Studying Political Consumerism
Abstract and Keywords
The Oxford Handbook of Political Consumerism addresses the study of political consumerism. It discusses how production and consumption affect broader societal affairs at home and abroad, and how the phenomenon of political consumerism has developed in different directions—geographically, conceptually, and methodologically—and in multiple sectors, at multiple levels, and involving multiple disciplines. Its varieties create challenges for scholars to make sense of the phenomenon. Critical questions arise about its appropriate conceptual framing and methodologies. This introductory chapter defines and elaborates upon political consumerism and its four forms (boycotts, buycotts, discursive actions, and lifestyle endeavors). It offers an overview of the Handbook’s six thematic parts: political consumerism’s history, its theory and research design, its presence in major industry sectors, its global geographic spread and practice, its democratic paradoxes and challenges, and its problem-solving potential. This chapter also provides summaries and reviews of the Handbook’s thirty-nine chapters.
Globalized trade opens up numerous opportunities for corporations to produce and market goods in ways inconceivable in the past. Today there are more affordable goods for sale and more different kinds of goods on the marketplace than imaginable in the past. Consumer society has become an integral part of most citizens’ lives globally. Consumption now plays a crucial role in constructing personal identities. While these developments have created economic growth and offered consumers more opportunities to enjoy various freedoms, they have also come at great societal costs. Clearly it is no longer possible to avoid thinking about how production and consumption affect broader societal affairs at home and abroad.
The examples are numerous. Smart phones offer opportunities to connect with others close by and across the globe. This is a positive development. But, as discussed in this Handbook (see Chapter 18), the metals necessary for most electronics—coltan, tantalum, tin, tungsten, gold, and others—are often mined using forced labour in conflict areas in sub-Saharan Africa, and they are often illegally traded before ending up in our mobile phones. The negative developments do not stop there. Illegal mining for these metals has caused a considerable fall in the gorilla population in these areas. There is even a negative side to other forms of common consumer practices. Eating meat contributes to climate change, while cultivating soy to feed livestock is a major driver of deforestation in the Amazon basin. Savoring a chocolate might well be connected to child labour and slavery in the harvesting of cocoa for the global chocolate market in Western Africa. Problems with child labour, bad working conditions, and environmental problems associated with textile production are a daily part of the fast fashion industry (see Chapter 14). When consumers buy a smart phone, eat certain kinds of food, or decide to lift their spirits with new attire, they connect to serious societal issues at a distance. There are alarming reports on these matters. Civil society and (p. 2) governments are reacting, and attempts have been made to raise consumer awareness about the societal problems linked with production and consumption.
Political consumerism can be defined as market-oriented engagements emerging from societal concerns associated with production and consumption. Acts of production and consumption are, therefore, considered as more than purely private matters about business profit-making and individual consumer preference based on a cost-benefit analysis when buying goods. Most prominent therein is the relationships among goods offered on the consumer market and political events and developments, environmental and human rights problems and worries, and the ethics of production and manufacturing practices. Political consumerism also involves various moral challenges concerning religion, race, ethnicity, family, gender relations, animals, and our common future (Stolle & Micheletti, 2013). In political consumerism, the strict separation between consumers and citizens and between economy and politics collapses. This crossing of the boundaries among these different spheres and the hybridization of social roles require extensive reflection and research on the phenomenon of political consumerism (Warde, 2015).
An important assumption in political consumerism is that consumers potentially can and in certain circumstances do collectively influence societal developments through what they decide to purchase, what they decide not to purchase, and how they relate to consumption in general through discourses and lifestyle projects. Starting from social movements’ concerns and expanding into lifestyle politics and issues of ethical and sustainable procurement within public and private organizations, political consumerism has grown into a significant force for handling complex and tough problems in different domains of production and consumption and in transnational and multilevel settings.
This Handbook includes six thematically divided parts. This introductory chapter introduces the study of political consumerism, the thematic parts, and summarizes the chapters within each part. The thematic parts focus on (1) historical routes of political consumerism, (2) theory and designing research on political consumerism, (3) industry sectors of political consumerism, (4) the geographic spread and practice of political consumerism, (5) democratic paradoxes and challenges in political consumerism, and (6) the problem-solving potential of political consumerism. The concluding chapter highlights important thematic issues within the chapters in each part and across parts, discussing research challenges and the future directions of political consumer scholarship. Before introducing the Handbook parts, the discussion briefly elaborates how the study of political consumerism has developed and introduces the four basic action forms.
Political Consumerism and Its Study
Recent scholarship views political consumerism as a complex multilevel phenomenon. It involves numerous societal actors and structural conditions associated with (p. 3) consumption-related acts taking place within a wide variety of societal institutions on different levels of society. This scholarship acknowledges the interdependencies and interactions among actors and institutions in different contexts. It also points at the significance of similar practices even before the full development of contemporary and globalized mass-consumer society, as discussed in the first part on political consumerism’s historical routes. However, unlike the past, contemporary political consumer actors and institutions engage increasingly with the complexities of globalized production and consumption. The current understanding of the phenomenon leads, therefore, to an expansion of the original definition of political consumerism focusing primarily on individual consumers’ economic transactions. This more nuanced understanding concerns its action forms, levels of activity and institutional and structural prerequisites (Micheletti, 2010; Stolle & Micheletti, 2013). Researchers now systematically study four basic action forms: (1) boycotts (refusing to purchase a good based on societal concerns about production and consumption), (2) buycotts (purchasing a good for such reasons), (3) discursive political consumerism (communicative actions), and (4) lifestyle political consumerism (more profound changes in lifestyle practices) (Micheletti, 2010; Stolle & Micheletti, 2013).
These four forms demonstrate how the study of political consumerism has developed over time. They also illustrate that the orientations towards market-based practices range from confrontational to cooperative. Boycotts, also termed “negative political consumer action” (cf. Friedman, 1999), often involve a confrontational approach and rhetoric. The civil groups behind them tend to use strong critical arguments to mobilize individuals to boycott a particular good produced not only by a corporation but also, at times, even from a country. They put strong demands on their boycott targets and threaten to start or continue their boycott campaigns if their demands are not met. The decades-long Nestlé boycott is a good example (Bromberg Bar Yam, 1995; Johnson, 1986). Buycotts rely more on cooperative strategies; they are also termed “positive political consumer action” (cf. Andersen & Tobiasen, 2004; Friedman, 1999). Buycott campaigners ask consumers to purchase a particular good in the same category, for instance organic rather than conventional coffee. Over the years, buycotting activities have developed into stakeholder partnerships in which civil society organizations collaborate with corporations, and at times governments, thus demonstrating the structural ramifications of politicizing production and consumption with labelling schemes as the clearest example. Discursive political consumerism, the third form, is well known as confrontational culture jamming of iconic corporations and their clever logos and slogans. This can be humorous, confrontational antibranding communication that targets a transnational corporation for lacking a sense of societal responsibility for labour and environmental practices in its outsourced manufacturing in the developing world, as illustrated by the culture jamming attacks on Nike’s slogans and brand name (Stolle & Micheletti, 2013, chap. 6). In this form of political consumerism, corporate brands are not only the target of activism but also its source, medium, and message board. Discursive tactics can help consumers reflect on their consumption practices and mobilize them into lifestyle political consumerism. This fourth form involves overhauling one’s lifestyle practices (p. 4) in the consumption field. Thus, this form tends to include the other three action forms. It can develop into a deep general commitment that changes how a person lives her life. Good examples discussed in this Handbook are veganism, voluntary simplicity, and slow food (see also Pentina & Amos, 2011).
