The Citizen-Consumer Hybrid: Ideological Tensions and the Case of the Whole Foods Market

Abstract:

Ethical consumer discourse is organized around the idea that shopping, and particularly food shopping, is a way to create progressive social change. A key component of this discourse is the “citizen-consumer” hybrid, found in both activist and academic writing on ethical consumption. The hybrid concept implies a social practice – “voting with your dollar” – that can satisfy competing ideologies of consumerism (an idea rooted in individual self-interest) and citizenship (an ideal rooted in collective responsibility to a social and ecological commons). While a hopeful sign, this hybrid concept needs to be theoretically unpacked, and empirically explored. Rather than meeting the requirements of consumerism and citizenship equally, the case of Whole Foods Market suggests that the citizen-consumer hybrid provides superficial attention to citizenship goals in order to serve three consumerist interests better: consumer choice, status distinction, and ecological cornucopianism. I argue that a true “citizen-consumer” hybrid is not only difficult to achieve, but may be internally inconsistent in a growth-oriented corporate setting.

Citation:

Josée Johnston “The Citizen-Consumer Hybrid: Ideological Tensions and the Case of Whole Foods Market” Theory and Society, 37(2008): 229-270.

Link:

The Citizen-Consumer Hybrid: Ideological Tensions and the Case of the Whole Foods Market