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Understanding consumption as political and moral practice: Introduction to the special issue
Craig J. Thompson Journal of Consumer Culture 2011 11: 139 DOI: 10.1177/1469540511403892 The online version of this article can be found at:

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particularly if their Corresponding author: Craig J. politicized consumption practices. broader ideological structures.nav DOI: 10. and racial hierarchies – are institutionalized and contested through consumption Thompson.sagepub. 2010). Thompson University of Wisconsin-Madison. USA Journal of Consumer Culture 11(2) 139–144 ! The Author(s) 2011 Reprints and permissions: sagepub.Editorial Understanding consumption as political and moral practice: Introduction to the special issue Craig J. Pennington. Madison. 2005).g.wisc. USA Email: cthompson@bus. From this standpoint. University of Wisconsin-Madison. individual consumers can most directly affect social change by voting with their proverbial pocket books. gender. This all too familiar trope of the invisible hand of the (socially responsible) market raises serious questions about what kind of political power consumers actually exercise through marketplace mechanisms. The politicized marketplace relationships (and recursive effects) that emanate from these intersections are not reducible to conventional dichotomies between the marketplace and the body politic or between consumption and civic Downloaded from joc. such as buying Fair TradeTM or eco-friendly goods. WI 53706. June 10– Abstract This special issue of the Journal of Consumer Culture addresses the complex intersections and interrelationships that exist among everyday consumption practices. 2011 . 975 University Avenue. More explicitly values-based. and moralistically infused citizenship ideals. are often coupled with a neo-liberal belief that the marketplace is the most efficient and effective arbiter of social values (e.1177/1469540511403892 by Horacio Espinosa on October 8. the articles in this special issue cast new theoretical light on how political ideologies and moralistic narratives – often reproducing entrenched class. 4251 Grainger. Building upon this insight. This special issue of the Journal of Consumer Culture derives from the 5th Annual Consumer Culture Theory Conference (held at the University of WisconsinMadison WI.

Furthermore. gender. community organizers. marked by ever rising degrees of corporate influence upon political institutions and processes. and other strategies for expressing political dissent through the marketplace in their larger socio-historic context. which arise when demands for social justice and equality are expressed through the politics of buying (or not buying) rather than through conventional political institutions and organized political movements. but also by journalists. however. 2011 . Press and Arnould address a more subtle manifestation of the politicized marketplace. Bryant Simon argues that. meanings that consumers strategically or tactically enact through their consumption practices and the overarching socio-cultural and ideological conditions that have shaped these consumers’ politicized orientations to the marketplace. Simon provides a critical reflection upon the societal consequences and ever present risks of ideological appropriation. corporate executives and politicians.140 Journal of Consumer Culture 11(2) collective goals do not meld with profit-maximizing imperatives. The interplay among these multiple stakeholders. the commercial marketplace is a potent site for political action and civic engagement. These broader historical conditions imbue everyday consumption practices with political and moralistic significations that can be variously leveraged and mobilized not only by consumers and advertisers. just as political engagement can take myriad forms other than voting. and racial hierarchies – are institutionalized and contested in the marketplace. individuals increasingly look to the marketplace as a means to wield some degree of control over their daily lives. the research presented in this special issue draws out key theoretical linkages between the politicized. which have undermined key foundations of collective identification – such as union solidarity – that formerly enabled citizens to organize as political blocs. has recursive effects. By analyzing boycotts. the post Second World War project of Downloaded from joc. these analyses reveal how different ideological legacies and socio-economic power structures – often reproducing entrenched class. and often moralistic. Press and Arnould propose that American Pastoral narratives and idealizations provide an ideological grounding to three seemingly disparate socio-cultural movements that have sought to transform Americans’ consumption and leisure practices: the late 19th and early 20th century utilitarian conservation movement – which celebrated the American wilderness as a valued and threatened resource for revitalizing the spirits of the metropolitan American workforce. Looking across a range of marketplace by Horacio Espinosa on October 8. public health officials. Also taking a socio-historical tact.sagepub. which can reconfigure the marketplace and socio-cultural conditions that originally gave rise to particular politicized consumption practices (and underlying societal goals). In this neo-liberal political age. buycotts. is a compensatory response to the broader trajectories of neo-liberal policies. Simon shows that this activist appropriation of the marketplace. are there are other manifestations of politicized consumption that do not depend upon the canonized power of the purse strings? To address these questions. In his analysis of organized consumer boycotts against the iconic brand Starbucks. contrary to laments about the decline of citizenship in this age of rampant consumerism. in turn.

