Consumer activism

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search

Consumer activism is activism undertaken on behalf of consumers, to assert consumer rights. Consumerism is made up of the behaviors, institutions, and ideology created from the interaction between humans and materials and services of which they consume.[1] Consumer activism has several aims: 1) to change the social structure of consumption[2] 2) to protect the social welfare of stakeholders 3) to satisfy perceived slights to the ego[3] 4) to seek justice for the consumer and environment in the relationships of consumerism.

Objectives and tactics[edit]

Goals include making goods and services available to consumers safer, better quality, environmentally friendly, and more readily available.

The activists and consumers in the movement hope to provide security and healthy standards for employed consumers. The state should protect against profiteers, disease, unemployment, and market fluctuations.[2] Consumer activists challenge capitalistic structure and consumer norms through the propagation of ideologies of sutainable consumption in hopes of dramatically changing mainstream attitudes and behaviors toward production and consumption.[2] The ideal goal is to educate consumers to understand and question the morality of a material's production.

Consumer activist tactics can include boycotts, petitioning the government, media activism, and organizing interest groups.[4]

Notable consumer activists include Carol Foreman, Marc Kasky, Richard Kessel, Virginia H. Knauer, Eileen Hoats, Ralph Nader, Frances Perkins, Michael Pertschuk, Peter A. Peyser.

Notable consumer organizations include Grahak Shakti (India), Public Citizen, Consumers Union, and Consumer Federation of America.[5]

Periods of consumer movements[edit]

Sociologist Hayagreeva Rao denotes three eras of consumer movements in the United States: the antiadulteration movement, the rise of nonprofit consumer watchdog organizations, and the legal activism era.[2] The ideology of this social movement reflects that of other social movements in that their goal, their adversary, and their members are all publicly made available and seen. Consumer movements developed as a form of resistance against marketing and industrial practices. These can include the selling of dangerous vehicles, the use of deceptive advertising, and inhumane working conditions.[2]

Scholars Tim Lang and Yiannis Gabriel summarize four waves of consumer activism in the western world. The first wave is co-operative consumer, during this wave, the first co-operative movement was stimulated by high price of bad food and is held by Northwestern English people in 1844. The second wave is Value-For-Consumer wave, which features the emergences of a series of consumer organizations in the United states of America, such as the Consumers League that was formed in New York in 1891. The third wave is Naderism, which features many famous American consumer activists, such as Ralph Nader. The fourth wave is alternative consumers, which initially emerged during the period of 1970's-1980's and features a lot of new elements of trade orientations concerning the environment and ethic.[6]

Conceptions of consumer movement[edit]

Three elements are necessary, according to Touraine, for the ideology of a social movement: identity, opposition, and totality. Identity is the self and collective identity of the members of the social movement. Opposition is the identification and description of the adversary. Totality is the indication that objectives will be achieved through struggle.[7] This conception has been appropriate for the other movements, including the lesbian and gay, civil rights, and feminist movements.[7] Consumers are cast in the social movement as common people, while the activists are those leading them into the conflict with business executives and elites.[7] Activist members do not only target corporations and attempt to change their behavior, but they seek to elevate the awareness of consumers collectively with the purpose of altering consumer culture.[7]

Organizing consumer movements[edit]

Meetings of consumer movements may include encouraging reflexivity, the discussion of how consumerism is viewed by the activists and by the target audience, capitalism, and the broadcasting of the differences between the activists and most people.[8] Some meetings falter from accomplishing set goals, such as organizing leafleting activities, and focus on accelerating the growth of reflective thinking about consumption.[8] Most behavior was found to be focused on assigning positive meanings of awakening to the collective identity of activists.[8]

Protests are used by the activists in the social movement in order to gain political influence. By gaining this control, new political opportunities and resources become available to the group, who can use them for their benefit. This allows for more mobilization by supporters, both inside and outside the group, to protest and get their message heard.[9]


Most activists were at one point similar to the people they are now reaching out to get support from and attention. The growth of a social awareness is often linked to spiritual awareness.[8] This process allows the activist to leave their own selves behind with the smaller issues that concern them and move beyond to attain a sense of connection with others around the world. Images of detachment and distance are common emotions felt by the activists when compared to non-activists in this state. Metaphors may also be used to emphasize these comparisons.[8]

The opponent: corporate elites[edit]

