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From consumer sovereignty to consumer governance. Room for choice in consumption

Abstract : The question of choice is central to the political and economic construction of the role of consumers in our societies. It is precisely by exercising their right to choose that consumers fulfil their role in the Social Contract. This ‘consumer sovereignty’ has been built through history, while states, enterprises and consumer associations have reached a consensus on defining economic citizenship on the basis of the exercise of individual choice. Yet the latter can only be exercised in an environment controlled by the supply side, because consumers can only choose among product characteristics as presented by the various mechanisms of ‘market delegation’ (brands, logos, standards, advertising, etc.). Some proposals relating to responsible consumption have broadened this range of choice, incorporating into the market such non-market values as ethics, fairness and respect for the environment, although they have stopped short of challenging the principle of individual choice. Other recent proposals, however, are striving to restore the collective dimension of consumer choices by establishing new forums where consumers and producers can get together to decide on the framework of consumption. This requires us to look at the democratic capacities of such systems, particularly their ability to promote social inclusion for the benefit of deprived population groups. The question of choice is central to the political and economic construction of the consumer’s role in our societies. It is precisely by exercising their right to choose that consumers play their part in the Social Contract. Variations on this principle are to be found in many social environments. Not only in enterprises but also in other types of organisation, managerial theories have posited ‘the customer is always right’ or ‘the consumer is always right’ as the decisive element in most forms of governance and management techniques. On the markets, the question of efficiency is directly settled by the concept of consumers’ choice as a mode of expression of their preferences. Lastly, in the political field, consumerscum-citizens can also use their informed choice to exert some influence over specific public regulations. We must attempt to improve our understanding of how this margin for consumer choice has gradually been created and analyse how different civil society movements are proposing to redefine the conditions for exercising this choice on the basis of a Social Contract formulated on slightly different terms and conditions. Consumer choice is currently split between highly specific alternatives and strongly controlled by market operators. This has prompted a series of critical proposals aimed not only at broadening the space for individual choice but also at restoring a collective framework for consumer choice [first paragraph]
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Submitted on : Monday, January 27, 2020 - 12:47:54 PM
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Sophie Dubuisson-Quellier. From consumer sovereignty to consumer governance. Room for choice in consumption. Gilda Farrell. Rethinking consumer behaviour for the well-being of all. Reflections on individual consumer responsibility, Council of Europe, pp.40 - 45, 2008, 9789287164827. ⟨hal-02456408⟩

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