An article I co-authored with Professors Emily Huddart Kennedy and John Parkins is now available online at the Journal of Consumer Culture. “Food activists, consumer strategies, and the democratic imagination: Insights from eat-local movements” explores some of the tensions around social movements based on ‘shopping for change.’ Here is the abstract:
Scholars remain divided on the possibilities (and limitations) of conceptualizing social change through a consumer-focused, ‘‘shopping for change,’’ lens. Drawing from framing theory and the concept of the democratic imagination, we use a case study of ‘‘eat local’’ food activism to contribute to this debate. We ask two questions: first, how do activists in the local food movement come to diagnose and critique the conventional industrial food system? and second, what roles do they envision for participants in the sustainable food movement? We address these questions by drawing from activist interview data (n = 57) and participant observation of the eat-local movement in three Canadian cities. Our findings illuminate a mixed picture of possibilities and limitations for consumer-based projects to foster social change. On the one hand, the diagnostic frames presented by food activists suggest skills in critical thinking, attention to structural injustice, and widespread recognition of the importance of collective mobilization. This framing suggests a politically thick democratic imagination among eat-local activists. In contrast, when it comes to thinking about prescriptions for change, activist understandings draw from individualistic and market-oriented conceptualizations of civic engagement, which indicates a relatively thin democratic imagination. These findings demonstrate that despite the sophisticated understandings and civic commitment of movement activists, the eat-local movement is limited by a reliance on individual consumption as the dominant pathway for achieving eco-social change.