Current ethical, social and environmental concerns are reviving the topic of meaning in consumption practices. In order to improve our understanding of responsible consumers, this article studies the meaning of responsible consumption using the method of narratives and a structural analysis. The results show a set of common features among narrators: escaping ill-being, searching for the authentic self, avoiding isolation and controlling one's own life. Three meanings of responsible consumption have also been observed: liberation act, political act and moral conformity act.
What Meaning Do Responsible Consumers Give to Their Consumption? An Approach by Narratives
At the dawn of the 21st century, citizens have become increasingly interested in ethical, social and ecological issues. From the consumer standpoint, these preoccupations are reflected in the notion of "responsible consumption". This is actually an extension of existing practices such as boycotts or voluntary simplicity (Chessel and Cochoy, 2004). However, the rapid and recent development of responsible consumption needs to be redefined within more general socio-political and economic trends. Through the concept of "sustainable development", governments are encouraging and institutionalizing consumer behaviors to achieve a more satisfactory balance between economic, ecological and social factors (Connolly and Prothero, 2003). Furthermore, the emergence of responsible consumption coincides with media coverage of the "alter-globalization" movement, which criticizes the failings of the current economic system. Finally, taking advantage of increased consumer interest in ethics, but also in reaction to pressure from trade unions, shareholders and employees, firms are adjusting their business practices to a moralization of the economy and adapting their products (Thiery, 2005). Today, this means taking a closer look at economic exchanges and the responsibilities of the players involved within a risk society (Beck, 2001; Louart, 2004).Considered a passing fad by some and a new consumer trend for others, responsible consumption seems to be increasingly prevalent throughout society. For example, according to a recent study by the CRÉDOC in 2007 (Centre de Recherche pour l'Étude et l'Observation des Conditions de Vie, a research center that monitors standards of living in France), only 25% of the French population was totally "impervious" to responsible consumption, while 32% of "casual" consumers claimed to engage in responsible consumption once a year. Of the three central themes explored in the study (consideration of civic responsibilities, willingness to pay more for ethical commitment, participation in a boycott) "informed" consumers (25%) are much more involved than the general popula...
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