An important contribution from this recent conceptualization is the recognition that political consumerism is a multilevel phenomenon, which involves more than an individual’s behaviour and practices. There is a greater focus on the phenomenon’s social-movement networking, institution building, international character, and the facilitating role played by the state. This trend signifies scholarly interest in political consumerism as a part of transnational governance relationships. Another important aspect is the organizational setting for political consumerism.
Scholars map and analyse the civic groups and networks that communicate and mobilize for political consumer causes. They focus on how these groups raise awareness about the politics of various products and nudge individuals into using the marketplace as an arena for politics. Labour unions, environmental groups, human rights networks, and specialized groups emerging for specific causes are examples of civil society organizations involved in political consumerism. New institutional arrangements, such as labelling and product certification, form another significant part of contemporary political consumerism. Even government actors increasingly act as collective or institutional political consumers, although they are constrained by trade regulations, procurement legislation, and the obligation to use taxpayers’ money effectively. The ethics and sustainability of procurement activities is a growing field of concern within families, civil society, businesses, and governmental institutions. At times governments help facilitate political consumerism, as shown in several Handbook chapters.
Noteworthy is the growth in the “self-interest” and “feel-good” framing of political consumerism, such as in the slow food movement and the marketing of organic and fairtrade products. There are different views on this development. Some scholars and societal observers consider this development as positive because it encourages a greater number of consumers to buy “better” goods; others consider it as negative because it encourages more consumption and “ethical fetishism” (Guthman, 2009), which is a kind of ethical whitewashing of the ideological causes historically behind political consumer campaigns. Nevertheless, political consumerism has given rise to new initiatives in organizing consumers and developing new governance arrangements. Particularly buycotting, which relies more or less on innovative rule-making initiatives, often begins outside governmental arenas (Bartley, 2007; Boström & Klintman, 2008; Busch, 2000, Cashore et al., 2004; Pattberg, 2007; Ponte et al., 2011).
Additionally, there are important temporal and spatial components in political consumerism. They change through history and do not develop in the same way everywhere. Neither the category of politics nor the category of consumption remains constant over time, and both have different meanings around the world, as shown clearly in the Handbook chapters. Core macro-level processes, identified by terms like “globalization” (with economic, technological, cultural, and political variants), “individualization,” “postmodernization,” “reflexive modernization,” and “social acceleration” (Rosa, (p. 5) 2013), capture the major shifts affecting societal affairs at multiple levels. They also shed important light on political consumerism’s background conditions. One core macro-trend is the diminishing regulatory capacity of government, which assumes both structural and cultural dimensions. Structurally, it involves the shrinkage of governmental (state) authority and action capacity; this development is compensated with more plural, transnational, and networking types of politics. The term for this development is “governance,” which implies a more complex and fluid political setting. Culturally, the change involves the emergence of more focused concerns for the global environment and global human rights, broad processes of individualization, that is, the personalization of politics associated with so-called postmaterialistic values. Importantly, the Handbook’s chapters also demonstrate an increased relevance of studying the impact of religious traditions and movements in political consumerism both historically and contemporarily (see Stolle & Micheletti, 2013, chap. 4, for an initial discussion).
Historical Routes of Political Consumerism
The chapters in the first part explore two important historical examples that have inspired latter-day political consumer activities across the world. In their chapter “The Development of Political Consumerism in India: A Historical Perspective,” Hari Sreekumar and Rohit Varman analyse trends in political consumerism in India between the fifteenth and twenty-first centuries, a period coinciding with the country’s colonial era and independence period. Particularly in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, political consumerism was a form of resistance against colonial rule, with Mahatma Gandhi’s campaigns as well-known illustrations. Noteworthy is that the same ideology, swadeshi, is now used to support a neoliberal, conservative, and nationalist political agenda. For instance, not eating beef was used to show Hindu superiority to counter colonial oppression, but nowadays this is used to suppress Dalits, Muslims, and other marginalized groups in modern India. The authors argue that, in the context of rapid economic developments in India, there is room for developing forms of political consumerism that fit this contemporary context instead of relying on the anticolonialist and nationalist forms of the past. Johan Nicolaas Wilhelm de Jager presents an extensive overview of South African political consumer activities during the apartheid era in his chapter “Political Consumerism in the South African and British Anti-Apartheid Movements: The Historical Role of Consumer Boycott Campaigns.” As conventional democratic instruments to create political change became increasingly inaccessible and ineffective, the anti-apartheid movement developed market-based strategies to mobilize consumers in the struggle. When these activities were brutally suppressed in South Africa, international consumer boycott campaigns became a potential alternative. These consumer boycott campaigns did not create significant economic pressure (p. 6) on the apartheid state. However, they did unite people, groups, and communities within South Africa and in the rest of the world in the struggle against a violent and discriminatory political system.
Theory and Designing Research on Political Consumerism
Since political consumerism is an increasingly multifaceted phenomenon, its analysis requires a plurality of theoretical perspectives, methodological approaches, and empirical materials. There is not only one correct way to study the phenomenon, though some approaches have dominated over others. This part of the Handbook offers diverse theoretical and methodological approaches to studying political consumerism and insights into the role of major societal changes that have changed and moulded the phenomenon. The chapters—both individually and collectively—discuss the design of political consumerism research and ideas about research topics, including methodological advice and tips on appropriate empirical case material. The authors also openly discuss the strengths and weaknesses of their theoretical approaches. Some chapters encourage scholars to dare to be innovative; others challenge conventional theorizing of political consumerism. In sum, this part offers comparative insights into common themes while also identifying theoretical debates on best approaches for studying the phenomenon.
