Political consumerism

Political Virtue and Shopping: Individuals, Consumerism and Collective Action


Micheletti M. 2003. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Book preview available here.


Shoppers can express their values as they search for value. Political consumerism is turning the market into a site for politics and ethics, as consumer choices reflect personal attitudes and purchases are informed by ethical or political assessment of business and government practice. In such forms as boycotts, when consumers refuse to buy, or buycotts, where consumers shift their purchases, the ostensibly apolitical marketplace is a site of contestation at the intersection of globalization and individualization.

This book opens readers' eyes to a new way of viewing everyday consumer choices and the role of the market in our lives, illuminating the broader theoretical and historical context of concerns about sweatshops, responsible coffee, and ethical and free trade.  (Google Books, 2010)




The Marketplace of Revolution: How Consumer Politics Shaped American Independence


Breen T. H. 2004. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Book preview available here.


The Marketplace of Revolution offers a boldly innovative interpretation of the mobilization of ordinary Americans on the eve of independence. In a richly interdisciplinary narrative that weaves insights into a changing material culture with analysis of popular political protests, Breen shows how virtual strangers managed to communicate a sense of trust that effectively united men and women long before they had established a nation of their own.

The Marketplace of Revolution argues that the colonists' shared experience as consumers in a new imperial economy afforded them the cultural resources that they needed to develop a radical strategy of political protest--the consumer boycott.

The boycott movement--the signature of American resistance--invited colonists traditionally excluded from formal political processes to voice their opinions about liberty and rights within a revolutionary marketplace, an open, raucous public forum that defined itself around subscription lists passed door-to-door, voluntary associations, street protests, destruction of imported British goods, and incendiary newspaper exchanges.

The Marketplace of Revolution explains how at a moment of political crisis Americans gave political meaning to the pursuit of happiness and learned how to make goods speak to power. (Google Books, 2010)



Consuming narratives: the political ecology of 'alternative' consumption


Bryant R. and Goodman M. 2004. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 29: 344-366.


This paper explores political ecology themes of ‘alternative’ consumption in the global North, specifically social justice and tropical conservation. The paper looks at two examples of this political ecology in practice, with a focus on themes that seek to connect producers in the global South with consumers in the global North. The paper critiques the notion of consumption being a main form of political action.


The role of normative political ideology in consumer behavior


Crockett D. and Wallendorf M. 2004. Journal of Consumer Research 31(3): 511-528.


This study of African-American consumers living in a large racially segregated mid-western city adds to extant theory on ideology in consumer behavior by considering the role of normative political ideology in provisioning. The specific roles of traditional black liberal and black nationalist political ideologies are discussed.

The authors conclude that normative political ideology is central to understanding shopping as an expression of social and political relations between households confronting attenuated access to goods and services, ranging from housing to food, in a setting stratified by gender, race, and class.

Beyond the specifics of this demographic group and setting, the authors suggest that contemporary consumption in the United States is a primary arena in which political ideology is expressed and constructed. (Crockett and Wallendorf, 2004 p.511)




Politics, Products, and Markets: Exploring Political Consumerism Past and Present


Micheletti M. Føllesdal A. and Stolle D. 2004. New Brunswick, New Jersey: Transaction Publishers.

Book preview available here.


In contemporary life, the market place has emerged as an important arena for the practice of politics. Concerns about personal and family well-being as well as ethical or political assessment of favorable and unfavorable business and government practices become part and parcel of the marketplace of politics.

This volume describes this phenomenon as political consumerism, reflecting an understanding of politics as a product embedded in a complex social and normative context. Politics, Products, and Markets is the first general study of political consumerism. It asks fundamental questions, including what is new and what is old about the phenomenon.

The authors discuss the mediating role of political consumerism in the problematic relationship between markets and morality. They explore whether institutional arrangements have been developed to permit consumers and producers to assume ethical responsibility for their choices and behavior. They ask why political consumerism is presently on the rise.

