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The Ethics of Consumption: From Boycotts to Fair Trade

This session focuses on how consumption, particularly of goods produced in distant places, could be politicised. Focusing on the British sugar boycott campaigns of 1790s and 1820s that formed part of wider abolitionist and antislavery campaigns, it will consider how abstention was associated with self-purification and the goal of moralizing consumption, as well as efforts to transform wider economic and labour systems, as well as bring about political change through informal channels. While the focus will be on consumer protests and abstention in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, attention will also be given to how present-day campaigns echo or seek to mobilise historical practices. In addition, the session will also examine the forms of visual and material culture associated with ethical consumption.

Seminar Questions

  1. Why and how did the consumption of sugar become politicised in late 18th century and early 19th-century Britain and with what consequences?
  1. ‘Abstention movements need to be understood in relation to the histories of both colonialism and consumerism’. Discuss.
  2. What textual and visual tropes have been used to promote ethical (non-)consumption and how do they function?

Required Reading

Micheletti, Michele , ‘The Moral Force of Consumption and Capitalism: Anti-Slavery and Anti-Sweatshop' in K. Soper and F. Trentmann (eds), Citizenship and Consumption (Palgrave Macmillan, 2007)

Midgley, Clare, ‘Slave sugar boycotts, female activism and the domestic base of British anti‐slavery culture’, Slavery & Abolition, 17:3 (1996), pp 137-162

Sussman, Charlotte, Consuming Anxieties: Consumer Protest, Gender & British Slavery, 1713-1833 (Stanford UP, 2000), pp 22-48

Supplementary Reading

Anderson, Matthew, A History of Fair Trade in Contemporary Britain : From Civil Society Campaigns to Corporate Compliance (2015)

Feldman, Daṿid (ed.), Boycotts Past and Present: From the American Revolution to the Campaign to Boycott Israel (Palgrave Macmillan, 2019)

Friedman, Monroe, Consumer Boycotts: Effecting Change through the Marketplace and Media (Taylor & Francis Group, 1999)

Furlough, E. and C. Strikwerda (eds), Consumers Against Capitalism? Consumer Cooperation in Europe, North America, and Japan, 1840-1990 (Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 1999)

Holcomb, Julie L., ‘Blood-stained sugar: Gender, commerce and the British slave-trade debates’, Slavery & Abolition 35:4 (2014), pp 611-628

Holcomb, Julie L., Moral Commerce: Quakers and the Transatlantic Boycott of the Slave Labor Economy (Ithaca, NY, 2016)

Nicholls, A. and C. Opal, Fair trade: Market-Driven Ethical Consumption (SAGE, 2005)

Sheller, Mimi, Consuming the Caribbean: From Arawaks to Zombies (Routledge, 2003)

Trentmann, F., ‘Before “fair trade”: Empire, free trade, and the moral economies of food in the modern world’, Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 25:6 (2007), pp 1079-1102

Van Dyk, Garritt, ‘A tale of two boycotts: Riot, reform, and sugar consumption in late eighteenth-century Britain and France’, Eighteenth-Century Life 45:3 (2021), pp 51-68