Ethical Selving in Cultural Contexts: Fairtrade Consumption as an Everyday Ethical Practice in the UK and in Germany

Author: 
Matthias Zick Varul
Publication Date: 
2009
Summary: 
Fairtrade consumers, by enacting their political and moral concerns through consumer choice, are at the same time constructing themselves as ethical selves.Teh author argues that they can only do so by drawing on cultural contexts. While fairtrade is instituted in supranational organizations and acts on a global level, there are still differences on a national level. On the basis of an Anglo-German study, this paper seeks to map out the cultural contextualization of fairtrade consumption on both a supranational and a national level.
Abstract: 
The paper identifies the framing role of global consumer culture and an implicit ethics of equitability inscribed in capitalist practices of exchange and specifies how these play out differently in Germany and the UK. In both cases, there are strong references to sovereign consumer choice, and expectations of equitability in commodity exchange have been found. But while, in the British case, there is more emphasis on individual choice and taste, German fairtrade consumers seem to follow more what they perceive as an authoritative discourse. And, while British respondents envisaged the relation to be achieved with producers along the lines of a business relationship, German respondents conceptualized it more as a paternalistic employment relation between fairtrade organizations and producers. Differences will be explained in terms of distinctive consumer cultures, national moral economies and colonialist histories. I will argue that the two national settings not only offer different opportunities and challenges in terms of market success but also pose distinct ethical questions for fairtrade marketers.