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Politicizing Consumer Choice

Ethical Dimensions of Consumerism in the United States

Christian Gunkel

This book investigates various forms of political and ethical consumerism in the United States and delivers a comprehensive conceptualization of the consumer’s role in the marketplace. Both aspects, the potential impact of market-based activism on corporations in America and the socio-structural dynamics that may prevent the possibility of far-reaching social change through forms of alternative consumerism, are equally important in this regard. The historical ties between politics and consumption in America, and the diminishing role of the government as a regulatory force in the market since the end of Fordism, has spawned a unique form of consumer politics directed at the corporate world. The underlying question to be answered is whether the consumer is truly a force to be reckoned with.
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5. Conclusion


Although not every consumer choice is political by default, one has to abandon the notion of consumption as a solely private act without any political implication. In other words, purchase decisions and political choices are not necessarily mutually exclusive. Thus, one will observe a certain complexity in the concept of the ‘citizen consumer,’ which conceptualizes consumption as a way of civic participation. Even though the citizen and the consumer are not incompatible, the merging of both concepts does not reconcile some of the most central, and inherently contradictory, dichotomies of alternative consumption. As a matter of fact, consumption may extend from the private into the public sphere, and thus become a form collective action or behavior instead of an exclusively individual form of action, as soon as it gets a political dimension. But even the most banal consumer choice involves a social component, as discussed in chapter two. As Bourdieu contends, consumer tastes develop within in the particular social context in which an individual is situated. Thus, even though the choice is formulated by the individual consumer and takes shape in their purchase decisions, consumer choice is at the same time greatly influenced by the individuals ‘conditions of existence,’ to borrow Bourdieu’s term. Hence, the individual must not be seen in opposition to society, just as Elias suggested. This especially holds true for postmodernism, wherein the individual is standing at the center of every social relation.

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