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Environment & Society

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Abstract/ Summary

From the growth of the Slow Food movement, the growth of patronage at farmers’ markets, and the expansion of ecolabeled foods – an unprecedented number of consumer-based movements have risen in response to concerns about the environmental and social effects of contemporary globalized food systems. Recent research suggests that these movements are often successful in their efforts to support more sustainable food systems. Meanwhile, other scholars point out that, despite common assumptions, the contemporary focus on consumer responsibility in policy and practice indicates much more than a process of reflexive modernization. The devolution of responsibility to consumers and the dominance of market-based solutions, these scholars argue, reflect the growing influence of neoliberal environmental governance. From this perspective these movements are, at best, naïve in their assumption that consumers have the power necessary to overcome the structural barriers that inhibit significant change. At worst, critics argue, the contemporary focus on consumer responsibility and “sustainable lifestyles” allows governments to avoid responsibility, excludes those without access to consumer choice, reproduces social hierarchies and fails to deliver the political and redistributive solutions necessary to achieve sustainability. Yet despite significant theorization and speculation, empirical studies on the effects of consumer-based movements are still relatively scarce. Drawing on research across the social sciences and from a range of geographical settings – this paper surveys the existing empirical evidence about the effectiveness of consumer-based movements in their attempts to influence more sustainable food systems.

Citation/Publisher Attribution

This is a pre-published version. For the final version please visit Berghahn Journals at Ingenta


pre-print (i.e. pre-refereeing)