Political scientists working on political consumerism have traditionally viewed the phenomenon as a form of political participation, focusing on the motivations of individuals to engage in market-based activities and comparing them with other forms of participation (e.g., voting and joining political organizations). An important finding has been that political consumers are generally highly politically active and that political consumerism complements rather than replaces (“crowds out”) conventional forms of participation. Surveys help these scholars gather data on the “who, how, and why” of individual political consumers’ participation (particularly in the easily measured forms of boycotts and buycotts) and analyse the importance of such common research factors as gender, socioeconomic status, political interest, knowledge, ideology, and worries. This research began in the northern hemisphere, but scholars have applied its design, survey questions, and even theoretical assumptions to studies of the Global South. Several Handbook chapters critically discuss how well this theorizing travels when studying other parts of the world.
Protest and social movement scholarship represents another classical way of studying political consumerism. The focus of this part of the Handbook begins with a fresh look at this theoretical approach. In her chapter “Protest, Social Movements, and Spaces for Politically Oriented Consumerist Actions–Nationally, Transnationally, and Locally,” Francesca Forno discusses how the relationship between social movements and political consumerism has evolved. She shows how globalization and individualization (p. 7) processes, which are two major societal changes, have altered the way social movements engage with political consumerism, illustrating this with research on how social movement organizations and networks, after the short-lived Global Justice movement of the early 2000s, used political consumerism to reposition themselves. In certain countries, governmental austerity policies and degrowth spurred the building of new alliances for alternative production and consumption. Here political consumerism became a vehicle for creating and reinforcing solidarity ties, which helped implement collective action around distinctive political projects of local, sustainable community movements. Forno views this as a new social imaginary supported by a generalized value-based, alternative political lifestyle opposed to consumerism as a fundament of the dominant economic and political order. This illustrates how social movements use alter- and anticonsumerism to create new dimensions in politics.
Can we speak of an emerging political consumer movement? Mario Diani’s chapter “Modes of Coordination in Political Consumerism” helps with an answer by analysing whether a social movement can develop from forms of action primarily consisting of personal individual-oriented market-based actions. He defines social movements as having a collective identity reliant on relational processes involving a series of decisions, including resource allocation, collective representation, identification of opponents, solidarity feeling, and mutual obligatory bonds. Do these factors characterize political consumer groups? His analysis and empirical overview of different political consumer mobilizations (e.g., slow food, the Nestlé boycott, etc.) show that the political consumer repertoire of actions (the four forms) has organizational, community-building, and collaborative potential but generally tends to lack a strong source of collective identity persisting over time. Thus, as also underscored in Forno’s chapter, political consumerism is presently more a tool or method for organizing and mobilizing people than a political project in itself. Therefore, it should not be characterized as a full social movement.
Behavioural economics is possibly the latest discipline to show interest in political consumerism. This research perspective combines economic logic with psychological, social, cognitive, and emotional factors to understand how we make economic decisions. Sebastian Berger’s chapter “A Behavioural Economic Perspective on Political Consumerism” views boycotting and buycotting as the exercise of prosocial preferences transcending the standard economic assumption about self-interested individuals. He stresses that altruistic motivations do not immediately trigger action because individuals need information on the role of consumption in societal developments (a kind of literacy), events and actions that remind them of this (issue saliency), and a sense of the importance of individual behaviour in problem solving (pivotality). Investment market experiments illustrate this. Berger discusses “nudging” (the designing of choice situations to steer individuals toward prosocial consumer choices). He maintains that more innovation in collective thinking is necessary to design choice situations that nudge more people to act in politically, ethically, and environmentally responsible ways in the marketplace.
However, Peter Oosterveer, Gert Spaargaren, and Sanneke Kloppenburg disagree with Berger’s conclusion. Their chapter “Political Consumerism and the (p. 8) Social-Practice Perspective” considers nudging as an outside trigger that simply attempts to push around consumers rather than to change their general relation to consumption. The social-practice approach poses an interesting theoretical contrast to Berger’s and other approaches by taking a strong theoretical stance against the Attitude, Behaviour, Choice (ABC) paradigm used in much consumer policymaking globally, including nudging. The authors assume instead that consumers can be assigned a more (pro)active or reflexive role in affecting social change “from the inside.” This sociologically inspired approach focuses on consumer-oriented everyday practices and how they can change for the betterment of society. They discuss the complexities and challenges involved in, for instance, encouraging people to ride a bike rather than drive a car, to use less energy, and to eat more sustainably. These choices involve many skills, more reflexivity, and a more complex series of decisions than is assumed in simple ABC policymaking and nudging.
Illustrations of the difficulties in switching to a new, more sustainable, and political consumer-oriented–practice are offered in “Veganism and Plant-Based Eating: Analysis of Interplay Between Discursive Strategies and Lifestyle Political Consumerism” by Piia Jallinoja, Markus Vinnari, and Mari Niva. This chapter gives additional arguments for how and why scholars should not classify political consumerism as an emerging social movement. While there has been increased mobilization around vegan and plant-based diets, the discursive and lifestyle modes of coordination lack a developed collective identity. Some plant-based-diet supporters are clearly opposed to eating animals for other-oriented values (e.g., animal rights). But flexitarians choose less meat-eating for other social reasons and/or self-oriented reasons (e.g., healthism, habitus). Savvy mobilization through social media and celebrities, and the aesthetic presentation of vegan and plant-based food as cool and healthy, explain its boost and popularity. Therefore, the authors view this new food practice as an assemblage of interacting actors engaging in political consumer actions as a way of living in neoliberal consumer society but without adhering to any coherent and common goal.
Many Handbook contributions mention the significant role of the media and mediated relations in political consumerism. Mundo Yang and Sigrid Baringhorst’s chapter “Studying Media Within Political Consumerism: Past and Present” is, therefore, a particularly welcome contribution. Their topic is challenging. Scholarship on the media’s role in political consumerism is scarce. Along with the growing complexity and globalization of the phenomenon, the media have also evolved as have the theories for studying it further. The authors stress the media’s importance in helping actors and institutions overcome collective action problems or disconnections within political consumerism brought on by the more individualized and scattered nature of the phenomenon. A key finding is that scholars should not assume that political consumerism takes place only in the world of mass media (the old media situation). Today’s reality involves new alternative media and a rising importance of individual media consumers as coproducers (so-called produsers) of media content. They critically discuss exciting examples of “old” and “new” media school studies of political consumerism and identify important research gaps.