And they investigate the relationship between globalization and political consumerism.  This volume will be of interest to social scientists, social activists, and policy institutes. (Micheletti, Føllesdal and Stolle, 2004) 




The political ethics of consumerism


Barnett C. Clarke N. Cloke P. and Malpass A. 2005. Consumer Policy Review 15(2): 45-51.

Full text available here.


This article draws on research into the development and growth of ethical consumption in the UK to suggest why consumerism and citizenship are not necessarily opposed practices. Consumer-oriented activism offers important pathways to political participation for ordinary people. The organisations involved in this field emhed consumer-oriented activism in wider programs of mohilisation, activism, lohbying and campaigning, enrolling ordinary people in active political engagement. (Barnett et al, 2005 p.45)



Consuming ethics: articulating the subjects and spaces of ethical consumption


Barnett C. Cloke P. Clarke N. and Malpass A. 2005. Antipode 37(1): 23-45.


Taking commodity consumption as a field in which the ethics, morality, and politics of responsibility has been problematised, the authors argue that existing research on consumption fails to register the full complexity of the practices, motivations and mechanisms through which the working-up of moral selves is undertaken in relation to consumption practices.

Rather than assuming that ethical decision-making works through the rational calculation of obligations, the authors conceptualise the emergence of ethical consumption as ways in which everyday practical moral dispositions are re-articulated by policies, campaigns and practices that enlist ordinary people into broader projects of social change.

Ethical consumption, then, involves both a governing of consumption and a governing of the consuming self. Using the example of Traidcraft, the authors present a detailed examination of one particular context in which self-consciously ethical consumption is mediated, suggesting that ethical consumption can be understood as opening up ethical and political considerations in new combinations.

The article therefore argues for the importance of the growth of ethical consumption as a new terrain of political action, while also emphasising the grounds upon which ethical consumption can be opened up to normative critique.(Barnett et al., 2005 p.23)



Political consumerism: its motivations, power, and conditions in the Nordic countries and elsewhere


Boström M. Føllesdal A. Klintman M. Micheletti M. and Sørensen M. P. (Eds) 2005. Proceedings from the 2nd International Seminar on Political Consumerism, Oslo, 26-29 August 2004. København, Nordisk Ministerråd.

Full text available here.


The concept of political consumerism draws on the observation that consumer choice and the rising politics of products is an increasingly important form of political participation, especially with regard to such issues as human rights, animal rights, global solidarity and environmental responsibility.

The 2nd International Seminar on Political Consumerism was arranged to enhance our knowledge about political consumerism. This report includes revised versions of the papers that were presented and discussed at the seminar.

Scholars from various disciplines presented papers that discussed and analyzed such topics as the characteristics of (especially Nordic) political consumers and their motivations to express their political concerns through market channels, how consumer power and individual choice can be linked to public influence, political and market conditions for the success, effectiveness, or failure of political consumerism as a regulatory tool, and the framing, mobilization, and organizational processes behind political consumerism. (Norden, 2005)



Politics in the supermarket: political consumerism as a form of political participation


Stolle D. Hooghe M. and Micheletti M. 2005. International Political Science Review 26(3): 245-269.


Both anecdotal and case-study evidence have long suggested that consumer behavior such as the buying or boycotting of products and services for political and ethical reasons can take on political significance. Despite recent claims that such behavior has become more widespread in recent years, political consumerism has not been studied systematically in survey research on political participation.

Through the use of a pilot survey conducted among 1015 Canadian, Belgian, and Swedish students, we ascertain whether political consumerism is a sufficiently consistent behavioral pattern to be measured and studied meaningfully. The data from this pilot survey allow us to build a “political consumerism index” incorporating attitudinal, behavioral, and frequency measurements.

Our analysis of this cross-national student sample suggests that political consumerism is primarily a tool of those who are distrustful of political institutions. However, political consumers have more trust in other citizens, and they are disproportionately involved in checkbook organizations. They also tend to score highly on measures of political efficacy and post-materialism. We  strongly suggest including measurements of political consumerism together with other emerging forms of activism in future population surveys on political participation. (Stolle et al., 2005 p.245)


From the street to the shops: the rise of new forms of political actions in Italy


Forno F. and Ceccarini L. 2006. South European Society and Politics 11(2): 197-222.


