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Political consumer activism and democratic legitimacy


Beckstein, Martin (2014). Political consumer activism and democratic legitimacy. Studies in Social & Political Thought, 24(Winter):41-64.

Abstract

This article discusses consumer activism not as an ethical, but as a political phenomenon. A political concept of consumer activism implies, first, that consumers sometimes express support or opposition to products and services or consumer and business practices at least partly in order to advance nonmarket agendas, and, second, that consumer activism in the economic sphere occasionally has palpable impact on the organization of social life. Early contributors to the debate were optimistic that political consumer activism might be able to extend democracy into the economic sphere. In recent years, however, scholars have increasingly voiced misgivings about this, arguing that political consumer activism may suffer from a democratic deficit: it may amount to an impermissible form of vigilantism or facilitate the illegitimate conversion of market power into political power. This article systematizes and reassesses these concerns, focusing in particular on arguments that dispute the compatibility of political consumer activism with liberal democracy as a procedural ideal. I conclude that political consumer activism does not face problems to do with legitimacy in this regard, most importantly because money does not play a more important role in market-based politics than in official democratic processes. Political consumer activism takes many forms, yet it is hardly ever about voting with the pocketbook.

Abstract

This article discusses consumer activism not as an ethical, but as a political phenomenon. A political concept of consumer activism implies, first, that consumers sometimes express support or opposition to products and services or consumer and business practices at least partly in order to advance nonmarket agendas, and, second, that consumer activism in the economic sphere occasionally has palpable impact on the organization of social life. Early contributors to the debate were optimistic that political consumer activism might be able to extend democracy into the economic sphere. In recent years, however, scholars have increasingly voiced misgivings about this, arguing that political consumer activism may suffer from a democratic deficit: it may amount to an impermissible form of vigilantism or facilitate the illegitimate conversion of market power into political power. This article systematizes and reassesses these concerns, focusing in particular on arguments that dispute the compatibility of political consumer activism with liberal democracy as a procedural ideal. I conclude that political consumer activism does not face problems to do with legitimacy in this regard, most importantly because money does not play a more important role in market-based politics than in official democratic processes. Political consumer activism takes many forms, yet it is hardly ever about voting with the pocketbook.

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Additional indexing

Item Type:Journal Article, refereed, original work
Communities & Collections:01 Faculty of Theology > Center for Ethics
06 Faculty of Arts > Institute of Philosophy
Dewey Decimal Classification:170 Ethics
Language:English
Date:2014
Deposited On:17 Jul 2015 07:17
Last Modified:13 Oct 2017 02:10
Publisher:Centre for Social and Political Thought at the University of Sussex
Free access at:Official URL. An embargo period may apply.
Official URL:https://ssptjournal.files.wordpress.com/2015/07/sspt-24-v4-1-online.pdf
Related URLs:https://ssptjournal.wordpress.com/archive/ (Publisher)

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