(p. 9) Readers might get the impression that political consumer scholarship only involves researchers curious about individuals, families, and communities engaging with societal concerns. This is not the case. More scholars focus now on other aspects of the phenomenon, including the role of corporate brands and globalized supply chains. In his chapter “Rejecting and Embracing Brands in Political Consumerism,” Magnus Boström discusses the importance of high-profile brands in political consumerism. Indirectly, he also engages with Berger’s discussion on issue saliency: consumer knowledge of big brands explains why attacking them leads to media publicity that furthers the political consumer struggle. Culture jamming, identified as the most spectacular kind of discursive political consumerism, is an excellent illustration here. Boström argues that scholars should also consider how and why brands are important for understanding contemporary society and politics. He views them as a cultural resource for consumers (e.g., brand communities), a symbolic resource for corporations (symbolic capital), and a means of corporate cultivation (the branding process). Boström finds the concepts of frontstage (brands’ public face) and backstage (corporate reasoning on their reputation and legitimacy) useful for understanding business reactions to political consumer criticism and protests. He encourages more research on brand rejection to investigate lifestyle variants of political consumerism.
Political consumerism also interests scholars of institutions and governance, particularly in relation to the effects of globalization processes. Two chapters directly address this topic. “Globalization, Governance Gaps, and the Emergence of New Institutions for Political Consumerism” by Lars H. Gulbrandsen discusses the critical importance of globalization processes in explaining political consumerism’s rise from the 1980s onward. He focuses on nonstate regulation and governance initiatives within sustainability certification. Important chapter themes are trade liberalization and neoliberal ideology, the growth of transnational advocacy networks involving (nongovernmental organizations [NGOs]), and the rise of global supply chains, all of which are key factors in the emergence of sustainability certification schemes in the forest, fishery, and labour sectors. Gulbrandsen argues for researching “governance gaps” (i.e., the distance between steps taken to address a collective action problem and a collectively optimal governance solution) when examining their rise and performance. He shows how nongovernmental and intergovernmental processes as well as organizations in complex systems of governance play instrumental roles in institutionalizing certification. Additionally, transnational corporations embrace sustainability certification to position themselves in competitive consumer markets and to give them maneuverability to put forth industry-friendly certification standards. Since tensions easily develop within certification schemes, it is important to study how involved actors understand and respond to them.
Gavin Fridell’s chapter “Conceptualizing Political Consumerism as Part of the Global Value Chain” stresses the importance of carefully studying the role of values in global supply chains as an integral part of political consumer. The global value chain approach examines globalized networks and sites of labour and production processes and more directly integrates a southern and gendered-economy perspective into the analysis. Fridell argues for looking beyond the relationship between northern-based individual (p. 10) consumers and consumer commodities (an exchange relation approach) to a much wider social relations approach. Examples from the global jeans and coffee industries illustrate how this approach enriches research on political consumerism’s impact (or effectiveness) as a mechanism for change. This theoretical perspective directs scholarly attention to the regulatory, cultural, and institutional environments that embed political consumerism, in particular power relations. This approach expands political consumer study. Fridell also gives some cautionary advice about the weaknesses of this approach, including the tendency to focus on lead firms, to neglect some industries, and to focus on market-driven projects like fair trade that reflect powerful northern fantasies about the exaggerated power of political consumers.
In sum, the second part offers different scientific approaches that theoretically innovate the research field. The two chapters on behavioural economics and social practices offer conflicting advice to policymakers. Other chapters call for a more nuanced view of the drivers behind political consumerism and political consumerism’s significance for social bonding and connectivity. Scholars are encouraged to view certification as experimental governance and to develop research strategies to study governance efforts for coordination. The chapters also call for methodological innovations, including longitudinal and comparative studies (even across geographically stretched supply chains) and more fieldwork in order to gain a richer understanding of the different contexts involved in political consumerism.
Industry Sectors and Political Consumerism
Political consumerism has developed differently in different industry sectors and for different types of goods and services. In some sectors there are prevalent boycott activities (e.g., fashion; see Chapter 14); in others there are more discursive political consumer actions (e.g., toys; see Chapter 15). In other sectors, there are many buycott arrangements, including ecolabels, fairtrade labels, and certification schemes (e.g., on food, see Chapter 13; on seafood, see Chapter 16). For political consumer research, it is important to learn more about what supply- and demand-side factors facilitate and inhibit political consumer activities and arrangements. Typically, these include technological, economic, cultural, political, and geographical factors. The third part of the Handbook is devoted to industry sector analyses.
Even if industry comparison is an understudied topic in political consumer research, various scholars have engaged in these questions; often, however, they focus on one sector at a time. This scholarship, and the Handbook chapters in this part, apply some of the broad theoretical perspectives reviewed in the preceding part. First, the study and theorizing of new institutions, including a growing field that focuses on standards, (p. 11) certifications, multistakeholders, and public-private partnerships, provides new governance and regulatory frameworks for political consumerism in some sectors (see Chapter 11). This scholarship focuses primarily on buycott arrangements. For example, earlier research has documented the vast amount of organizing and legitimacy-seeking efforts required to build and institutionalize trustworthy buycotting arrangements in sectors such as food, forestry, and fisheries (Bartley, 2007; Bush et al., 2013; Cashore et al., 2004; Mol & Oosterveer, 2015; Spaargaren & Oosterveer, 2010; Tamm Hallström & Boström, 2010). Second, global value chain literature (see Chapter 12) emphasizes how economic globalization; increased offshore production; complex supply chains; and increased geographical, political, and cultural distance between production and consumption sites in many sectors create governance challenges and make it harder for consumers to perceive and address the social and environmental impacts of production (Boström et al., 2015; Bush et al., 2015; Locke, 2013). Political consumer arrangements are set up to cope with these challenges, which scholarship discusses in terms of responsible and/or sustainable supply chain management (De Bakker & Nijhof, 2002; Seuring & Mueller, 2008). A third research stream focuses more on the consumer demand side and on how political consumer action, or the lack thereof, relates to the provision of different types of goods and services. Social practice theory is growing as an analytical lens (see Chapter 7). The chapters in this part use the accumulated theorizing to study how different goods, services, and devices are embedded and interconnected in everyday life. For example, food should be understood as more than just something to eat. Only a larger contextual understanding of it helps in explaining if, how, and to what extent food can be an issue for political consumer consideration. A fourth topic of study, also seen in the chapters in this part, is how global/local social-movement mobilization and activism engage in boycotting and culture jamming that targets the reputation of large corporate brands (see chapters 9 and 10).
Chapters in this part identify the opportunities and barriers of political consumerism as related to a variety of consumer products, services, and devices and study both supply- and demand-side factors and how they interact. They discuss how supply-side factors relate to sociopolitical factors, new technologies, public regulation, availability of credible information arrangements, and the extent and character of the public campaigns and framings connected to particular consumer products and services. The chapters in this part also evaluate how demand-side factors relate to societal values and norms; the dynamics of consumer culture; and new lifestyle experiments, movements, and practices. This part provides some answers as to why certain consumer products and services are more associated with politics, ethics, and morality than others and what types of problems are easier or more difficult to express through the politicization of consumer goods and the different forms of political consumerism. The concluding chapter gets back to this general comparison.