This article argues that substantial changes have occurred in citizen political participation modes and in particular in the repertoire of unconventional action. Over the past few years, even in countries where there was not this tradition, besides forms such as public meetings, demonstration marches, strikes and certain other forms of protest, citizens have started to use their shopping-bag power in an attempt to influence institutional or market practices. The article aims to shed some light on political consumerism in Italy. (Forno and Ceccarini, 2006 p.197)



Political consumerism between individual choice and collective action: social movements, role mobilization and signalling


Holzer B. 2006. International Journal of Consumer Studies 30(5): 405-415.


The notion of political consumerism has two implications. First, consumers wield some kind of power that they can use to effect social change through the marketplace. Second, political consumerism refers to and somehow combines the rationalities of two subsystems, politics and the economy.

Yet regarding their everyday, individualized shopping decisions, consumers do not appear to command a great deal of power. What kind of influence, then, can individual economic decisions have on producers? Is that influence robust enough to attribute power to consumers?

And if consumers do indeed have power, how can we conceive the implied translation of political concerns into the monetary logic of the economy? An answer to those questions needs to take into account the societal context of political consumerism. This paper analyses how political consumerism relates to the functional differentiation of modern society and how social movements are fundamental to understanding it.

Through what the author calls role mobilization,  social movements turn the role sets of their supporters into transmission belts for political objectives, and by authoritatively communicating those objectives, they provide  signals  to producers, who otherwise would not know a great deal about their consumers’ preferences. (Holzer, 2006 p.405)


Consumption as voting: an exploration of consumer empowerment


Shaw D. Newholm T. and Dickinson R. 2006. European Journal of Marketing 40(9-10): 1049-1067.


Increasing numbers of consumers are expressing concerns about reports of questionable corporate practices and are responding through boycotts and buycotts. This paper compares competing theories of consumer empowerment and details findings that examine the applicability of the theory to "ethical consumer" narratives. Results indicate that the participating consumers embraced a voting metaphor, either explicitly or implicitly, to view consumption as an ethical/political domain. Setting their choices within perceived collective consumer behaviour, they characterised their consumption as empowering. This results in an ethical consumer project that can be seen as operating within the market. It, therefore, suggests some tensions between consumer power and sustainable living.




Will consumers save the world? The framing of political consumerism


Jacobsen E. and Dulsrud A. 2007. Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics 20(5): 469-482.


An active ethically conscious consumer has been acclaimed as the new hero and hope for an ethically improved capitalism. Through consumers' "voting" at the checkout, corporations are supposed to be held accountable for their conduct. In the literature on political consumerism, this has mainly been approached as political participation and governance. In this article, we do a critical review of this literature. We do so by questioning the existence of what we call a "generic active consumer model." At the core of this position, there is a belief that the active consumer is a universal entity, available across nations and time. Instead we call for an approach that takes accord of the ways consumers and consumer roles are framed in interactive processes in markets, governance structures, and everyday life. Consumers in different countries assess their responsibilities and their powers as consumers differently due to different institutionalizations within distinctive contexts. We also must take into account how the inertia of ordinary consumption and the moral complexities of everyday life restrict the adoption of an active consumerist role. Hence, the debate on political consumerism should make for a more realistic notion of ethical consumer-sovereignty and its role in improving the workings of capitalism.




Citizens, consumers, and the good society


Schudson M. 2007. The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 611(1): 236-249.


Advocating a “postmoralist” position in the analysis of consumer culture, this article holds that it is a mistake to identify political action with public-spirited motives and consumer behavior with self-interested motives. Both political behavior and consumer behavior can be either public-spirited or self-interested.

Consumer choices can be expressly political and public-spirited, and styles of consumer behavior can enlist and enshrine values that serve democracy, from going to coffee houses in eighteenth-century London to eating at McDonald’s in twenty-first-century Beijing. Political behavior, meanwhile, may be a particular kind of consumer behavior, and political practice often turns out not to be public-spirited but egocentric and grasping.

