Ethical Consumption: On Being a Consumer and Being Good

Just published: ‘Ethical Consumption: The Case of Fairtrade’ in: Kölner Zeitschrift für Soziologie und Sozialpsychologie, Sonderheft 9: Wirtschaftssoziologie (Hrsg. Jens Becker, Christoph Deutschmann), pp.366-85

Neoliberal capitalism incorporates consumption as a realm of freedom and thus as a central field for expressing authentic selfhood. But this freedom also defines consumers as ultimately responsible for their choices, rendering the construction and expression of self in consumption potentially a moral project. Ethical consumption actualises this potential, as it is not only an attempt to use market power to achieve moral and/or political aims (doing good) but also a practice in which consumers can construct and express themselves as ethical persons (being good). In order to achieve this end, acts of ethical consumption need to be communicated as the expression of an authentic character disposition. 1 argue that this outcome is mainly achieved through linking the moral cause up to an aesthetic preference structure in what I describe as “ethical taste” and as “taste for ethics”. The authenticity of the thus constituted ethical self is warranted by referring back to a promise of equitable exchange implied by the everyday practice of consumer capitalism.


open access pre-publication manuscript


Veblen, Conspicuous Consumption and Recognition

Now published in European Journal of Social Theory‘Waste, Industry and Romantic Leisure: Veblen’s Theory of Recognition’ (Vol.9, no.1, pp.103-117)


Veblen’s work contains a neglected, since for the most part implicit, theory of recognition centred on his concepts of waste and workmanship. This article tries to develop this theory in order to shed new light on the theorem of conspicuous leisure and consumption. The legitimacy of violence at the ‘predatory stage’ of culture has been partly superseded by a legitimacy of industrial efficiency, so that the leisure classes need to disguise their conspicuous waste as socially useful productive endeavours. At the same time waste remains a powerful symbol of legitimate status, so that even the industrial classes turn to it in order to assert their social worth and demand social recognition. Waste – which is far more central in Veblen’s theory than is emulation – becomes an ambiguous symbol which can stand for both unproductive privilege and industrial efficiency. The utilitarian urge for efficiency and the meaninglessness of a struggle for recognition through conspicuous waste produce a desire for a romantic escape, also acknowledged by Veblen, but often overlooked in his sharp criticism of consumerism.

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