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Consuming narratives: the political ecology of ‘alternative’ consumption

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This paper examines how political ecology themes of tropical conservation and social justice become representational practices underpinning ‘alternative’ consumption in the North. The notion of commodity culture is adopted to understand the ambiguous rationalities and ethical assumptions of two sets of consumption practices. The first case considers Edenic myth-making used to assimilate concerns over tropical deforestation in the South to consumption-intensive if conservation-minded lifestyles in the North. The second case looks at fair trade and how concern about social injustice and unfair labour practices in the South is harnessed to solidarity-seeking consumption constitutive of ‘radical’ lifestyles. The paper suggests these contrasting commodity cultures broadly conform to divergent positions in red–green debates. It argues that both are weakened as a form of social and political ‘caring at a distance’ due to an uncritical acceptance of consumption as the primary basis of action.

Keywords: Edenic myths; commodity culture; consumption; fair trade; political ecology

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: 1: Department of Geography, King's College, University of London, London WC2R 2LS, Email: 2: Formerly at Department of Environmental Studies, University of California, Santa Cruz, CA 95064, USA

Publication date: September 1, 2004

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