The article concludes with some suggestions for making political activity more like the experience of consumer choice, that is, more like a situation in which people can take their own preferences seriously because there is a reasonable prospect that they will ultimately matter. (Schudson, 2007 p.236)




The politics of consumption/the consumption of politics


Shah D. V. McLeod D. M. Friedland L. and Nelson M. R. 2007. The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 611(1): 6-15.


As consumer culture pervades the social life of citizens in America and Europe, it becomes increasingly important to clarify the relationship between consumption and citizenship. With this in mind, faculty and students at the University of Wisconsin organized a conference titled “The Politics of Consumption/The Consumption of Politics.”

Held in October 2006, the meeting provided a forum for leading scholars to discuss the interplay of markets, media, politics, and the citizen-consumer. Revised and expanded versions of the papers they presented are collected in this volume with the goal of advancing this emerging area of inquiry. It is our hope that the essays and research papers we have collected here help define the next wave of theory building and research inquiry on the intersections of consumer culture, civic culture, and mass culture. (Shah et al., 2007 p.6)



Political consumerism: how communication and consumption orientations drive ''lifestyle politics''


Shah D. V. McLeod D. M. Kim E. Lee S. Y. Gotlieb M. R. Ho S. S. and Breivik H. 2007. The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 611(1): 217-235.


Historians and cultural theorists have long asserted that a desire to express political concerns often guides consumer behavior, yet such political consumerism has received limited attention from social scientists. Here, the authors explore the relationship of political consumerism with dispositional factors, communication variables, and consumption orientations using data collected from a panel survey conducted in the United States between February 2002 and July 2005.

The authors test a theorized model using both cross-sectional and auto-regressive panel analyses. The static and change models reveal that conventional and online news use encourage political consumerism indirectly through their influence on political talk and environmental concerns. However, media use may also have some suppressive effects by reducing the desire to protect others from harmful messages.

Results demonstrate how communication practices and consumption orientations work together to influence political consumerism beyond previously delineated factors. Implications for declines in political and civic participation and youth socialization are discussed. (Shah et al., 2007 p.217)




Greening global consumption: redefining politics and authority


Spaargaren G. and Mol A. P. J. 2008. Global Environmental Change 18(3): 350-359.


This paper argues that, in the context of a globalising world of networks and flows, sustainable consumption policies have to be conceived of in terms of deterritorialised politics and programs which rely also on non-state environmental authority for the greening of consumption practices. In reflecting on the role of citizen-consumers in politics for the greening of global consumption, three basic concepts are presented to facilitate such analysis and to discuss non-state environmental authority: ecological citizenship, political consumerism, and life-politics.




The green political food consumer: a critical analysis of the research and policies


Boström M. and Klintman M. 2009. Anthropology of food S5.

Full text available here.


This paper reviews the current literature on political and ethical consumers, and relates it to the topic of sustainable food consumption. The paper sheds light on some of the dilemmas that confront green political consumers.

The authors indicate that most existing studies say very little about consumers’ thoughts, assumptions, and reflections about green consumerism in general, and about green consumerist tools, such as green labels, more specifically. Based on a literature review, the authors draw a picture of the typical concerned consumer as reflective, uncertain and ambivalent.

This is connected to a discussion of a gap or mismatch between the production side and consumption side of green (food) labels. The authors conclude the paper by suggesting that green and ethical information schemes could become much more in line with the reflective nature of green, political consumers. This discussion is related to concepts such as sub-politics and meta-politics. (Boström and Klintman, 2009)




Globalizing Responsibility: The Political Rationalities of Ethical Consumption


Barnett C. Cloke P. Clarke N. and Malpass A. 2010. Chichester: John Wiley & Sons.

Book preview available here.


Interest in the ethics and politics of consumption is rising steadily. But many questions still remain about the complex motivations and practices involved in being an ′ethical consumer′. This book presents an innovative reinterpretation of the forces that have shaped the remarkable growth of ethical consumption. The book challenges the claim that this phenomenon reflects an increase in individualism and a retreat from proper politics.

