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How Political is Political Consumption? The Case of Activism for the Global South and Fair Trade

Jörg Rössel, Patrick Henri Schenk
Published: 16 August 2017

Abstract: Political consumption is a flourishing field of research at the intersection of consumer research and political sociology. Political consumption means the consideration of ethical or political motives in the decision to buy certain products. Its main forms are the buying (buycott) of products distinguished by certain ethical or political characteristics such as sustainability, social justice, or corporate responsibility, and the boycott of products that lack such characteristics. However, there is an ongoing discussion about the status of political consumption. Some authors suspect that it may distract citizens from more challenging forms of participation (crowding-out thesis). In contrast, most empirical research has shown that political consumers are also more active than the general population in other forms of political participation. However, this has only been shown for fairly general measures of political consumption and participation. Our contribution to this debate thus focuses on one specific form of political consumption and corresponding forms of participation: activism for the Global South and fair trade consumption, zooming in on the case of Switzerland, where fair trade consumption is quite widespread within the population. Our results show that fair trade consumption is only weakly related to other forms of engagement for Global South issues, thus it does not distract from more challenging forms of engagement, but it is also not part of a more general engaged lifestyle. This is supported by the fact that the motivations and structural underpinnings of other forms of activism for the Global South differ from those of fair trade consumption.
Keywords: political consumption / political participation / fair trade / Global South activism / crowding out

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