Political Consumerism: Its Motivations, Power, and Conditions in the Nordic Countries and Elsewhere

Proceedings from the 2nd International Seminar on Political Consumerism, Oslo August 26–29, 2004

image of Political Consumerism: Its Motivations, Power, and Conditions in the Nordic Countries and Elsewhere

The concept of political consumerism draws on the observation that consumer choice and the rising politics of products is an increasingly important form of political participation, especially with regard to such issues as human rights, animal rights, global solidarity and environmental responsibility. The 2nd International Seminar on Political Consumerism was arranged to enhance our knowledge about political consumerism. This report includes revised versions of the papers that were presented and discussed at the seminar. Scholars from various disciplines presented papers that discussed and analyzed such topics as the characteristics of (especially Nordic) political consumers and their motivations to express their political concerns through market channels, how consumer power and individual choice can be linked to public influence, political and market conditions for the success, effectiveness, or failure of political consumerism as a regulatory tool, and the framing, mobilization, and organizational processes behind political consumerism.



Ambiguous Framings of Political Consumerism: Means or end, product - or process orientation?

For dealing with various societal problems, ‘political’/’ethical’/’responsible’ consumerism is often discussed as an effective democratic and participatory tool. However, political consumerism – along with its tools, such as product labeling – is often conceived and discussed in oversimplified ways. Instead, the tension between scientific complexity, knowledge uncertainty, and a codified, standardized label involves extensive political strategy, interest conflicts, and simplified framings of the consumers' roles as political decision makers. The purpose of this paper is to analyze how criteria for organic food labeling have been simplified, or framed, within various versions of political consumerism in policy debates. The more general purpose is to examine variations of what consumerism may entail theoretically and practically. Examples are chosen of organic food labeling in the U.S. The analysis is based on framing theory. The first distinction is made between framings of extrinsic and intrinsic consumerism, (that is, consumer empowerment toward an external goal: or as an overriding principle of democracy). The second distinction is between product– and process-oriented consumerism (that is, consumer empowerment with regards to the purchased goods or concerning the "invisible" production and disposal processes). Finally, the paper argues that a judgment of processes of political consumerism as ‘successful’ or ‘unsuccessful’ examples of democratic political consumerism may, for instance, be dependent on the relative importance that one places on trust, insight, and influence of political consumers.


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