The Constitution of Consumption Food Labeling and the Politics of Consumerism

University dissertation from Stockholm : School of Business, Stockholm University

Abstract: The power dynamics of consumerism is an important aspect of contemporary consumer culture. Within the field of marketing and consumption, consumer culture theory (CCT) tends to understand power in terms of agency, the ability of consumers to emancipate from a market infused by the culture of consumerism. As such, CCT assumes a repressive hypothesis of power, as if consumerism was an external reality from which agentic consumers can escape by acts of dialectical opposition.In contrast, through a Foucauldian approach, the present study emphasizes the productive side of power, arguing that consumerism operates beyond dialectical oppositions to constitute consumption at different levels of scale – at the macro, meso and micro levels. More specifically, through qualitative data generated from official documents and interviews with state agency officials, consumers, and food manufacturers and retailers, the study undertakes a discourse analysis of date labeling in the food market. In accounting for the regulative, organizational and performative dimensions of consumption, the case of date labeling makes it possible to study consumerism at the intersection of the state, business and consumers. The study argues that consumption is constituted through a multiplicity of mundane power struggles that arise in the wake of date labeling. As such, it extends previous approaches by suggesting an extra-dialectical theory of consumer culture. Further, it argues that date labeling reinforces the mind/body dualism of consumerism by privileging cognition and choice at the cost of the human embodiment and sensory perception. It concludes that empowered performativity does not represent a negation of power, but that it emerges as a product of power and the consumerist attempt to constitute effective, predictable, responsible and controlled consumption. However, future research should continue studying the dominant institutional conditions of particular consumption contexts.