Consumption as voting: An exploration of consumer empowerment

Deirdre Shaw, Terry Newholm, Roger Dickinson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Purpose - Increasing numbers of consumers are expressing concerns about reports of questionable corporate practices and are responding through boycotts and buycotts. This paper compares competing theories of consumer empowerment and details findings that examine the applicability of the theory to "ethical consumer" narratives. The nature and impact of consumer empowerment in consumer decision making is then discussed. Design/methodology/approach - The study takes an exploratory approach by conducting semi-structured in-depth interviews with a purposive sample of ten consumers. These were recruited from an "ethical product" fair in Scotland. Findings - Results indicate that the participating consumers embraced a voting metaphor, either explicitly or implicitly, to view consumption as an ethical/political domain. Setting their choices within perceived collective consumer behaviour, they characterised their consumption as empowering. This results in an ethical consumer project that can be seen as operating within the market. It, therefore, suggests some tensions between consumer power and sustainable living. Research limitations/implications - This small-scale study relates to a single country and location. A particular group of accentuated consumers was recruited. Studies of the narratives of other consumer groupings would clearly be valuable. Practical implications - To the extent that political democracy is perceived as failing, it appears that the profile of the market as a site of consumer engagement is raised. Marketers would be wise, therefore, to take increasingly account of "empowered" consumers. Originality/value - Little attention has been paid to the theory of consumption as voting. However, a continuing rise in the consideration of ethics among consumers and producers suggests its rehabilitation and further exploration would be worthwhile. © Emerald Group Publishing Limited.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1049-1067
Number of pages18
JournalEuropean Journal of Marketing
Issue number9-10
Publication statusPublished - 2006


  • Consumer behaviour
  • Consumption
  • Ethics


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