Scholars generally consider food a successful example of mobilizing consumers, framed through a number of societal issues such as sustainability, public health, animal rights, and global justice. Bente Halkier’s chapter “Political Food Consumerism between (p. 12) Mundane Routines and Organizational Alliance-Building” focuses on political food consumerism and highlights not just famous boycott campaigns (e.g., the Nestlé boycott) but also the dominant role of buycotting and lifestyle political consumerism in this sector. She also discusses how food consumption as a mundane and embodied type of consumption shapes political consumerism in this industry sector.
Compared to food, the textile sector has less developed political consumerism. In the chapter “Utilizing Political Consumerism to Challenge the 21st Century Fast Fashion Industry,” Kim Y. Hiller Connell examines political consumerism in the context of the (fundamentally unsustainable) global fashion industry. The chapter provides a brief history of the movements against the socially, environmentally, and economically objectionable and politicized practices within the industry. The author then shows how the strategy of boycotts (and to a considerable extent discursive tactics) has been and still is the dominant form of political consumerism in the sector. Although buycotting and interesting new lifestyle experiments increase in importance, these forms face considerable barriers in becoming mainstream, and consumer engagement is still relatively low.
The toy industry has historically been subject to a broad array of political consumer reactions. As Mikael Klintman argues in his chapter “Toy Consumption as Political: Challenges for Making Dreams Come True,” this is due to the fact that children constitute a particular consumer/user group. Concerns relate to certain values promoted via toys and games (e.g., violence, gender stereotypes), chemicals and other health hazards related to toys, environmental problems caused by toy production and disposal, and norms of mass consumption and aggressive marketing to children. So far, the concerns have mostly been channelled into discursive political consumerism and governmental regulation but not much on political consumer labelling. The chapter discusses reasons behind this pattern, as well as a number of facilitating factors (e.g., strong dependence on reputation in this sector) and constraining influences (e.g., long supply chains) that affect political consumerism in the toy industry.
The seafood sector has seen a range of NGO-led boycott and buycott initiatives in the 2000s. In “The Shifting Politics of Sustainable Seafood Consumerism,” Simon R. Bush and Cathy A. Roheim show that many of the buycott initiatives have been formalized into political consumer institutions and tools, such as certification and ecolabels, recommendation lists, improvement projects and benchmarks, and systems for traceability. A network of actors, including producers, retailers, celebrity chefs, and a broad sustainability seafood movement consisting of various NGOs and philanthropic family foundations, are involved in developing and shaping political consumerism in this sector.
The above chapters focus mainly on tangible items—that is, goods. An intangible and complex social phenomenon such as tourism can also be commodified and hence become a field for political consumer actions. In “Political Consumerism for Sustainable Tourism: A Review,” Machiel Lamers, Jeroen Nawijn, and Eke Eijgelaar analyse the constraints and opportunities of political consumerism for sustainable tourism, a sector with significant social and environmental impacts, including climate change problems. But the role of tourist consumers in driving sustainable tourism has (p. 13) remained weak and inconsistent. There are initiatives such as boycotts, slow travel, conservation tourism, “voluntourism,” and a fragmented field of buycotting arrangements. Nevertheless, the authors present the sector as generally lagging behind with respect to sustainable consumption and political consumerism. They discuss, for example, explanations connected to the “home and away gap,” which is the willingness among consumers to participate in environmental pro action in and around the home while the transference of these practices to tourism contexts is often problematic (see also Barr et al., 2010). Difficulties include considerations of mobility and the complex organization of tourism services.
Natural resource extraction industries is the topic of the next chapter, “Political Consumerism in the Oil and Mining Extractive Industries: Possibilities for Sustainability and Social Justice.” Mark C. J. Stoddart, Max Chewinski, B. Quinn Burt, and Megan Stewart focus on political consumer mobilization targeting oil and mineral extraction. They show that these actions are present where there are particularly dramatic examples of violations of social or environmental well-being, as well as clear corporate or government wrongdoers who can be targeted with, for example, culture jamming tactics. The term “blood diamonds” has become a powerful emotional metaphor. The chapter demonstrates the difficulties in achieving effective political consumerism in this sector because of the diffuse and pervasive nature of oil and minerals in contemporary consumer societies. However, the recent fossil fuel divestment movement is portrayed as innovative.
One sector with perhaps even lower levels of political consumerism activity is household appliances and electronics, despite the massive social and environmental implications caused by their production, consumption, disposal, and rapid replacement. Various initiatives are described in the chapter “Household Appliances and Electronics: Discussing the Relative Absence of Political Consumerism” by Toke Haunstrup Christensen, Kirsten Gram-Hanssen, and Mette Hove Jacobsen. Political consumer efforts such as the Fairphone, sharing economies, or repairing movements occupy extremely limited niche markets. The chapter documents the relative absence of political consumerism in this field and discusses how it can be understood in relation to various social drivers (e.g., peer pressure) behind (increased) consumption (see also Chapter 40).
Some of the chapters discussed so far have paid attention to the role of new technologies, particularly ICT, in providing new means for political consumerism. This part’s final chapter, “Energy Devices and Political Consumerism in Reconfigured Energy Systems,” focuses more systematically on this topic. Can political consumerism play a role in the transformation towards a low-carbon electricity system? By analysing the energy sector, Sanneke Kloppenburg and Bas van Vliet demonstrate how new technologies, deregulation, and privatization have opened up market spaces for western or northern consumers to influence the greening of energy provision and consumption. Electricity system reconfiguration creates a growing diversity of home-based energy devices that engage consumers in using energy in new and altered ways. Through smart meters, solar panels, and home batteries, passive energy users change (p. 14) into “prosumers.” Energy devices thus produce new action possibilities for consumers to contribute to decarbonization of the electricity system as (collective) consumers and producers at the same time (prosumers). The two last chapters presented offer good illustrations of the relevance of a social-practice perspective for studying political consumerism.
Seen together, this part’s chapters demonstrate the relevance of paying particular attention to political consumerism in different industry sectors and offer important insights into why opportunities and barriers of political consumerism differ. They show that these differences relate to both supply- and demand-side factors and to issues of culture, mass media, economy, technology, politics, regulation, and geography.
The Geographic Spread and Practice of Political Consumerism
Scholarship on political consumerism must be sensitive to different structural and cultural characteristics. Political consumerism is often associated with the social-liberal welfare state and market-based capitalism in the northwestern part of the world. To better understand the phenomenon generally, it is important to also ask about its presence and character in other geographical areas. Are there inhibiting and/or facilitating factors in other political contexts that play a role in its emergence elsewhere? Such differences may affect its significance in specific regional or national contexts. By comparing the forms and spread of political consumerism in different countries and regions, we can further enhance our knowledge about the conditions under which it thrives or fails.
