food and the embodied, material practices of an organic food consumer


Roe E. 2006. Sociologia Ruralis 46(2): 104-121.


This paper makes the case for a revised focus within agro-food studies on the bodies on plants, animals and humans to study embodied experiences of consumption. Innovative research methods are used to illustrate the importance of non-human methodologies and consumption practices.




Impeding ecological sustainability through selective moral disengagement


Bandura A. 2007. International Journal of Innovation and Sustainable Development 2(1): 8-35.


The present paper documents the influential role played by selective moral disengagement for social practices that cause widespread human harm and degrade the environment. Disengagement of moral self-sanctions enables people to pursue detrimental practices freed from the restraint of self-censure. This is achieved by investing ecologically harmful practices with worthy purposes through social, national, and economic justifications; enlisting exonerative comparisons that render the practices righteous; use of sanitising and convoluting language that disguises what is being done; reducing accountability by displacement and diffusion of responsibility; ignoring, minimising, and disputing harmful effects; and dehumanising and blaming the victims and derogating the messengers of ecologically bad news.




A sociological perspective of consumption morality


Caruana R. 2007. Journal of Consumer Behaviour 6: 287-304.


In this article, Caruana makes the argument that previous research into ethical consumption does adequately not explore the nature of morality as a philosophical concept, and just assumes a vague definition and understanding. Thus, this paper outlines various perspectives of morality as they relate to ethical consumption and argues that implementing more refined definitions of morality can help to further the study of ethics and consumption.




Market affections: moral encounters with Kenyan fairtrade flowers


Dolan C. S. 2007. Ethnos 72(2): 239-261.


This paper explores commodity exchange as a morally inflected practice, one that mediates competing tensions of greed and generosity, the sacred and profane, and affection and estrangement through the fairtrade flower. Using the UK-Kenya fairtrade flower commodity chain to examine the cultural economy of fairtrade, I suggest that fairtrade complicates the distinction between the sacred and secular and the gift and commodity as Northern consumers and NGOs weave webs of obligation through the medium of the market. Further, I argue that while fairtrade is predicated on values of partnership and interdependence, it also operates within commodity chains that advance liberal ethics as a mode of 'governmentality' over African producers, translating consumers' sympathy-based humanism into new technologies of regulation and surveillance.




The moral responsibility of consumers as citizens


Schrader U. 2007. International Journal of Innovation and Sustainable Development 2(1): 79-96.


The paper addresses the extent of, and preconditions for, consumers' moral responsibility for sustainable consumption. Starting from the concept of consumer citizenship it is argued that full citizenship includes both rights and duties. The established set of Kennedy's consumer rights is used as a basis for deriving corresponding consumer duties, which foster sustainable development. It will be shown that an extension of the traditional rights is a precondition for the execution of these duties: to be informed, to choose consciously and to make oneself heard. The paper ends with the conclusion that the extent of consumers' responsibility depends on the extent of consumers' rights.




Re-thinking the 'good life': the citizenship dimension of consumer disaffection with consumerism


Soper K. 2007. Journal of Consumer Culture 7(2): 205-229.


This article offers reasons for enlarging the framework of thinking about the contemporary 'civic' or 'republican' aspects of consumption in order to include considerations that have been little registered even in the argument of those whose special interest is in the environmentally concerned citizen or 'ethical' consumer. It argues for the need to recognize the extent to which moral concerns may now be coinciding with more self-interested forms of disaffection with 'consumerist' consumption, and revisions in thinking on the part of affluent consumers themselves about the 'good life' and what conduces to human flourishing and personal fulfilment.




Moral concerns and consumer choice of fresh and processed organic foods


Dean M. Raats M. M. and Shepherd R. 2008. Journal of Applied Social Psychology 38(8): 2088-2107.


This study used the theory of planned behavior (TPB) to examine the impact of moral concerns on intention to buy organic apples and organic pizza. Multiple regressions showed that for both foods, the positive moral component added significantly to the prediction of intention, while negative ones did not. Also, affective attitude was a strong predictor of intention for both foods.