The ability to have a visible, clear, and despicable target for an enemy allows for unification and mobilization of activists. Religious terms, such as David and Goliath, may also be used to help motivate others to join in the struggle.[10] Activists may also target multiple corporations and describe them as their rival. Links have been by those within the social movement between the temptations provided by the corporate opponents and the weaknesses of public consumers.[10]

View of consumers[edit]

Some activists perceive the consumer public as unthinking, ignorant, and routine in their thoughts of consumption. Activist accounts describe these people as unreflective and unwilling to "consider" their habits and lifestyles.[11] They may be believed to not insert moral or social ideas into their consumption. Other perceptions of customers are also expressed by activists, including the idea that consumers are submissive to corporations. The activists themselves may be described as dominating and oppressive to the consuming public.[11]

Consumers seen as adversaries[edit]

The consuming public has the potential to become involved in the activists' cause. However, this same public is often described as selfish and lazy by the social movement's members. Consumers react to the movement's message as one of elitist and overzealous, while others interpret their goals as attempts to limit free choices of the public.[12] Dialogue amongst the activists also helps distinguish the members from the consumers. Conversations may contain stereotypical constructions that help with this differentiation.[12]


Opponents of consumer activism often represent business interests.[13] Some businesses have brought lawsuits against consumer groups for making negative comments about their products or services. Many of the suits have been successfully defended as exercises in free speech. Some cases against consumer activists have been dismissed under anti-SLAPP laws.

Selected publications[edit]

  • Friedman M (1995). On Promoting a Sustainable Future Through Consumer Activism. Journal of Social Issues.
  • Glickman, Lawrence B. (2009). Buying Power: A History of Consumer Activism in America. University of Chicago Press ISBN 978-0-226-29865-8
  • Mayer RN (1989). The Consumer Movement: Guardians of the Marketplace. Twayne Publishing
  • Chesler MA (1991). Mobilizing consumer activism in health care: The role of self-help groups - Research in Social Movements, Conflicts and Change.
  • Kozinets RV, Handelman JM. Adversaries of Consumption: Consumer Movements, Activism, and Ideology. Journal of Consumer Research Vol. 31 • December 2004.
  • Hilton, Matthew (2008). Prosperity for All: Consumer Activism in an Era of Globalization Cornell University Press ISBN 978-0-8014-7507-8

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Martin, Ann Smart (1993-07-01). "Makers, Buyers, and Users: Consumerism as a Material Culture Framework". Winterthur Portfolio. 28 (2/3): 141–157. doi:10.1086/496612. ISSN 0084-0416. 
  2. ^ a b c d e Kozinets, V Robert & Handelman:"Adversaries of Consumption: Consumer Movements, Activism, and Ideology", pg 691. Journal of Consumer Research, Inc. Vol 31. 2004.
  3. ^ "I complain for your good? Re-examining consumer advocacy". 
  4. ^ Weinraub, Bernard (July 1, 1970). Consumer Activism Up in Poor Nations. New York Times
  5. ^ Burros, Marian (June 2, 1976). Strengthening Consumer Activism. Washington Post
  6. ^ Lang&Gabriel, Tim&Yiannis. A brief history of consumer activism. 
  7. ^ a b c d Kozinets, V Robert & Handelman:"Adversaries of Consumption: Consumer Movements, Activism, and Ideology", pg 693. Journal of Consumer Research, Inc. Vol 31. 2004.
  8. ^ a b c d e Kozinets, V Robert & Handelman:"Adversaries of Consumption: Consumer Movements, Activism, and Ideology", pg 695. Journal of Consumer Research, Inc. Vol 31. 2004.
  9. ^ Jenkins, J. Craig & Wallace, Michael:"The Generalized Action Potential of Protest Movements: The New Class, Social Trends, and Political Exclusion Explanations", pg 188. Sociological Forum. Springer. Vol. 11, No. 2. 1996.
  10. ^ a b Kozinets, V Robert & Handelman:"Adversaries of Consumption: Consumer Movements, Activism, and Ideology", pg 697. Journal of Consumer Research, Inc. Vol 31. 2004.
  11. ^ a b Kozinets, V Robert & Handelman:"Adversaries of Consumption: Consumer Movements, Activism, and Ideology", pg 698-701. Journal of Consumer Research, Inc. Vol 31. 2004.
  12. ^ a b Kozinets, V Robert & Handelman:"Adversaries of Consumption: Consumer Movements, Activism, and Ideology", pg 701-702. Journal of Consumer Research, Inc. Vol 31. 2004.
  13. ^ Glickman, Lawrence B. (July 31, 2005). As business ethics fail, consumer activism rises.

External links[edit]