Vol. 13, No. 2, May 2012

Do Natural Foods Stores Encourage Consumer Politics? A Research Note
Sam Binkley
newsletter designer
Emerson University

Dan Cook
Rutgers University- Camden

George Ritzer
long-time, dedicated supporter
University of Maryland-College Park

Mike Ryan
listserv manager
University of Maryland—College Park

Statement of Purpose
The organizing group for the Consumer Studies Research Network seeks to foster dialogue and debate among those who are interested in and concerned about the place of goods and commodities in social life. These interests and concerns may range from the poetics of micro/personal identity formation to the identity politics of gendered, raced and classed display, from historical work on the rise of consumer culture to a critique of Nike advertising, from investigations of typical places of consumption to the study the dynamics of globalization and urban areas. Individuals affiliated with the Consumer Studies Research Network desire to bring to the fore, in their own ways, the depths to which commodities and a market logic have come to pervade virtually all forms of social life and social interaction. The primary goal is to begin to engage in an interchange.


Dan Cook
Consumer Studies Research Network
Rutgers University
405-7 Cooper Street
Camden, NJ 08102
phone: 856-225-2816
fax: 856-225-6435

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Michael A. Haedicke

Drake University

During the past decade, a number of food activists have framed grocery shopping as a form of political participation and voice (Pollan 2006; Schlosser 2001). Consumers, they say, can “vote with their dollars” for a food system that protects the environment and the livelihoods of small-scale farmers by buying organic, local and ethically-produced foods. As places where shoppers practice “political consumerism” (Micheletti, Føllesdal, and Stolle 2004), natural foods grocery stores play an important, if ambiguous, role in this contemporary critical food culture. Some scholars argue that these stores serve as an organizational base for food activism through their advocacy about genetic engineering, soil and water pollution, and the failure of family farms (Allen and Kovach 2000; Goodman and DuPuis 2002). However, others contend that these stores promote a commercialized critique that suggests that social and environmental problems can be solved through individual purchases (Johnston 2008; Johnston, Biro, and MacKendrick 2009).

In order to explore the role of organic food stores in alternative food movements, I conducted a series of interviews with managers of twenty independent organic food stores in California, Maryland, Michigan, Montana, New Mexico and New York. Although the “activist” and the “commercialization” accounts both capture realities of managers’ work, the most important findings had to do with the complex negotiations that managers engaged in as they worked to balance the diverse expectations of their consumers with their own political convictions and with the economic welfare of their stores. Drawing from the social movements literature about “free spaces” and from research in consumer studies about the meanings of consumption, I outline these findings and their significance below. I argue that that the role of stores in either promoting or undermining alternative food movements is more variable than previously suggested.

From Free Spaces to Negotiated Spaces

Sociologists of social movements have argued that activists learn skills of political participation and develop “oppositional consciousness” in free spaces – social settings that are insulated and protected from structures of dominance in the surrounding society (Evans and Boyte 1986; Morris and Braine 2001). As I have explained...



ASA 2012 Consumption Sessions

> Announcements & Books of Note

ASA Consumption Section and Consumption Conference

Too Many Things

David J. Ekerdt
University of Kansas

Everyone knows that adults have too many possessions. The evidence for this is apparent from our personal environs—homes, outbuildings, workplaces, the trunk of the car. Stories about material overload in the households of relatives and friends come easily to mind.  There is an entire clutter-control industry populated by home organizers and spilling out from self-help manuals, websites, and television shows (Cwerner & Metcalfe, 2003).

Despite a strong popular belief in the problem of possessions, survey evidence is hard to come by.  Research on possessions is almost wholly qualitative. As informative as such studies are, we nevertheless lack population-based estimates about the bother of belongings. How indeed do people appraise the volume and potential burden of their things?

The 2010 administration of the ongoing Health and Retirement Study (HRS) provided an opportunity to ask just such questions of a national sample of middle-aged and older adults. The HRS is a representative panel survey of Americans aged 50 and older that collects economic, health, and psychosocial information.  Panel members have been resurveyed biennially since 1992 with new birth cohorts added over time (details at http://hrsonline.isr.umich.edu).

At each survey wave, the HRS includes experimental question modules that are randomly assigned to a 10% sample of the approximately 17,000 respondents. These modules are limited to a few minutes in length. The experimental questions about possessions addressed the totality of belongings in three respects: the appraisal of volume, active management of possessions, and whether belongings would pose an obstacle to any residential move.

HRS data are released in stages and the final data will not be available until later in 2012...


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