Title page for ETD etd-11182011-192655

Type of Document Dissertation
Author Katz, Meredith Ann
Author's Email Address mekatz@vt.edu
URN etd-11182011-192655
Title The Politics of Purchasing: Ethical Consumerism, Civic Engagement, and Political Participation in the United States
Degree PhD
Department Sociology
Advisory Committee
Advisor Name Title
Harrison, Anthony Kwame Committee Chair
Mollin, Marian B. Committee Member
Ryan, John W. Committee Member
Wimberley, Dale W. Committee Member
  • political consumerism
  • ethical consumerism
  • labor rights
  • political participation
  • consumer activism
  • citizen-consumer
  • social justice
Date of Defense 2011-11-01
Availability unrestricted
Although the United States is the world’s leading consumer nation, limited empirical research exists on the relationship between consumer choices and political participation. This study provides the first quantitative analysis of the demographic characteristics, motivations, and political activities of political and ethical consumers in the United States. Ethical consumers are broadly defined as socially responsible consumers including the subset of political consumers. Political consumers, while also socially responsible, are primarily concerned with achievement of political or social change through purchasing decisions. While political and ethical consumers engage in similar behaviors, the distinguishing factor between the two is motivation. Participation in both political and ethical consumerism is measured through buycotting (intentionally purchasing) or boycotting (intentionally abstaining from purchasing) of particular products or companies.

Based on data from the 2002 National Civic Engagement Survey II, this study finds income and education significantly predict participation in political and ethical consumerism, while race and gender do not. Across political parties, the stronger a respondents’ political affiliation, the less likely they are to boycott or buycott. This study also finds the primary motivation of participation for 80 percent of boycotters and buycotters is altruistic (ethical consumerism) rather than the achievement of political objectives (political consumerism). Additionally, political and ethical consumers indicate little belief in the ability for their purchases to alter business practices and do not consider their actions a part of organized campaigns. Political and ethical consumers are politically active and individuals who contact public officials, protest, and sign email or written petitions are significantly more likely to boycott or buycott than those who do not. In lieu of these findings, suggestions are offered to consumer-activist groups and social change organizations concerning rationales of consumer motivation and political engagement in the hopes this information will be utilized to mobilize a broader base of citizen-consumers.

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