Ethical Capitalism and Its Cultural Logic
Cole, Nicki Lisa
Sociology University of California, Santa Barbara Santa Barbara, California, United States
In this paper I present a conceptual sketch of ethical capitalism and consumerism, which I argue now represent the dominant mode of capitalism and of culture in the United States. Ethical capitalism refers to the practices, relations, and ideologies that re-ect the central idea that relations of production and consumption should be forces for good, and benefit all involved. Ethical consumerism is a cultural mode in which we see the discourse of ethical capitalism manifested in the lives, identities, practices and thoughts of people in society. The central principles of ethical consumerism are that one must be thoughtful about one's purchases, and that certain things must be protected in the consumer decision making process; the environment, one's health, and the conditions of labor involved are the primary concerns. Building on the legacies of Marx and Gramsci, I employ critical cultural theories and theories of the postmodern to construct a theoretical framework for seeing and understanding ethical capitalism/consumption. Drawing on observations of our contemporary era and dissertation research currently underway in the ethical coffee market I argue that ethical capitalism normalizes a racialized, global division of labor that organizes both production and consumption of goods, and reproduces the system in the discourse and imagery of consumer goods, and in the everyday lives of people in the world. Simultaneously ethical capitalism is heralded as the champion of democratic development and human rights, yet it produces just marginal change in the lives of laborers and producers, and ultimately, serves to only deepen the grip of global capitalism and fuels inequality.