Political consumerism flourishes primarily in the northern hemisphere where concerns about the negative effects or consequences of continued technological and industrial development and of growing international trade became increasingly apparent in the 1980s. At the same time, governmental institutions came under pressure because they did not prove to be effective enough in dealing with environmental and social problems. There were governance gaps. Moreover, these countries generally had well-educated populations, at a certain level of well-being, with free access to various means of communication. Against this background, political consumerism burgeoned in Northwestern Europe and the United States as an innovation in solving complex problems concerning human rights and environmental degradation (Micheletti, 2010; Micheletti et al., 2003).
In other geographical areas, political consumerism, as shown in this part, takes different shapes and forms. In some emerging economies, like South Africa, the growing middle class has become an important target for various ethical consumption initiatives (Harrison et al., 2005; Hughes et al., 2015). Making connections between transnational networks with global concerns and their local expressions is essential for successful transformations in production and manufacturing practices. In some countries, (p. 15) political consumerism seems less steered by recognized altruistic ethical or political concerns and more by individualistic worries about personal and family health and safety (Hoi et al., 2009; Oosterveer et al., 2007). Nevertheless, these self-oriented concerns may be expressed in political consumer initiatives seeking to transform production practices. A rather different development in market-oriented consumer activism is forthcoming in countries that have undergone recent economic and financial crisis (Lekakis, 2015).
The chapters in this part contribute to a comparison of the global spread and practice of political consumerism’s four forms. They offer data on its presence and practice in different regional and national settings and include empirical material as well as some methodological advice for studying the phenomenon in specific geographic areas. The chapters address the regions that have dominated the debate and scholarship (e.g., Northwestern Europe and North America) and include regions where political consumerism is a more recent phenomenon (e.g., Central and Eastern Europe) and where it takes different forms (e.g., the Middle East, Africa, and Asia). The regions that have received less attention are particularly interesting because they include countries with booming economies (China and Thailand) or developing ones (Middle East and Africa), with different political histories (Central and Eastern Europe and Latin America), and with different political consumer strategies (Southern Europe and Latin America).
Northwestern Europe is the first geographical area reviewed. Joost de Moor and Philip Balsiger, in their chapter “Political Consumerism in Northwestern Europe: Leading by Example?,” illustrate political consumerism’s spread and diversity in this region, which has been extensively studied. They use the wealth of available empirical data (in particular, of a quantitative character) to illustrate the depth and spread of the different forms of political consumerism. Still, they find it difficult to assess the phenomenon’s political impact and to evaluate whether political consumerism is a valuable and effective strategy for solving societal problems. Southern Europe has witnessed a different kind of political consumerism. Eleftheria J. Lekakis and Francesca Forno start their chapter, “Political Consumerism in Southern Europe,” with the observation that surveys generally show a lower rate of political consumerism in Southern European countries. However, a closer examination shows that consumers here may focus less on boycotts and buycotts and instead invest more in communitarian and local collective actions not easily measured in surveys. Therefore, political consumerism should not be considered as individualistic but to include collective organization of food production, distribution and consumption. This “social turn” broadens the concept of political consumerism and has great potential to encourage new forms of empirical research. Léna Pellandini-Simányi and Emese Gulyás’s chapter, “Political Consumerism in Central and Eastern Europe,” questions whether political consumerism in Eastern Europe can simply be understood as lagging behind Western Europe and shows this is not the case. When mapping political consumerism in these countries, they observe some important consumer-oriented activities embedded in everyday life. Consumers make choices requiring little or no additional costs, such as (p. 16) energy-saving options. Several conditions, including consumer willingness to engage in political consumerism and to further expand such forms of political consumerism, are present in Central and Eastern Europe.
North America is another region with a long history of market-based political activism. Meredith A. Katz shows in her chapter “Boycotting and Buycotting in Consumer Cultures: Political Consumerism in North America” how early consumer boycotting and buycotting campaigns were organized in the United States by women’s organizations to protect workers’ rights. Her historical overview leads to a discussion on contemporary forms of political consumerism using social media and a plea for more research on these innovative instruments for political consumerism. Fátima Portilho and Michele Micheletti, in their chapter “Politicizing Consumption in Latin America,” stress not only that political consumerism in Latin America relates to the production of labelled goods for the northern market but also that the region has a unique tradition of politicizing consumption. In particular, the social movements opposing the neoliberal capitalist system incorporate political consumerism in their repertoire but focus their actions rather on the parliamentary arena than on the market. Africa and the Middle East constitutes the region reviewed by Peter Oosterveer, Laurent Glin, and Michele Micheletti in “Tracing Political Consumerism in Africa and the Middle East.” They describe different initiatives that illustrate how (forms of modern) consumption in Africa are discussed in moral terms, often related to excessive (western) lifestyles and corruption. Africa is at the same time, as a producing continent, also linked to global supply chains that make political consumer behaviour possible in richer countries through fairtrade and organically labelled products. In the Middle East and North Africa, religious controversies are very prominent. To understand this region’s political consumerism, it appears necessary to study the connections with economic, religious, and political dynamics around the world.
Two chapters on Asia conclude this part. First, Zhang Lei, Wenling Liu, and Peter Oosterveer show in “Institutional Changes and Changing Political Consumerism in China” how the communist political system with its limited economic freedom has made way for rapid economic development and a rise of the middle classes. The unique Chinese institutional context gives political consumerism a particular framing, especially with respect to state-market dynamics as the government is still leading while private initiatives are less prominent. Still, it remains an open question whether or not consumers will, in the future, be politically motivated in their everyday consumer choices and opt for more environmentally friendly products. In the chapter on Thailand, “Facilitating Political Consumerism in an Emerging Economy: The Case of Political Consumerism in Thailand,” Kanang Kantamaturapoj, Natapol Thongplew, and Suwit Wibulpolprasert review several recent cases of political consumerism, which illustrate its diversity in Thailand in terms of actors involved, forms used, and agendas set. In doing so, they portray the importance of social media in Thailand for mobilizing consumers. These chapters underline the importance of keeping an open view on the multiple ways in which political consumerism may acquire its particular form in the Global South where political systems and cultures differ.
(p. 17) Seen together, this part’s chapters offer interesting insights into the significant geographical, economic, and political diversity involved in political consumerism globally. There are differences in the dynamics and relationships in the field of political consumerism and in how and why it is being regionalized.
