Accepted Paper:

Narratives of concern: beyond the 'official' discourse of ethical consumption  


Tamas Dombos (Central European University)

Paper short abstract:

Building on an ethnographic study of ethical consumers in Hungary, the paper aims at exploring the diverse, often conflicting ethical and political concerns exhibited by self-proclaimed ethical consumers in the context of a post-socialist consumer society.

Paper long abstract:

If one looked at the 'official' ethical consumption discourse in Hungary objectified in information brochures, awareness raising campaigns and marketing materials for ethically loaded products, one would find a more or less coherent narrative about a yet-to-come new consumerism built on the conscious consumer and his/her growing awareness of the ethical aspects of everyday purchases. This narrative is centered around such key notions as rationality, solidarity, social progress and the widely used, but vaguely defined notion of Westernness with which this yet-to-come new consumerism is identified.

But when moving beyond this 'official' discourse propagated by a relatively small circle of civil society activists and entrepreneurs involved in the production, distribution and marketing of ethically loaded products, one finds a much more diverse world of consumer orientations even among those who identify themselves as ethical consumers. Building on a series of interviews with self-proclaimed ethical consumers, the paper tries to show the heterogeneity of ethical and political concerns that motivate 'everyday ethical consumers', the diverse ways in which ethical consumption is incorporated into varying life strategies. This ethnographic study located in a particular socio-historic setting - that of post-socialist Hungary - contributes to the general anthropological understanding of ethical consumption by showing that the recent boom in ethical consumption discourses and practices can be partly explained by the relative openness of the term, and its ability to mobilize on a wide array of consumer orientations.

Panel W001
Ethical consumption: consumers and producers, markets and ethics