Askegaard. Boye. 2007). an alternative market system more commonly associated with the 1960s commune and organic food countercultural movements (Thompson and Coskuner-Balli. journalists. social relations. The still broader socio-cultural background to Press and Arnould’s analysis is the transformation of the global consumer culture into a global risk society (Beck. as well as shopping and commuting patterns that it precipitated. According to these authors.sagepub. buying brands that are also deemed to embody artisan virtues – as mundane acts of Downloaded from joc. and consumers’ quest for selfempowerment (in response to seemingly omni-present technological and expert systems) are further adumbrated by Ulver-Sneistrup. Through participation in CSA programs. and for venerating their support of the CSA marketplace as a morally virtuous act of environmental and cross-generational stewardship. Press and Arnould argue that this loosely coupled network of small farms – operating on a very unconventional model of shared financial risk with their customers – has gained marketplace legitimacy by leveraging American Pastoral narratives and images in their promotional and distributive practices. Interlinkages among morality. well-being. and parental solicitude. 1999). virtue. Press and Arnold show that American Pastoralism is a robust ideology whose core tenets have been readily adaptable to prevailing cultural conditions. UlverSneistrup. offering Utopian visions of harmonious bliss tailored to the social anxieties of the day. Kristensen. and Askegaard’s study of the contested meanings of health and morality circulating around an iconic product of Danish culture: milk. consumption. consumers access cultural resources for assuaging anxieties posed by the industrialization and globalization of the food chain. this munificent myth of milk consumption stands on a collision course with risk society skepticism. Askegaard. and community supported agriculture. and Kristensen profile the cultural and ideological conditions in which consumers understand their craft-oriented consumption practices – such as making ‘healthy meals’ from scratch and rather paradoxically. and Askegaard critically deconstruct this emerging countermythology that portrays consumers’ abstinence from milk consumption as a means to attain holistic well-being and ultimately to wrest control away from untrustworthy authorities and experts. These risk society conditions are central to Kristensen. While having becoming part and parcel of Denmark’s foodways (and even a loci of national pride). interlinked technological systems and reflexive doubts toward the trustworthiness of experts who are charged with assessing and managing these systemic risks (Beck. marked by a heightened collective awareness of systemic risks posed by expansive. pre-mass marketing artisanship – to imbue many of their mundane consumption practices and brand choices with moralistic virtues. In the case of Community Supported Agriculture. 2011 . as promulgated in the counter-narratives of heretical doctors. and self-proclaimed enlightened consumers. by Horacio Espinosa on October 8. and Kristensen. 1999). Their research first traces out the historical emergence of a national mythology that has culturally framed Danish dairy products as symbols of purity. consumers leverage a myth of craft – invoking ideals of old-world.Thompson 141 suburbanization and the dramatic transformation in lifestyles.