Democratic Paradoxes and Challenges in Political Consumerism
Political consumerism scholars typically study the phenomenon as a new form of globalized democratic governance and democratic responsibility-taking on the part of consumers individually and collectively. Often they equate political consumerism with ethical or sustainable consumption. Whereas this research tradition has studied many challenging issues around the realization of ethical/sustainable consumption, it can be criticized for not seriously addressing examples that do not include a democratic spirit or promote democratic societal development. This part thus focuses on how political consumerism can hinder the pursuit of democracy by threatening political and social equality and supporting undemocratic ideologies and values. The chapters discuss how political consumerism can promote and even institutionalize discrimination and undemocratic practices as well as how it may marginalize ethnic and racial groups economically and socially. It is of utmost importance to consider how and why political consumerism is currently also being used as an excluding mechanism in the globalized world.
The part’s chapters show several historical and contemporary examples of public and civil society campaigns that pit societal, ethnic, or religious groups against each other. Some campaigns promoting nationalism, nationalistic movements, and national or regional protectionism occur at a time of crisis (Lekakis, 2015) or during a nation-building process (see Chapter 30). In both cases, movements promote the buying of domestically produced goods instead of imported ones. While such boycotts and buycotts might seem appropriate in certain circumstances, in others they lead to nationalist protectionism (e.g., “Buy American”) and even discrimination of certain societal groups, as witnessed by historical anti-Jewish boycotts (see Chapter 29).
This part also explores ambiguous or sensitive cases of political consumerism. There is a broad variety of such kinds of political consumerism. Some sensitive cases of political consumerism campaigns may aim at promoting social justice while indirectly mobilizing support for discrimination. An important example discussed in the Handbook is the global “boycott, divest and sanction” (BDS) movement to pressure Israel to change its policy on Palestine and the Golan Heights (see Chapter 33). Other ambiguous cases concern the balance between environmental and social concerns (see Chapter 34). Policies, movements, and actions, including consumption for “the environment,” may neglect issues of social justice and democracy or even be associated with antidemocratic framings (see Fischer, 2018, on the ambiguous nature of (p. 18) environmental democracy). Within political consumerism, it is not uncommon, for instance, that buycott arrangements promoting ecological values fundamentally neglect or even reject issues around poverty, social conflicts, and justice. Simply assuming that “eco” is good may be extremely illusory.
The first chapter of this part, “Undemocratic Political Consumerism” by Dietlind Stolle and Lucas Huissoud, elaborates on some novel concepts for this area of study, including consumer ethnocentrism, consumer animosity, and consumer racism. It furthermore discusses general problems in conducting research on more problematic contemporary political consumerism. Reasons connect to conceptual factors, for instance that terms such as “ethical” and “moral” consumption make researchers bias their attention towards only democratic forms. Other related reasons concern research design and political consumerism’s operationalization and measurement, such as in the construction of survey questionnaires as well as difficulties in finding information and conducting systematic analysis of undemocratic cases. These difficulties relate to the fact that undemocratic usage is often less visible and, therefore, challenging or even unsafe to study with conventional methodological strategies and empirical materials. Because of such conceptual and methodological limitations, scholarship so far has presented an image of political consumerism that fails to include all relevant facets and variants. This and other chapters in this part offer reflections on the ability of conventional ways of theorizing and measuring political consumerism to distinguish between its democratic/undemocratic or problematic/unproblematic cases.
The part continues with a historical chapter. Political consumerism has been involved in various ways in colonial relationships. As Stefanie Affeldt shows in “‘Buy White—Stay Fair’: Racist Political Consumerism in Australian History,” colonial products enabled a race-based demarcation (i.e., a white supremacy), but this took shape in different ways between different colonial powers. She focuses on how racist political consumerism was applied in a particular way in early-20th-century Australia in the sugar industry by scrutinizing the White Sugar campaign and the Buy Australian-Made campaign. Both show how Australian consumers were asked to express national identity, pride, and loyalty by consuming locally manufactured products. These campaigns fused everyday culture with the political programme of the time and contributed to the emergence of an imagined racist community of consumers.
Moving to contemporary times, Eleftheria J. Lekakis in “Poltical Consumerism and Nationalist Struggles in Europe” explores the intersection between political consumerism and nationalism through three cases of nationalist struggles in Europe: a British boycott-halal campaign, a Catalan cava boycott in Spain, and a German product boycott in Greece. Located at different societal levels of struggle (local, regional, and national), these cases illustrate contradictions and tensions at the intersection between political consumerism and nationalism as well as the ideological ambiguity inherent in nationalism. This chapter elaborates on various concepts for understanding the ambiguities involved, including consumer nationalism, economic nationalism, banal nationalism, and everyday nationhood as well as how universalistic and particularistic aspects of nationalism can interact.
(p. 19) The U.S. context is strikingly different from the European one. In American history, both political consumerism and racial conflicts, with the important heritage of the slave economy, have been substantial. Thus, the intersection of these two phenomena is worth much more theoretical and empirical scholarly attention. Bo Yun Park in “Racialized Political Consumerism in the United States” notes the lack of research around this intersection and suggests conceptual and empirical avenues for more research. Studies of such political consumerism approaches, she argues, should include theorizing symbolic and social boundaries, considering struggles among both ethnoracial minorities and majorities; direct and indirect consequences of racial issues; and, finally, how the racial dimension intersects with age, education, income, and gender. She moreover shows that both white supremacist groups and various ethnoracial minority groups in the United States have used different forms of racialized political consumerism, including boycotts, buycotts, discursive actions, and selective investments.
In the chapter “Problematic Political Consumerism: Confusions and Moral Dilemmas in Boycott Activism,” Michele Micheletti and Didem Oral discuss why political consumerism, particularly boycotts, can be confusing and problematic through a discussion on the Disney Company boycott in different historical times and the contemporary movement against Israeli settlements in the Palestine territories (BDS). These cases are seen as more problematic than other well-known boycotts against, for instance, Nestlé, Nike, and the apartheid regime in South Africa. They theorize how political consumerism can involve moral dilemmas and explain why such dilemmas are particularly salient in boycotts rather than in buycotts and discursive actions. Reasons include the tendency for various boycott campaigns to express unclear or inconsistent demands and messages directed to the identified targets (wrongdoers) and thus to create confusing messages to consumers as well as easily attract unintended and unwelcome supporters.
Even if buycotts generally imply fewer moral dilemmas, they may nevertheless involve several problematic aspects. This is exemplified in the chapter “Some Dilemmas of Political Consumerism: Class and Ecotourism Practices in the Philippines”? by Sarah Webb and Anna Cristina Pertierra, which focuses on ecotourism at a UNESCO World Heritage site on the island of Palawan in the Philippines. This is a good example of how environmental and social dimensions do not always cling together. The chapter demonstrates the relevance of taking into account factors such as social class, social cleavages, and the marginalization of certain groups (e.g., indigenous peoples or local populations facing poverty) when conducting research on the problematic aspects of political consumerism. The authors show how several dilemmas related to these factors are involved in ecotourism in this country.
