A new book, Globalizing Responsibility: the political rationalities of ethical consumption, co-written by myself and three colleagues – Paul Cloke, Nick Clarke and Alice Malpass – has just been published. It comes out of an ESRC/AHRC funded project on Governing the subjects and space of ethical consumption that we all worked on together, and which formally ended back in 2006. But these things take time to come to full fruition (we have another book in the pipeline).
The book sets out to analyse various ethical consumption practices from a political perspective. By this, I mean it tries to understand them as forms of political mobilisation, campaigning, lobbying, and so on – not in the sense of evaluating them from a pre-established position of what counts as politics or what makes politics more or less progressive – but in terms of trying to understand how these sorts of activities are indicative of changes in the way politics gets done now. It is based primarily on case studies undertaken in and around Bristol in the mid-2000s, especially focussing on fair trade campaigns of different sorts, and tries to make sense of the local dynamics of global solidarity politics. Theoretically, the book works through various approaches to understanding this sort of activity, including accounts of neoliberalization, governmentality theory, theories of practice, social movement theory, and theories of consumerism.
We have a couple of nice endorsements on the back cover, one from the geographer Peter Jackson at Sheffield: “Based on original research and innovative thinking, this profound and insightful book challenges conventional thinking about ‘ethical consumption’. Approaching the subject as a distinctive form of political mobilisation, Globalizing Responsibility shows how our everyday consumption practices are related to wider narratives of social justice and collective responsibility”; and one from Rob Harrison of Ethical Consumer Magazine: “‘By viewing ethical consumption patterns as a political phenomenon, the authors deliver a far deeper understanding of this growing movement than a whole raft of marketing and business literature which has gone before.”
So if anyone is still stuck for gifts to put under the tree this festive season, this comes just in the nick of time.
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In the same vein, see also Yannick Rumpala, ““Sustainable consumption” as a new phase in a governmentalization of consumption”, Theory and Society, vol. 40, n° 6, November 2011.
With the rise of environmental themes and the increasing support of the “sustainable development” objective, public institutions have shown a renewed interest in the sphere of consumption. During the 1990s, a new dimension in public regulation was developed for the more downstream part of economic circuits, precisely to eliminate the negative effects of consumption and to be able to subject it to criteria of “sustainability.” The initiatives taken thus far have in fact mainly targeted the general population, primarily considered as a set of individual consumers. The latter are expected to become aware of their share of responsibility in the pressures exerted on natural resources and environments, and thus of the need to adapt their consumption habits in order to improve the situation. This article proposes to seize this dynamic, which seems to be expanding. It examines the discursive and programmatic frameworks, which together redefine the role of both the consumer and the citizen to arrive at an individual who can be interested and mobilized in favor of new recommendations. It analyzes the logic from which an effort attempting to make acts of consumption conform to renewed requirements has been established in its wake. This allows for a better understanding of the institutional devices that have been favored, in particular insofar as they appear to be the result of a constrained space of possibilities. In brief, it is a governmentality that tends to be deployed, although it is also likely to give rise to tensions.