Understanding ethical consumption as public participation: institutions and behaviours
PhD School of Sociology Corvinus University of Budapest Budapest, Hungary
The paper outlines the interpretations and examines the phenomenon of ethical consumerism in Hungary. Its thesis is that ethical consumerism appears due to the ongoing changes of democratic political culture, as a result of the declining legitimacy of governments and the diversification of political participation opportunities. The paper uses Beck?s theory of reflexive modernisation and subpolitics as an analytical framework, according to which there is a parallelism between the declining power of governments and classical, participatory political institutions, and the growing importance of the new political functions of the market.
Scholars stress the pressurizing nature of political consumption, seeing consumers not just as market players, but as political actors as well. The market is also a place for political and moral action. Market decisions reflect on the interpretations of material goods placed within a complex social and normative context, which according to the often used ?dollar vote? analogy means that through their purchasing decisions consumers participate in shaping society, just as they do through their political vote. The political consumption approach assigns instrumental nature of consumption a central role: the need to see changes in unwanted corporate or political practices plays an important role in consumer choices.
The paper analyses the results of a representative survey about ethical consumer and political attitudes from 2005, which showed that ethical consumers, comparing to other citizens, are more likely to join boycotts and social forums, and more likely consider them as efficient representation tools; ethical consumers assign importance to the use of traditional political institutions, however they doubt its efficiency. On the other hand results from a qualitative research from 2009 are presented. 30 structured interviews were conducted with consumers who practice at least one form of the following behaviors that are labelled as ethical consumption in the literature: buying from community supported agriculture, participate in direct link purchasing circles, buy fair trade products. The aim of the interviews was to understand the main motivations of the so called political-ethical consumers, their social and cognitive embeddedness into the individual political attitudes and behaviors, with a special focus on the need for public participation.