Finally, this part includes a case on how the dynamics of political consumerism shift in relation to a particular good: cannabis (marijuana) in the North American context (Canada and the United States). Elizabeth A. Bennett in “Prohibition, Legalization, and Political Consumerism: Insights From the U.S. and Canadian Cannabis Markets” focuses on how a good’s legal status and public discourses interact with demand- and supply-side dynamics in political consumerism. These dynamics shift through processes of prohibition, semilegalization, and new legalization. Political consumerism (p. 20) here involves issues of normalization and alternative lifestyle consumerism. She shows how a controversial topic like cannabis involves challenges for producers, consumers, and social movement organizations to engage in political consumerism.
By exploring the role of racism and other types of undemocratic stereotyping and intolerance, as well as nationalism, religion, class struggles, and politically/culturally sensitive practices in the broader aspects of political consumerism, this part provides many new conceptual, methodological, and empirical insights for further researching more problematic aspects of the phenomenon.
The Problem-Solving Potential of Political Consumerism
Increasingly, the problem-solving potential of political consumerism is discussed among social scientists and in public debates. These discussions demonstrate the need for more firm analytical perspectives for systematically studying the power of consumers and political consumer activities. This part’s five chapters focus on this large topic and contribute ideas about the stringent assessment of political consumerism’s effectiveness through different analytical and disciplinary perspectives. They evaluate whether, how, and why political consumerism is or can be a driver of societal change. For instance, what role do civil society campaigns, governmental efforts, and corporate initiatives play in creating broad public awareness about the role of consumers, consumer behaviour, and consumer-oriented mechanisms to solve societal problems? This part also addresses the important topic of political consumerism’s limitations in filling the governance gap (i.e., solving complex globalized societal problems). Through examples and general discussions, it develops scholarship on measuring the impact/effectiveness and limitations of political consumer action and institutions.
The part begins with a chapter by Lara Monticelli and Donatella della Porta, “The Successes of Political Consumerism as a Social Movement.” Unlike studies focusing on individuals’ engagements in market-based political activities, they focus on political consumerism as “collectivized individual action.” Here, factors such as political opportunity structure, social movement organizations, and framing processes play a central role. An important contribution is their interpretative compass with six main features (type, domain, nature, target, timing, and duration) that systematizes the complex, multilayered process of political consumer activism from its mobilization to its outcome and effects. The compass helps evaluate some standard examples (fairtrade and antisweatshop activism), others that relate to the 2008–2009 financial crisis (solidarity purchasing groups and time banks), and the degrowth movement (transition towns and ecovillages). For political consumerism to be effective, the authors find that interaction between political consumer–oriented social movements and their political, cultural, and institutional environment is critical. For example, an important effect is (p. 21) that emerging alternative and grassroots practices explicitly criticize the foundational paradigms of the market and overcome the classic dualism between producers and consumers.
Two chapters in this part address the question of how political consumerism affects the corporate world. Luc Fransen’s “Political Consumerism and Corporate Strategy Towards Sustainability Standard-Setting: In or Out of Sync?” surveys political consumerism’s role in ongoing corporate activities to promote private sustainability standards organizations (PSOs). He discusses how political consumers are not the only factor driving corporations into more social and environmental responsibility-taking in the form of sustainability standard-setting in industry sectors. Other important considerations having little to do with political consumer pressure are the government’s role and corporations’ own business strategies. Fransen shows that many PSOs dominating some industrial sectors are developed and run by businesses only. Several PSOs do not offer a consumer label on their products as evidence of their compliance with a sustainability standard. Two factors explain the unimportance of political consumer action: first, the increased engagement of governments and intergovernmental organizations with PSOs; and, second, the self-interest of firms.
Sophie Dubuisson-Quellier also addresses the corporate world in her chapter “From Moral Concerns to Market Values: How Political Consumerism Shapes Markets.” Unlike Fransen, whose focus is business strategy, her economic sociological approach considers political consumerism’s impacts on more basic market structures and practices. Her focus is on contentious forms of valuation and how and why they modify the structure of opportunities for market actors, lead some companies to change their practices or products, and influence market competition. She argues that individuals’ engagements in boycotting and buycotting have limited direct effects on fostering corporate or societal change. Instead, such activism can have an indirect effect by producing and circulating symbolic, normative, and material resources for valuation. For her and other authors in this volume, markets can be locations for the emergence of moral economies that challenge existing economic practices.
Several Handbook chapters mention the role of government. Erik Hysing’s “Government Engagement With Political Consumerism” reconsiders the conventional theorization of political consumerism as filling governance gaps. Through industry sector examples, he shows how governments help structure, incentivize, facilitate, and legitimize labelling schemes and even sometimes favour one scheme over another (e.g., fishing and forestry). Governments also promote buycotting by integrating labelling schemes into their public procurement policies and practices. This might imply that governments are finding innovative ways of taking more proactive responsibility for globalized production and domestic consumption. However, Hysing emphasizes how governmental involvement in political consumerism can have negative (side-) effects by promoting national protectionism and making it more difficult for small southern farmers who cannot afford to certify their products with voluntary labelling schemes. In sum, governments are intimately intertwined with political consumerism both intentionally and unintentionally.
(p. 22) The final chapter by Magnus Boström and Mikael Klintman, “Mass Consumption and Political Consumerism,” tackles the part’s topic differently by addressing the problematic relationship between political consumerism and mass consumption. Here the term “citizen-consumers” and the difference between alterconsumption and anticonsumption are discussed. They relate six factors tied to mass consumption and political consumerism’s effectiveness. Interesting findings include how anticonsumption practices (freegans, dumpster divers, and secondhand shopping) are highly dependent on the mass consumption of others. Even successful political consumerism is dependent on people buying political consumer goods at a large, stable rate. Thus, the mass-consumption context and forces both obstruct and facilitate political consumer practices.
In sum, the chapters in this part provide nuances for understanding the effectiveness of political consumerism as a force for societal change. Governments and corporations are crucial in the phenomenon, and political consumer efforts can have intended and unintended, direct and indirect, short- and long-term, as well as unexpected and negative side-effects.
Political consumerism has developed in many different directions: geographically, conceptually, methodologically, in multiple sectors, at multiple levels, and involving multiple disciplines. Political consumerism’s diversity and spread may encourage many consumers and activists to use the market as an arena for politics and societal affairs. But its varieties also create challenges for scholars to make sense of the phenomenon. Critical questions arise about its appropriate conceptual framing. The Handbook also offers methodological reflections in studying political consumerism in different countries and sectors, measures to evaluate its effectiveness, and scholarly problems in studying the antidemocratic use of political consumerism. These key topics and others are taken up again in the concluding chapter.
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