Consumers are often urged to take responsibility and consume “ethically”. However, being a responsible consumer is a difficult endeavour and consumers have to deal with a variety of environmental and Fairtrade labels, be on the lookout for “green washing”, keep themselves informed of the latest environmental and social issues, and deal with uncertainties and contradictions.
Digitalization, some argue, is the solution to many of these problems. Digital devices offer consumers new ways of managing, calculating, communicating and evaluating environmental and ethical information. They have the potential to empower consumers and play an important role in the promotion of ethical consumption. Conversely, these devices are not only designed to enable consumption, they are also designed to shape consumers, to direct consumption by guiding consumers towards certain forms of ethical consumption. They can be seen as a new form of digitally mediated governance focusing on the reproduction of a specific and narrow subject position: “the ethical consumer.” Or, equally, they can potentially act as devices that promote more radical forms of consumer activism. What form(s) of ethical consumption do these digital devices promote? How exactly do they work towards promoting ethical consumption?
This talk focuses on understanding how the digitalization of consumer culture is changing our possibilities of ethical consumption by focusing on one of the more widespread digital devices – the smartphone application. Taking a socio-material approach, I will describe and explain how smartphone apps work towards promoting and shaping ethical consumption by constructing or agencing “ethical consumers”.
Christian Fuentes, Associate Professor at Lund University, is a marketing scholar interested in the areas of consumption and market studies. In his research, he often draws on practice theories and makes use of ethnographic methods to conceptualize and empirically examine how marketing practices and devices shape consumption and the formation of markets. He is currently involved in a number of research projects that explore how digitalization changes the conditions for ethical consumption and the formation of alternative markets. In his current work he has explored the digitalization of music listening, how smartphones are used in the practice of shopping, and how “ethical” consumption apps reconfigure consumers everyday practices.