Chapter two: The ethical problematicisation of 'the consumer'…
Chapter two: The ethical problematicisation of 'the consumer' (Barnett 2011)
Teleologies of Consumerism and Individualisation
Foucault- Ethics problamiticisation
Since 1980s UK- triumph of market logic in all aspects of social life. Consumer norms are the means of injecting accountability into the public sector.
Part of the shift of responsibility from state to citizens, empowering individuals to make informed choices
Increasing faith in investing in the role of information in empowering citizens to pursue their own goals
Substitutes individualistic self-interest for participation in activities that benefit the public good
Expansion of ethical consumption- substitutes individualised modes of personal responsibility for more collective modes of engagement
Consumer choice is individualised, materialistic, privatised and self-interested. All about selfless persuit of the common good, depoliticising individuals where the meaning of citizenship are progressively consumerised. Neoliberalism- intense privatisation of experience and identity.
Consumer is the paradigm, focused on self-regulation, self-management
Individualism vs collective action
Consumerism harmful- environmental degradation, reproduction of unequal trade relations and poverty, undermines collective environmental and conservation goals by privileging individual freedom in the pursue of material goods.
Consumerism central to the decline in civil life and public participation, the destruction of social capital.
Modernist ethics replaced by postmodern morality- primacy of responsibility for the other, exposed to the burdens and torments that follow from knowing the consequences of our actions. Responsibility equals action
The reign of ethical codes based on universal principles and objective certainty is over. Supply of ethics codes increasingly privatised to the marketplace. Tyranny of choice, consumerism and shopping
Society modern from traditional to modernity, then post modernity and liquid modernity
We are more individualsied than ever before, we live in a global risk society, people are faced with constant demands to explain themselves- self-formation.
Exercise of agency is effectively freed from traditional social structures, people make decisions where the fixed certainties about life work and relationships dissapear.
Theorising consumers as political subjects
Culture and consumerism are used to describe a postmodern lifestyle and support a politics of choice. Routinely equated with choice, self-interest and individualism
Modern by post-modern, materialist by post materialist, collectivist values by individualism
Reproducing binaries of consumption, instrumental rationality and autonomy vs collective values, altruism and public life
Citizenship can also enhance democratic citizen culture- culture of books, magazines and coffee houses
Primary challenge to binary of consumer vs citizen is 'political consumerism'- consumer choice is a new medium for political action, changing market practices, taking responsibility, solidarity and the exercise of autonomy. People engage in 'choice situations' to express their political values of justice and fairness
Political consumerism represents the emergence of 'individualised collective action'- citizen created action explicit choice of affiliations and identifications, deal with what they see as affecting their identity of a good life.
Express their commitment and values by buying certain products supporting organisations that build people on issues of human rights and environmental issues. Represents a trend in which ordinary people feel obliged to exercise personal choice this way
Jacobsen and Delsrud (2007) argue a shift of attention towards actors and interests that try to impact responsibilities on consumers, how collective actors frame and mobilise people as 'consumers' . Plus, more to consumption that the exercises of deliberate consumer choice, everyday consumption is routined, unreflective and embedded in the infrastructures of everyday lfie
The history of consumer politics- indicates a deepening of commodity consumption that does not necessarily lead to a diminution of collective, citizen orientated practices.
Great deal of modern politics generated by deepening of consumption as an infrastructure of everyday life
Look at the changing dynamics of non-governmental organisation, social movements and civil society actors in shaping political mobilisation.
Focusing on the strategies of organising and campaigning allows us to see that the politics of choice is not eqivalent to the process of de-collectivisation
Part of the sustained efforts ot a diverse range of organisations and organisational forms including ethical trading organisation, lobby groups, co-operative movements and no-logo campaigns
Lay normativity- everyday motives, norms and values that shape people's conduct and behaviour- people concerned with value for money, care about those close to us, explicit moral values drawn, diverse range of values and commitments that guide people's shopping, investment and consumption practices
Consumerism also embedded in other sorts of practices- embedded in practices of sociability, generosity and care, shopping guided to moral sentiments for family members, much shopping based on relationships
The responsibilisation of the consumer
Foucalts- 'governmentality theory'- sees the rise of the consumer as just one effect of a thoroughgoing transformation in the political rationaliities governing relationships between state, citizens and markets
Under advanced styles of liberal government, citizen tranformed from one entitled to rights from the state to one repsonibilised advocating personal preferences in the marketplace . Positions individuals in 'ethical projects' where they conduct themselves with the help of experts, training and services.
