The mirror of consumption: Celebritization, developmental consumption and the shifting cultural politics of fair trade

Michael Goodman
Publication Date: 
This paper explores the shifting cultural politics of development as expressed in the changing narratives and discursive transparencies of fair trade marketing tactics in the UK. Pursued through what I call ‘developmental consumption’ and the increasing celebritization of development, it is now through the global media mega-star that the subaltern speaks.
After a more general discussion of the implications of the celebritization of development, specific analysis focuses on two parallel processes complicit in the ‘mainstreaming’ of fair trade markets and the desire to develop fair trade as a product of ‘quality’. The first involves improving the taste of fair trade commodities through alterations in their material supply chains while the second involves novel marketing narratives designed to invoke these conventions of quality through highly meaningful discursive and visual means. The later process is conceptualized through the theoretical device of the shifting ‘embodiments’ of fair trade which have moved from small farmers’ livelihoods, to landscapes of ‘quality’, to increasing congeries of celebrities such as Chris Martin from the UK band Coldplay. These shifts encapsulate what is referred to here as fair trade’s Faustian Bargain and its ambiguous results: the creation of increasing economic returns and, thus, more development through the movement of fair trade goods into mainstream retail markets at the same time there is a de-centering of the historical discursive transparency at the core of fair trade’s moral economy. Here, then, the celebritization of fair trade has the potential to create ‘the mirror of consumption’, whereby, our gaze is reflected back upon ourselves in the form of ‘the rich and famous’ Northern celebrity muddling the ethics of care developed by connecting consumers to fair trade farmers and their livelihoods. The paper concludes with a consideration of development and fair trade politics in the context of their growing aestheticization and celebritization.