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Session Overview
RN05_02b_H: Ethical and Political Consumption
Wednesday, 30/Aug/2017:
4:00pm - 5:30pm

Session Chair: PIERLUIGI MUSARO, University of Bologna
Location: HA.2.9
HAROKOPIO University 70 El. Venizelou Street 17671 Athens, Greece Building: A, Level: 2.

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Universalistic moral discourses, situated moralities: Communicating ethical trade in Poland and Finland

Kinga Natalia Polynczuk-Alenius

University of Helsinki, Finland

This paper approaches ethical trade as a communication problem that relays on a moral disposition, which must be constructed through communication efforts of ethical trade organisations. Originating from the Anglosphere, the moral discourses that surround ethical trade employ the horizontal division between the ‘Global North’, including Poland and Finland, and the ‘Global South’. In this homogenising metageography, North is imagined as a hemisphere of consumption, wealth and privilege, while South figures as a hemisphere of production, poverty and deprivation. From the presupposed prosperity in the North stem the moral obligations of solidarity, care and responsibility that Northern consumers should extend towards Southern producers.

During a year-long fieldwork with ethical trade organisations in Poland and Finland, I observed that although their communication heavily drew on these universalistic moral discourses, it was nevertheless anchored in and accountable to more nuanced economic, political and cultural conditions in their respective societies. Particularly, Polish ethical trade organisations were much more vigilant than their Finnish counterparts about the potential negative reception of their message among the public. Thus, I argue that ethical trade communication responds to the projected ‘situated moralities’ of consumers. To elucidate this situatedness more clearly, I borrow the vocabulary of world-systems theory which positions Finland at the core of global trade system (among the greatest beneficiaries of the global market and the holders of the largest economic capital), and Poland in the semi-periphery (simultaneously dependent on the ‘core’, forced to compete with other semi-peripheral countries, and oppressing the ‘periphery’).

Political consumption and social stratification – some critical thoughts

Eivind Jacobsen

Oslo and Akerhus University College of Applied Sciences, Norway

Apparently, as it has “moved South” “production” has lost some of its defining role in relation to social stratification in the NorthWest. So has “consumption”, as it has been “democratized” by means of mass marketing and -distribution. In the paper, I will discuss whether political/ethical consumption could be seen to represent ways of doing social stratification by other means, whereby social class is performed and class structures upheld.

Political consumerism: towards a new typology of practices

Margarita Komninou1,2

1University of Patras, Greece; 2Technological Educational Institute of Western Greece

Consumer practices which do not render themselves to be easily commodified by the market, such as acts of DIY, downshifting, dumpster diving, reusing, sharing, shoplifting and occupying, are infrequently discussed in the literature of ethical and political consumption. Why does that happen and what insights can we draw from an attempt to incorporate such practices in the concepts of ethical and political consumerism?

Our failure to address the ideological context of ‘consumption’ has resulted in perceiving and measuring political consumerism mainly in terms of buycotting and boycotting. By viewing ‘consumption’ as only relevant to acts of ‘purchasing’ and ‘shopping’, the agency of the ‘consumer’ is bound to certain rules and mechanisms of a capitalist market. Moreover, by arbitrarily ascribing a strictly ‘non-economic’ motivation behind the ‘ethical’ and ‘political’ framings of consumption, we automatically exclude private (economic) troubles from the public sphere (ignoring thus their political nature). Consequently, the typical profile of the ethical/political consumer (well-educated, female gendered, well-off, middle to upper social-class) is perhaps nothing more than the reflection of a bias imposed by our tendency to measure only practices which do not breach the limits of the capitalist market (its internal logic and moral system).

This paper calls for an expansion of the repertoire of consumer action associated with political consumerism if we want to understand consumption as an “arena of politics” and a form of political participation in a democratic manner (where every person gets to “vote”). A working typology of political consumerism practices will also be presented and discussed.

Co-Creation through Crowdsourcing? - Consumer-citizens’ involvement in local environmental policy measures

Pål Strandbakken, Harald Throne-Holst

Oslo and Akershus University College of Applied Sciences, Norway

“Crowdsourcing is a method for harnessing the collective intelligence of online communities to solve specific problems or produce goods” (Brabham 2013: 50). A Norwegian project (iResponse) studies the use of crowdsourcing as a method to involve citizens in a two-way dialogue with local authorities for meeting problems of storm water/flooding, urban air quality and urban planning.

Based on a nationwide web survey (urban areas, N = 1933), we address questions about consumer involvement in smaller decision making processes; using ideas about participatory democracy and co-creation. Due to the novelty of these concepts in the crowdsourcing approach, the survey mainly had an exploratory design, introducing theoretical and sociological perspectives in the subsequent analysis. Results indicate that age and gender influence both familiarity with the concepts and the willingness to engage with and to employ modern technologies like smart phones for political participation.

One aim of this study is to assess whether crowdsourcing based on digital platforms is an interesting contribution to the political toolbox. If so, to what degree? What sets of barriers have to be overcome, like consumers’ lack of knowledge or lack of trust in the system, their possible worries about privacy issues and potentially sensitive information. Will older consumers be left out as digitally illiterate? For what types of environmental problems and possible measures and/or solutions might online crowdsourcing be relevant?

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