Economic influences on moral values


Ostling R. 2009. B. E. Journal of Economic Analysis and Policy 9(1): np


This paper shows how moral values are affected by changes in prices and income. The key insight is that changes in prices and income that lead to higher consumption of an immoral good also affect the moral values held by the consumer so that the good is considered less immoral.




Making a difference: ethical consumption and the everyday


Adams M. and Raisborough J. 2010. British Journal of Sociology 61(2): 256-274.


Our everyday shopping practices are increasingly marketed as opportunities to 'make a difference' via our ethical consumption choices. In response to a growing body of work detailing the ways in which specific alignments of 'ethics' and 'consumption' are mediated, we explore how 'ethical' opportunities such as the consumption of Fairtrade products are recognized, experienced and taken-up in the everyday. Situating ethical consumption, moral obligation and choice in the everyday is, we argue, important if we are to avoid both over-exaggerating the reflexive and self-conscious sensibilities involved in ethical consumption, and, adhering to a reductive understanding of ethical self-expression.



Investigating the effects of gender on consumers' moral philosophies and ethical intentions


Bateman C. R. and Valentine S. R. 2010. Journal of Business Ethics 95(3): 393-414.


Using information collected from a convenience sample of graduate and undergraduate students affiliated with a Midwestern university in the United States, this study determined the extent to which gender (defined as sex differences) is related to consumers' moral philosophies and ethical intentions. Results indicated that women were more inclined than men to utilize both consequence-based and rule-based moral philosophies in questionable consumption situations. In addition, women placed more importance on an overall moral philosophy than did men, and women had higher intentions to behave ethically.




Christian Consumer: Living Faithfully In A Fragile World


Hartman L. 2011. Oxford: Oxford University Press.


Be it fair trade coffee or foreign oil, our choices as consumers affect the well-being of humans around the globe, not to mention the natural world and of course ourselves. Consumption is a serious ethical issue, and Christian writers throughout history have weighed in, discussing topics such as affluence and poverty, greed and gluttony, and proper stewardship of resources. These voices are often at odds, however. In this book, Laura M. Hartman formulates a coherent Christian ethic of consumption, imposing order on the debate by dividing it into four imperatives: Christians are to consume in ways that avoid sin, embrace creation, love one's neighbor, and envision the future. An adequate ethics of consumption, she argues, must include all four considerations as tools for discernment, even when they seem to contradict one another. The book includes discussions of Christian practices such as fasting, gratitude, solidarity, gift-giving, Sabbath-keeping, and the Eucharist. Using exemplars from the Christian tradition and practical examples from everyday life, The Christian Consumer offers a thoughtful guide to ethical consumption.




Islamic and Ethical Finance in the United Kingdom


Housby E. 2013. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.


Islamic finance is routinely described as being part of the wider ethical finance sector. This book investigates systematically how it relates to non-Islamic ethical finance in the British context. It summarises the most important principles of Islamic and Christian thinking on finance and relates them to each other and to secular ethical practice. It also presents detailed case studies of non-Islamic financial services, some Christian and some secular, which describe themselves as ethical, identifying opportunities for convergence between Islamic and non-Islamic ethical finance and considering the obstacles to such convergence.




Morality and the Market: Consumer Pressure for Corporate Accountability


Smith N. C. 1990. London: Routledge.

Book preview available here.


Can businesses abandon the axiom that the customer is always right when consumers start questioning the ethics of business practices? The current debate about business ethics and the role of business in society has focused attention on corporate moral and commercial obligations.

As a consequence, consumer sovereignty, and its use to determine ethical business practice, has become an important issue. In this review of the relationship between business and society, Professor Craig Smith examines the theory and practice of ethical purchase behaviour, a crucial mechanism for ensuring social responsibility in business.

He explains how and why consumers, often in conjunction with pressure groups, have used their purchasing power to influence corporate policies and practices. He argues the case for the social control of business, drawing on perspectives from marketing, economics, politics, sociology, and business policy, and concludes that the market may act as an arbiter of good and bad business practice.

This book should be of interest to lecturers and students of marketing and social administration, also of interest to consumer pressure groups. (, 2010)