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Political Virtue and Shopping: Individuals, Consumerism, and Collective Action by Michele Micheletti [book review]

Authors(s): David Sonnenfeld
Review by: David Sonnenfeld
American Journal of Sociology
, Vol. 110, No. 3 (November 2004), pp. 842-844
Published by: The University of Chicago Press
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American Journal of Sociology
out of touch with people’s concerns about food and product safety” (p.
In the finale, Burgess cranks his thesis up a few notches into distinctly
more controversial territory. What we are seeing, he says, is a growing
preoccupation with risk where pseudoscientific insight has replaced the
credible, verifiable mechanisms of science. Purveyors of “reflexivity” such
as Ulrich Beck and Brian Wynne are especially complicit here, encour-
aging a new uncertainty and ambivalence in public attitudes toward sci-
ence. Placing “phantom risk” and “junk science” on a level playing field
could have potentially dangerous consequences; witness the declining use
of the MMR (measles, mumps, and rubella) vaccine in the United King-
dom in response to media scaremongering. This is fair comment, although
I fear that this brand of strong social constructionism, which Burgess
himself acknowledges as being “almost sacrilegious” (p. 15), will re-ignite
the rancorous debate between realists and constructionists that has for
far too long hobbled the field of environmental sociology.
Cellular Phones should be of interest to scholars in the fields of envi-
ronmental studies, the sociology of science, and the sociology of social
problems. It is written in an incisive and jargon-free style, no mean feat
when dealing with the science of EMF. The extensive bibliography is
especially useful. Nevertheless, Burgess will not appeal to everyone. In-
deed, he is deeply skeptical of the efficacy of citizen science and the
precautionary ethos. Popular epidemiology is described here as an extreme
example of “pseudo-scientific insight” (p. 240). Lay knowledge is said to
be of limited use. How risk from radiation or BSE can be understood on
the basis of everyday experience “remains unclear” (p. 250). Caveat
Political Virtue and Shopping: Individuals, Consumerism, and Collective
Action. By Michele Micheletti. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003. Pp.
xiv247. $55.00.
David Sonnenfeld
Washington State University
Is political consumerism an effective and important new form and arena
of collective action at the beginning of the 21st century? In Political Virtue
and Shopping, Michele Micheletti argues convincingly that it is. Micheletti
does not intend her tidy volume to be the last word on the topic. Rather,
it is more a scholarly manifesto and well-articulated agenda for research
in the area. What is political consumerism? The author defines it as “ac-
tions by people who make choices among producers and products with
the goal of changing objectionable institutional or market practices” (p.
2). For Micheletti, political consumerism subsumes “consumer activism,
ethical consumerism, and socially responsible investing” (p. 2). Public-
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Book Reviews
interest advocacy a` la Ralph Nader (see Unsafe at Any Speed [Grossman,
1965]) is a closely related antecedent (p. 159).
Micheletti neatly frames her work in a multidisciplinary and historical
context. It is directed in the first instance toward her home discipline of
political science; but it is well informed and aimed as well at sociologists
and at scholars in various fields examining topics such as corporate re-
sponsibility and business ethics. In sociology, those working in the areas
of the sociology of consumption, collective behavior and social move-
ments, political sociology, economic sociology, environmental sociology,
and the sociology of culture, as well as sociologists in other fields, will
find the book of great interest. Drawing on insights from feminist theory
and paying special attention to the leading role of women in political
consumerism, Micheletti’s work will be of considerable interest to feminist
and women’s studies scholars.
What is her argument? Starting from a foundation in political philos-
ophy, Micheletti proposes that in the contemporary, increasingly global-
ized, postmodern world, new forms of citizen engagement in politics have
emerged that bring into question fundamental tenets of political and eco-
nomic theory, namely the separation of politics and (market) economics.
Political consumerism “challenges corporations to integrate human rights,
workers’ rights, and women’s rights . . . raises a warning finger against
risky production methods . . . and asks all of us to consider how we use
common pool resources” (p. 169). Beyond this, she contends that political
consumerism may “signify a shift in the sites for citizen action from politics
traditionally conceived as involving the political system and public life
to private life and the market sphere” (p. 16)—akin to what German
sociologist Ulrich Beck has termed “subpolitics” (see his book The Rein-
vention of Politics [Polity Press, 1997]).
Micheletti deftly constructs a solid theoretical framework for the study
of political consumerism and fills it out with interesting historical and
contemporary examples and case studies. As she presents it, political con-
sumerism is very much a contemporary, “postmodern” phenomenon,
though with important antecedents in the boycotts and “buycotts” of the
18th, 19th, and early 20th centuries. The Boston Tea Party of 1774 and
Gandhi’s boycott of finished cloth from Britain in the 1920s and 1930s
are cited as key examples of what she terms “negative political consum-
erism,” while the (United States’) National Consumers’ League White
Label Campaign of the late 19th and early 20th centuries was an im-
portant “positive political consumerist” effort.
For this reader, the Swedish case studies presented in chapter 4 are
especially interesting. There, utilizing material from interviews, primary
archival material, and secondary sources, Micheletti documents and an-
alyzes the history of the Good Environmental Choice campaign of the
Swedish Society for Nature Conservation (SNF). That campaign involved
not only the establishment of a private ecolabel, but also the formation
of nationwide consumer action networks and environmental education
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American Journal of Sociology
efforts. Drawing large numbers of new members to the SNF, most of them
women, the Good Environmental Choice campaign not only was suc-
cessful in promoting environmentally friendly products and services but
also significantly impacted its sponsoring organization and was transfor-
mative for its participants.
If there is one major aspect in which this volume might be considered
to fall short, it is in failing to make stronger connections between con-
temporary scholarship on political consumerism and earlier studies on
consumer rights’ advocacy from the 1960s and the very rich historio-
graphic and sociological literatures on bread riots and other early urban
movements of the 18th century and later. This notwithstanding, the book
will be of interest to many. It is very well written and organized, and at
173 pages, plus front matter, appendix, and back matter, it is well suited
for use in upper-division undergraduate and graduate courses, such as
classes in political sociology, collective behavior and social movements,
and the sociology of consumption. Its classroom use would be greatly
facilitated, however, if the publisher brought out a paperback version.
This clothbound version is too pricey for most students.
Choosing a Self: Young Women and the Individualization of Identity.By
Shelley Budgeon. Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 2003. Pp. 210.
Christine Griffin
University of Bath
In Choosing a Self, Shelley Budgeon aims to theorize the relationship
between the narrative accounts of young women and cultural represen-
tations that organize the definitions and practices of femininity. Budgeon
focuses on the ways in which young women negotiate possible ways of
being in the course of constructing a self. The book begins by making a
distinction between two theoretical perspectives that have shaped recent
debates about the self and social change: individualization theories con-
cerning “reflexive modernity” and those approaches informed by the work
of poststructuralist cultural theory. Budgeon expresses a clear preference
for an approach closer to that outlined by Nikolas Rose (Inventing Our-
selves [Cambridge University Press, 1998]), a preference that enables her
to examine how identity is constituted through specific regimes of sub-
jectification. Choosing a Self is relatively unusual in interrogating these
perspectives in relation to feminism, drawing on interviews with young
women living in Britain.
Budgeon sets out to understand the tension between constraint and
freedom in choosing a self with reference to a detailed analysis of inter-
views with 33 young women, ages 16–23, and from a range of socioeco-
nomic and ethnic backgrounds, who were interviewed in college, at a
youth work project, and at a career guidance center. Despite the variation
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