Ethical Consumption

Ethical Consumption: Social Value and Economic Practice

James G. Carrier
Peter G. Luetchford
Copyright Date: 2012
Edition: 1
Published by: Berghahn Books
Pages: 246
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  • Book Info
    Ethical Consumption
    Book Description:

    Increasingly, consumers in North America and Europe see their purchasing as a way to express to the commercial world their concerns about trade justice, the environment and similar issues. This ethical consumption has attracted growing attention in the press and among academics. Extending beyond the growing body of scholarly work on the topic in several ways, this volume focuses primarily on consumers rather than producers and commodity chains. It presents cases from a variety of European countries and is concerned with a wide range of objects and types of ethical consumption, not simply the usual tropical foodstuffs, trade justice and the system of fair trade. Contributors situate ethical consumption within different contexts, from common Western assumptions about economy and society, to the operation of ethical-consumption commerce, to the ways that people's ethical consumption can affect and be affected by their social situation. By locating consumers and their practices in the social and economic contexts in which they exist and that their ethical consumption affects, this volume presents a compelling interrogation of the rhetoric and assumptions of ethical consumption.

    eISBN: 978-0-85745-343-3
    Subjects: Political Science, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-viii)
    James G. Carrier and Peter G. Luetchford
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-36)
    James G. Carrier

    Ethical consumption has attracted increasing attention in Europe and North America over the past few years. As it has become more popular, the label has been applied to more and more different things, which makes it important to identify what it means. The words themselves are an obvious place to start. They indicate that it means taking into account the moral nature of objects when deciding whether or not to consume them. That moral nature could, in principle, spring from almost anywhere; in contemporary ethical consumption commonly it springs from the objects’ social, economic, environmental and political context. Ethical consumers,...

  5. Section I. Producers and Consumers
    • [Section I Introduction]
      (pp. 37-42)

      As indicated by their invocation in the Introduction, the chapters in this volume describe people in a variety of places to make a variety of points. However, the four that form the first section of this volume are concerned especially with an important element of ethical consumption: the relationship between producers and consumers.

      In their attempt to counter the increasing subordination of life to impersonal economic calculation, many ethical consumers seek to socialise what they buy. They seek to link the object to the people who grow or make it and, often, they seek to assure that those producers are...

    • Chapter 1 Good Chocolate? An Examination of Ethical Consumption in Cocoa
      (pp. 43-59)
      Amanda Berlan

      This chapter investigates some of the current meanings attached to a particular commodity, cocoa, and the way in which it is constructed as ethical or unethical. The question of how different parties create, build and sustain the ethical qualities of a product is especially significant in relation to cocoa. As a key ingredient in chocolate, it has achieved quasi-celebrity status in the developed world and it amply illustrates Arjun Appadurai’s (1986: 6) claim that ‘a commodity is a thoroughly socialised thing’. Chocolate is both adored and boycotted, and has made front-page headlines for being healthy, fattening, comforting, ethical, exploitative and...

    • Chapter 2 Consuming Producers: Fair Trade and Small Farmers
      (pp. 60-80)
      Peter G. Luetchford

      My local supermarket stocks over one hundred kinds of coffee from a dozen different suppliers. The products range from the instant freeze-dried coffees of global companies, through specialist coffees associated with specific regions, to fair-trade goods bearing social and environmental messages. These latter, niche-market coffees attract purchasers by distinguishing themselves from mainstream brands. In the case of Fairtrade coffee, certified by the Fairtrade Foundation and bearing its mark, the appeal is linked to development goals operating through a minimum price paid to producers, coupled with a social premium. Fairtrade Labelling Organizations International (the FLO) describe this as a ‘communal fund...

    • Chapter 3 ‘Trade, not aid’: Imagining Ethical Economy
      (pp. 81-98)
      Lill Vramo

      As argued in the Introduction to this volume, ethical consumption is an effort to affect the economic realm by introducing into it values from the social, values that commonly are embodied in the objects that ethical consumers buy. Of course the effects that are sought and the values that are to be introduced will vary from place to place. In this chapter I describe how ethical consumers and those who sell to them in one particular place imagine the objects that confront them and the values that they embody.

      I do so by tracing things of thread and woven material...

    • Chapter 4 ‘Today, one can farm organic without living organic’: Belgian Farmers and Recent Changes in Organic Farming
      (pp. 99-118)
      Audrey Vankeerberghen

      In its early days, organic agriculture emerged as a critique of mainstream agriculture, food and consumption. More recently, the success enjoyed by organic farming has led to its recognition and regulation through public policy and to its insertion into commercial food markets. Organic farming today tends, therefore, to be shaped by market forces and the public institutions that it initially criticised.

