THE VIRTUOUS CONSUMER : USING SOCIAL NETWORK TECHNOLOGIES TO FOSTER THE PUBLIC SPACE OF MARKETS
Dumlao, Michael Raymund Irabon
Key to this thesis asks are questions of individual versus collective action, digital versus traditional media and the overriding instance that such actions and tools are being employed not in the traditional political sphere of governments and civil society, but in the non-state space of the market. Noting key circumstances of market-based actions mediated by information and communication technology (case-studies include an examination of mobile phone philanthropy and Wal-Mart reform), this paper asks broadly: under what conditions does the market become a space for political participation? Specifically, how does consumption relate to citizenship and civic-engagement? And how does technology affect collective action and efforts by consumer activists working to advance social changes within the digital economy? In response, this thesis argues that the ascent of virtuous consumption (the predication of purchase preferences on political concerns) as an increasingly viable agent for social change along with the simultaneous rise of digital social-network devices as a tool for collective action has enabled the shift of the public, political space from the state to markets. That the growth of responsible consumption occurs with the increase in adoption of user-driven social-software is not seen as a coincidence, but a significant, deliberate correlation. After all, virtuous consumption in its modern form draws its power from the information and network-inclusion that digital social-networking devices provide. The thesis synthesizes a cross-disciplinary portfolio of theoretical concerns such as citizenship and consumer behavior, information technology and collective action along with network theory, social capital and civic virtue. From this, the paper defines key conditions to virtuous consumption which include a) consumer concerns with the production, distribution and marketing of consumer goods and services; b) common distrust with government and corporate organizations along with declining reliance on civil society and other traditional forms of participation to express the virtues of citizenship; and c) emerging preference for mechanisms which imbed individualized actions in broad, informal networks. The consequent conditions to the proposed market-as-political-space draws primarily from the assertion that the market is a political space and, armed with choice and unprecedented access to information, consumers are also political actors, able to "vote" for changes in corporate policies and practices through their shopping behavior.
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