and economic capital play in social by Horacio Espinosa on October 8. social. Rafferty develops a related implication that middle class women feel morally obligated to participate in the fashion system in a manner deemed to be proper for their class position. 1996) trends toward standardization. Jenkins. and Molesworth argue that the salience of materialism in prior studies of consumer fantasies is more likely to be a methodological artifact of asking consumers to fantasize about consumption or fetishized material goods rather than to simply engage in imaginative reveries about their everyday lives. Jenkins. Jenkins. Pursuing this phenomenological tact. 2009). and Molesworth take exception to prior theorizations which presume that consumers’ imaginations have been thoroughly colonized by advertising and marketing imagery and. Askegaard. with its romanticized and idealized representations of consumer goods (Illouz. 2011 .142 Journal of Consumer Culture 11(2) resistance that oppose McDonaldizing (Ritzer. Nixon. and conversely that they acquire from their social networks. manifest a subtle form of everyday resistance to the materialist interpellations of the commercial marketplace. Nixon. Nixon. 1997). while their corresponding gender conditioning all too easily sparks perpetual anxiety and experiences of moral failing when undertaking these normatively governed practices of self-fashioning. and care to significant others. are a practical means to extend love. devotion. Providing a more optimistic spin on Simon’s warnings about the co-optability of political action waged though marketplace mechanisms. are a realm of insatiable materialist desires. Hence. with material goods functioning as props in this envisaged scripts of domestic tranquility.sagepub. Jenkins. Downloaded from joc. This special issue closes with an analysis of the interrelationships between consumer imagination and the consumer culture imaginary. and Kristensen conclude that corporate efforts to appropriate consumers’ diffuse craft practices and preferences could precipitate transformations in capitalist production that favor artisan values over principles of McDonaldization. and Molesworth find that consumers daydream about emotionally rewarding social relationships and warm familial ties. Rafferty investigates how women’s experiences and uses of fashion are structured by a confluence among class position. Building upon feminist revisions of Bourdieuian theory (Illouz. Rafferty shows that these familiar forms of capital are also intertwined with the emotional capital that women invest in their social relationships and family ties. gender socialization. Nixon. and habituated emotion predispositions. deskilling. Extending Bourdieu’s (1990) theoretical account of the role that cultural. This aspect of their analysis nicely dovetails with Daniel Miller’s (1998) ethnographic observations that everyday consumption practices. hence. and Molesworth conclude that material goods (and consumption practices) play a similar role in consumer fantasies and. In contrast. Ulver-Sneistrup. and social and ecological degradation. Rafferty shows that paucities of emotional capital can be as constraining to women’s fashion-centric identity projects as shortfalls in their economic or cultural capital. hence. 2001: 46). such as provisional shopping or being loyal to a particular brand. brands and material goods are consequential to consumers because they ‘mediate relationships’ to other people (Miller. Perhaps most interestingly.

University of Innsbruck Pauline Maclaran. rather than just consumers or citizens. Reviewers for the Special Issue Laurel Anderson. by Horacio Espinosa on October 8. In aggregate. University of Arizona Gulnur Tumbat. Chapman University Amber Epp. Stanford.Thompson 143 Closing thoughts The articles in this special issue call attention to the complex intersections and interrelationships that exist among everyday consumption practices. New York: Knopf. Cohen L (2003) A Consumers Republic: The Politics of Consumption in Postwar America.sagepub. University of Wisconsin-Madison Guliz Ger. Bourdieu P (1990) In Other Words: Essays Toward a Reflexive Sociology. CA: Stanford University Press. broader ideological structures and moralistically infused citizenship ideals. Cross G (2000) An All-Consuming Century: Why Commercialism Won in Modern America. 2011 . Everyday consumption practices are historically saturated with political and moralistic meanings that are not reducible to conventional dichotomies between the marketplace and the body politic or between consumption and civic engagement. San Francisco State University References Beck U (1999) World Risk Society. York University Ashlee Humphreys. is a more culturally fitting appellation for describing how social actors make use of marketplace resources. Universita Tonya Williams Bradford. Northwestern University Dannie Kjeldgaard. University of Notre Dame Gokcen Coskuner-Balli. they suggest that Cohen’s (2003) formulation of the citizen-consumer. Bilkent University Marius Leudicke. Concordia University ` Bocconi Stefani Borghini. University of Southern Denmark-Odense Olga Kravets. University of London Per Ostergaard. Arizona State University Zeynep Arsel. New York: Columbia University Press. MA: Blackwell. Downloaded from joc. It is our hope that this special session will spark more extensive interdisciplinary studies of the ideological dynamics manifest in the politicized marketplace and negotiated through citizen-consumers’ consumption practices. Bilkent University Markus Giesler. University of Southern Denmark-Odense Hope Schau. Royal Holloway.

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