      The change in organic farming that I present in this chapter echoes the ‘conventionalisation thesis’. That is based on studies of organic agriculture in California carried by out Julie Guthman and her collaborators (Buck, Getz and Guthman 1997; Guthman...

  6. Section II. Ethical Consumption Contexts
    • [Section II Introduction]
      (pp. 119-124)

      The second set of chapters in this volume pursues a point made in the Introduction. That is the observation that even though ethical consumption is concerned with the relationship between economy and society, it is a practical activity that is shaped by the context in which consumers exist. These chapters consider a variety of such contexts and their effects on people’s ethical consumption, and so help answer the question posed at the end of the introduction to the previous set of chapters: why and how do people become ethical consumers, and with what results?

      The first chapter in this section...

    • Chapter 5 Narratives of Concern: Beyond the ‘Official’ Discourse of Ethical Consumption in Hungary
      (pp. 125-141)
      Tamás Dombos

      The last few years have brought a significant increase in ethical consumption in Hungary. When a group of activists decided to start a promotional campaign for fair-trade goods in April 2005, they had to drive to Vienna, pack the boot of the car with fair-trade coffee and tea and drive it back home. Today there are several wholesalers dealing with fair-trade products, which are widely available (Fairvilág Szövetség n.d.). Organic goods have been available in specialised farmers’ markets and shops since the middle of the 1990s, and by 2009 organic consumption had become fairly common, as shown by the increased...

    • Chapter 6 Critical Consumption in Palermo: Imagined Society, Class and Fractured Locality
      (pp. 142-163)
      Giovanni Orlando

      This chapter draws on anthropological perspectives to explore ‘critical consumption’ — as ethical consumption is known in Italy — in Palermo, a city in Sicily that is very different from the areas in Italy farther to the north that Cristina Grasseni describes elsewhere in this volume. It considers some of the shared characteristics of ethical consumption in the city, and especially the consumption of organic foods and what I call fair trade, which includes things certified by the Fairtrade Labelling Organization (referred to as Fairtrade in this volume) as well as things certified or traded by other fair-trade organisations, commonly called Alternative...

    • Chapter 7 On the Challenges of Signalling Ethics without the Stuff: Tales of Conspicuous Green Anti-consumption
      (pp. 164-180)
      Cindy Isenhour

      Intimately embedded in the global economy and bound up with ideologies of growth, consumer culture is a powerful force.¹ Humans are consuming more per capita each year, more products, more energy, more resources. In many ways our identities have become inextricably linked to consumption, and alternatives to consumer-based ways of life are difficult for many to imagine in a world seemingly dependent on growing consumer demand.

      Many scholars have set out to explain why consumption has become so central to contemporary societies. Some draw on social theories of consumption, connecting the importance of material culture to a heightened need for...

    • Chapter 8 Ethical Consumption as Religious Testimony: The Quaker Case
      (pp. 181-197)
      Peter Collins

      One of the purposes of this volume is to place ethical consumption in its context, and the Introduction considers a number of such contexts. This chapter is concerned with a particular context, the sets of people within which ethical consumption takes place. The set that is the focus of this chapter is the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) in Britain. My primary concern is with the ways in which the norms of that set of people come to determine, to a significant extent, the pattern of consumption of individual members.

      The Introduction to this volume says that decisions made by...

    • Chapter 9 Re-inventing Food: The Ethics of Developing Local Food
      (pp. 198-216)
      Cristina Grasseni

      The title of this chapter recalls the phenomenon of the ‘re-invention of food’ (Grasseni 2007a), a way of rediscovering and revaluing food as patrimony, as cultural heritage and as a catalyst of new forms of relationships and ways of life. This process is diverse and often entails a transformation of the production, perception, representation and consumption of food. In this chapter I will approach this process and these transformations, and the entanglements that they entail, through a consideration of contemporary forms of the production and distribution of food in Italy. The production I describe is the certification of varieties of...

  7. Conclusion
    (pp. 217-228)
    James G. Carrier and Richard Wilk

    People in Europe and North America are presented with a host of messages about problems in the world. Rainforests and polar ice are shrinking, farmers in the Third World are suffering, workers in the foreign factories that make what we buy are exploited, our food is laced with chemicals, our resources are being used up, the climate is warming. Some of these problems are distant, some affect us more closely, but all are problems that many people would like to address.

    Given the importance of consumption in those people’s lives, it is reasonable that they would accept the idea that...

  8. Notes on Contributors
    (pp. 229-231)
  9. Index
    (pp. 232-238)