Using detailed qualitative empirical cases of ethical consumption campaigns, the book investigates the practical strategies used to encourage various ethical consumption activities by ordinary people. First, it looks at the way in which discourses of responsibility and repertoires of consumerism are deployed by activists to enrol support for global campaigns around fair trade, environmental issues, and human rights. And then it looks at how ordinary people engage critically as citizens, not just as consumers.

These two interwoven strands reveal the pragmatic dynamics of ethical action in consumption processes and point to important new directions in understanding the contemporary politicization of consumption. This book represents a valuable new contribution to our critical understanding of the politics and ethics of consumption, and to the wider political and academic debates on citizenship, participation, and subjectivity. (Barnett et al, 2010)




Boycott or buycott? Understanding political consumerism


Neilson L. A. 2010. Journal of Consumer Behaviour 9(3): 214-227.


This research addresses the question of how boycotting (punishing business for unfavourable behaviour) differs from buycotting (rewarding business for favourable behaviour). This analysis of 21,535 adults from the 2002/2003 European Social Survey (ESS) compares the effects of social capital, altruism, and gender on different categories of political consumers.

Logistic regression analyses reveal that boycotters do indeed differ from buycotters. Specifically, women and people who are more trusting, involved in more voluntary associations, or more altruistic are more likely to buycott than boycott. These differences support the inclusion of both boycott and buycott measures in future studies of political consumerism. (Neilson, 2010 p.214)



Social capital and political consumerism: a multilevel analysis


Neilson L. A. and Paxton P. 2010. Social Problems 57(1): 5-24.


Does social capital-trust and association involvement-predict social consumerism-boycotting and buycotting? Using data from the 2002/2003 European Social Survey the authors conduct a multilevel logit analysis of 24,854 individuals nested in 228 within-country regions to evaluate whether social capital and political consumerism are positively related at both the individual and regional level.

Findings indicate that individuals with greater personal social capital and those who live in regions with higher average levels of social capital are more likely to be political consumers. These results support previous findings that link social capital with other forms of civic engagement. (Neilson and Paxton, 2010 p.5)




Citizen-consumers as agents of change in globalizing modernity: the case of sustainable consumption


Spaargaren G. and Oosterveer P. 2010. Sustainability 2(7): 1887-1908.


The roles that individuals can adopt, or get assigned, in processes of global environmental change, can be analyzed with the help of three ideal-type forms of commitment: as environmental citizens, as political consumers, and as individual moral agents. We offer a discussion of the three roles in the context of sustainability changes in everyday life practices of consumption. Sociological accounts of (sustainability) transitions are discussed with respect to their treatment of the concept of agency vis à vis the objects, technologies, and infrastructures implied in globalizing consumption practices. Using consumption practices as basic units of analysis helps to avoid individualist and privatized accounts of the role of citizen-consumers in environmental change, while making possible a comprehensive analysis of the relationship between the personal and the planetary in the process of greening everyday life consumption.




Mindful consumption: a customer-centric approach to sustainability


Sheth J. N. Sethia N. K. and Srinivas S. 2011. Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science 39(1): 21-39.


How effectively business deals with the challenges of sustainability will define its success for decades to come. Current sustainability strategies have three major deficiencies: they do not directly focus on the customer, they do not recognize the looming threats from rising global over-consumption, and they do not take a holistic approach. We present a framework for a customer-centric approach to sustainability. This approach recasts the sustainability metric to emphasize the outcomes of business actions measured holistically in term of environmental, personal and economic well-being of the consumer. We introduce the concept of mindful consumption (MC) as the guiding principle in this approach. MC is premised on a consumer mindset of caring for self, for community, and for nature, that translates behaviorally into tempering the self-defeating excesses associated with acquisitive, repetitive and aspirational consumption. We also make the business case for fostering mindful consumption, and illustrate how the marketing function can be harnessed to successfully implement the customer-centric approach to sustainability.