Annotated Bibliography: The Green Consumer

Chan, Ricky Y.K., and Lorett B.Y. Lau. “Antecedents of Green Purchases: A survey in China.” Journal of Consumer Marketing 17.4 (2000): 338-357.

This study examines the green product purchasing behaviors of people in China, specifically as influenced by Chinese cultural values and “ecological concern” (“ecological concern” is defined as consisting of three components: the amount of environmental knowledge a person has, how emotionally affecting environmental issues are to that person, and the degree of intention a person has to act in an environmentally-friendly way).  The study found that despite being emotionally affected by environmental problems and having intentions to buy green products, people lacked knowledge about the environment and made few green purchases (351).  This study is useful to me because it tries to empirically map the relationship between cultural values, emotion, intention, knowledge, and green product consumption.  It is particularly valuable in that it demonstrates the discrepancy that can exist between concern for the environment (personal and cultural) and level of green purchases made.

Johnston, Josee. “The Citizen-Consumer Hybrid: Ideological tensions and the case of Whole Foods Market.” Theory and Society 37.3 (2008): 229-270.

This article explores the theoretical contradictions in the now pervasive construct of the “citizen-consumer” and tries to tie this theory to the specific case of Whole Foods Market (pretty awesome, as this is what we are supposed to do in our papers!).  Johnston is particularly concerned with the possibility of a balanced consumer-citizen: is it possible for a consumer to satisfy both their personal needs/desires and larger social/environmental obligations?  This article is especially useful because of the focus it places on discourse (helpful as I want to examine green products from the standpoint of the narratives we construct about our consumption).  Through an examination of the “ethical consumer discourse” of Whole Foods Market, Johnston argues that the citizen-consumer is actually more consumer than citizen, paying “relatively superficial attention to citizenship goals in order to better serve three key elements of consumerist ideology” (262).   Johnston goes onto say that both the citizen-consumer model and green consumerism in general serve as a temporary fix, allowing people to maintain capitalism consumption in light of greater social and environmental awareness.  This article provides theoretical support to Szasz’s basic argument (see below), and will be key to my own argument.  Now the only question is, what will my essay add to this?

Micheletti, Michele, and Dietlind Stolle. “Mobilizing Consumers to Take Responsibility for Global Social Justice.” The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 611.1 (2007): 157-175.

This is an article that seems like it will be less than helpful.  I had originally thought that it would be useful as it focuses on ethical consumerism, but does so from the perspective of the anti-sweatshop movement (thus perhaps giving greater insight into whether or not all forms of ethical consumerism are problematic in capitalism, or just environmentally-minded ethical consumerism).  This article’s conclusions about different forms of consumer engagement and different strategies for recruiting consumers proved less applicable than I had hoped.  One for the recycle bin.

Moisander, Johanna, and Sinikka Pesonen. “Narratives of Sustainable Ways of Living: Constructing the self and the other as a green consumer.” Management Decision 40.4 (2002): 329-342.

This article looks at descriptions of green consumerism as they relate to subject formation.  Moisander and Pesonen argue that green consumerism is a form of resistance, capable of creating new subjectivities.  I was drawn to this article because of its emphasis on representation and narrative, and find it even more important because of the way it complicates my idea of green consumption.  It stresses the difference between mainstream conceptions of green consumerism and more radical, personal self-conceptions of green consumerism, finding the possibility for resistance in these self-narratives.  This article will help me think through the ways people construct narratives about themselves through their green product consumption and the resistive (and not-so-resistive) potential of these narratives.

Nelson, Michelle R., Mark A. Rademacher, and Hye-Jin Paek. “Downshifting Consumer = Upshifting Citizen? An Examination of a Local Freecycle Economy.” The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 611.1 (2007): 141-156.

This article is intriguing to me as it focuses on the consequences of an alternative form of consumption (“downshifting”) that occurs within capitalism/consumer culture, but I’m not sure how helpful this article will be for my paper.  Though motivations for downshifting are often environmental, this study looks more at the implications of this alternative form of consumption (specifically participation in a freecycle online community) for civic engagement, highlighting community engagement over environmental concerns.  This article is useful to a certain degree because it presents another (and potentially more effective) mode of  environmentally-conscious consumption than the purchasing of green products (which I am currently trying to argue is not as beneficial as we’d like to believe).  I’d need to do more research, however, if I decided to include downshifting within my paper.  One other way this article may be useful: one section of this article argues that in the US, shopping is considered patriotic, an interesting claim in light of our recent discussion of nationalism.  I’m considering attempting to incorporate the connections between consumption, environmentalism, and nationalism in my paper, and this study provides some basic information which may prove useful.

Prothero, Andrea, and James A. Fitchett. “Greening Capitalism: Opportunities for a Green Commodity.” Journal of Macromarketing 20.1 (2000): 46-55.

This article is useful in that it poses a counter-argument to my own, claiming that environmentalism and capitalism do not have to be fundamentally opposed.  Instead, it is only current discourse that represents the two as such.  As we can never get beyond capitalism (all of our language originates from within it) we must use the revolutionary capabilities already present in our system to bring about change – and this is what we are doing when we use “commodity discourse” to promote environmentalism.  I am intrigued by this concept of revolution emerging from within capitalism, but find a huge problem in this argument in that it calls on us to commodify the idea that less consumption is desirable – a task that seems impossible and contradictory to me.  This article will be helpful in defining the limitations of an argument for green consumerism, and is also very useful in its presentation of (post-Marxist) theory.

Szasz, Andrew.  Shopping Our Way to Safety: How we changed from protecting the environment to protecting ourselves. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2007.

In this book, Szasz makes the argument that current acts of environmental consumption follow a philosophy of “inverted quarantine” whereby consumers are motivated by the urge to self-protect instead of a desire to create vast social/environmental change. Though he does look at specific threats to the human body in the environment (toxins, etc) and specific products marketed to protect against these threats (bottled water, organic food, “green”cleaning products”), I believe the argument made in his last chapters will be most useful to me.  In these final chapters, he argues that inverted quarantine is dangerous because it creates “political anesthesia,” convincing people that they have somehow solved the environmental crisis and are no longer responsible for promoting greater systemic change.  Szasz’s argument will be central to my argument about the powerful, complacency-inducing narrative of green consumption.  His text, however, fails to fully address the positive implications of green consumerism – a topic I need to further explore in my own paper.

One response to “Annotated Bibliography: The Green Consumer

  1. Excellent stuff! The Szasz and Johnston sound particularly great. You’re already in dialogue with the Szasz, so I’m quite certain you’ll find ways to argue back with or add to the Johnston, too…