Consuming ethics: Articulating the subjects and spaces of ethical consumption

Barnett, Clive; Cloke, Paul; Clarke, Nick and Malpass, Alice (2005). Consuming ethics: Articulating the subjects and spaces of ethical consumption. Antipode, 37(1) pp. 23–45.



Geography’s debates about how to maintain a sense of morally responsible action often emphasise the problematic nature of caring at a distance, and take for granted particular kinds of moral selfhood in which responsibility is bound into notions of human agency that emphasise knowledge and recognition. Taking commodity consumption as a field in which the ethics, morality, and politics of responsibility has been problematised, we argue that existing research on consumption fails to register the full complexity of the practices, motivations and mechanisms through which the working-up of moral selves is undertaken in relation to consumption practices. Rather than assuming that ethical decision-making works through the rational calculation of obligations, we conceptualise the emergence of ethical consumption as ways in which everyday practical moral dispositions are re-articulated by policies, campaigns and practices that enlist ordinary people into broader projects of social change. Ethical consumption, then, involves both a governing of consumption and a governing of the consuming self. Using the example of Traidcraft, we present a detailed examination of one particular context in which self-consciously ethical consumption is mediated, suggesting that ethical consumption can be understood as opening up ethical and political considerations in new combinations. We therefore argue for the importance of the growth of ethical consumption as a new terrain of political action, while also emphasising the grounds upon which ethical consumption can be opened up to normative critique.

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