Lockie (2002) organic food sector- active dissemination of discourses of ethical responsibility by intermediaries including supermarket retaielers, nutritionists etc.
Information and broader social responsibilities. The consumer is responsible for their own self and dispersed others, freedom with their own good and collective good
New habit of subjectification- individuals shape an autonomous identity for themselves through choices in taste, music, goods, styles and hahits
Epochal shift from state to market provision and regulation. Responsibilisation involves, diverse actors, pursuing diverse objectives, etc.
Contemporary politics of consumption articulated through 'ethical problematicisation' people are expected to treat their conduct as consumers as subject to all sorts of moral injunctions
What type of subject is 'the consumer'?
Problem with governmentaility theory is the overwhelming strategic conceptualisation of action and interaction through which processes fo identification and contestation are theorised
Imagines all forms of action as primarily strategic action
Governmentality theorists develop a fully loaded theory of the exercise of political power from this starting point, one which ends up ascribing a considerable degree of causal significance to the play between competing strategic rationalities.
Acknowledging the emergent rationalities of interaction implies that the concatenation of strategic interests often leads to various forms of cooperative behaviour – bargaining, helping, compromising and self- binding
Foucault’s own analytics of governmentality continues to privilege a conception of social interaction in terms of ‘strategic games of liberty’ ‘in which some try to control the
conduct of others, who in turn try to turn to avoid allowing their conduct to be controlled or try to control the conduct of the others’
Does governing Consumption Involve Governing the Consumer?
Ethical consumption campaigns problematize current patterns of commodity consumption on the grounds that they are environmentally destructive, help to reproduce global inequality, and are complicit in human rights abuses
Changing consumption requires finding ways to make consumers change the ways they exercise choice
Question the assumption that governing consumption necessarily involves governing people's identification as consumers
(Hacking 1999). He argues that the classification of people is shaped by various ‘looping effects’, through which any adjustment that people make to their own conduct as a result of being classified in new ways renders those classifications false, thereby requiring an adjustment, which generates further adjustments,
Exercises in enumerating ethical consumption such as the EPI work a lot like Hacking’s dynamic looping effects. Campaigns to raise awareness and encourage people to exercise consumer choice ‘ethically’ lead to a disparate set of purchasing acts that are classified, counted and represented in new ways in the effort to alter retailing practices, and procurement and supply policies.
First, the key site of interventions into consumption are just as often the infrastructures of consumer choice as they are direct injunctions to individual consumers to change their behaviour. Our second point is that these sorts of interventions aim to reshape the actions of consumers, certainly, but that they might well be relatively indifferent to the subjective motivations of individual consumers.
The ethical problematicisation of the consumer
Technologies of the self, forth type of technology which human affairs could be understood- to determine the conduct of individuals and submit them to certain ends
The idea that one can only understand the relationship between individuals and wider systems of norms and regulation by taking account of ‘what matters to them’ (Sayer 2005: 51) is crucial to understanding the dynamics
of ethical consumption.
We suggest that the notion of lay normativity can supplement Foucault’s idea of ethical problematization to frame an analysis of the politics of ethical consumption
The idea of ethical problematization directs analytical attention to investigating the conditions ‘for individuals to recognize themselves as particular kinds of persons and to reflect upon their conduct – to problematize it – such that
they may work upon and transform themselves in certain ways and towards particular goals’
ethical consumption campaigning works in part by addressing moral dilemmas to ordinary people. In turn, the attitudes that people express about the topics raised by these campaigns need to be analysed in their rhetorical, argumentative context, rather than as expressions of pre- existing motivations or moral dispositions
Theories of governmentality to analyse the contemporary problematicisation of consumption and responsibilisation of the consumer
Ethical consumption campaigns actively seek to address people as agents of consumer choice, people are subject to a new range of moral responsibilities but also empowered to act in new, innovative ways.
Our research finds people with busy lives and torn loyalties and multiple commitments and scarce resources who do what they can, and who respond positively to initiatives to make them into more ‘responsible consumers’ when this can be made to fit into their own ongoing elaborations of the self.
To understand the ‘becoming ethical’ of contemporary consumption behaviour requires a reorientation towards practice- based understandings of the relationship between self- formation and everyday consumption.