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Morality and consumption: towards a multidisciplinary perspective

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This paper considers consumption from a multidisciplinary perspective on morality.

Where an increasing number of studies have sought to examine the moral dimensions of consumption, adopting notions of ethics, fairness and responsibility, the absence of a coherent understanding of the very notion that motivates, directs and ultimately, gives meaning to such research needs redressing. Acknowledged as the fundamental basis of research purporting to examine consumption from some kind of moral perspective, the notion morality is explored in depth through a critical review of the diverse literature on morality. Five dominant paradigmatic conceptions of morality are discerned from the core disciplines of philosophy, psychology, sociology and economics. In this paper each perspective is examined and their constituent elements deconstructed and tabularised for the basis of comparison. Accordingly, the way in which consequences and rights play out within teleological and deontological strands of philosophy are presented alongside moral aspects of cognitive decision-making from psychology, social processes from sociology and systems thinking about morality within economics. The ensuing discussion considers how a unified, multidisciplinary perspective of morality presents an appropriate and helpful vehicle for better understanding the underlying moral nature of analysis, argumentation and theoretical claims made within this stream of consumption literature. In this, epistemological and theoretical arguments are offered in support of a more pluralist consumer research agenda (re)focussed on interpreting consumption through the available range of moral perspectives. Here, a movement towards more descriptive approaches to the study of ethical consumption, fair trade and sustainability is suggested that attempts not to prescribe a particular moral consumption agenda but instead seeks to better understand the moral implications associated with consumption practices and processes. These discussions take place in the context of debates about paradigmatic incommensurability within marketing and an inclination towards unidisciplinarity that would seem to inhibit such necessary ambitions for pluralism. Implications for academics, practitioners and policy-makers are discussed as relevant.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2007-04-01

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