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Mobile Activism, Material Imaginings, and the Ethics of the Edible: Framing Political Engagement through the Buycott App

Eli, Karin and Dolan, Catherine and Schneider, Tanja and Ulijaszek, Stanley (2016) 'Mobile Activism, Material Imaginings, and the Ethics of the Edible: Framing Political Engagement through the Buycott App.' Geoforum, 74. pp. 63-73.

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Abstract

In this article, we explore the discursive constructions of Buycott, a free mobile app that provides a platform for user-generated ethical consumption campaigns. Unlike other ethical consumption apps, Buycott’s mode of knowledge production positions the app itself as neutral, with app users generating activist campaigns and providing both data and judgment. Although Buycott is not a dedicated food activism app, food features centrally in its campaigns, and the app seems to provide a mobile means of extending, and perhaps expanding, alternative food network (AFN) action across geographies and constituencies. Thus, as a case study, Buycott unveils contemporary possibilities for citizen participation and the formation of activist consumer communities, both local and trans-national, through mobile technologies. Our analysis shows, however, that despite the app’s user-generated format, the forms of activism it enables are constrained by the app’s binary construction of action as non/consumption and its guiding ‘mission’ of ‘voting with your wallet’. Grounded in texts concerning Buycott’s two largest campaigns (Demand GMO Labeling and Long live Palestine boycott Israel), our analysis delineates how Buycott, its campaigns, and its modes of action take shape in user, media, and app developer discourses. We find that, as discursively framed, Buycott campaigns are commodity-centric, invoking an ‘ethics of care’ to be enacted by atomized consumers, in corporate spaces and through mainstream, barcode-bearing, retail products. In user discourses, this corporate spatiality translates into the imagined materializing of issues in products, investing commodities with the substance of an otherwise ethereal cause. This individualized, commodity-centric activism reinforces tenets of the neoliberal market, ultimately turning individual users into consumers not only of products, but also of the app itself. Thus, we suggest, the activist habitus constructed through Buycott is a neoliberal, consumer habitus.

Item Type: Articles
Keywords: boycott, consumer activism, ethical consumption, food citizenship, mobile apps, political consumerism
SOAS Departments & Centres: Faculty of Arts and Humanities > Department of Anthropology and Sociology
ISSN: 00167185
DOI (Digital Object Identifier): 10.1016/j.geoforum.2016.04.002
Depositing User: Catherine Dolan
Date Deposited: 02 Mar 2016 12:39
URI: http://eprints.soas.ac.uk/id/eprint/22081

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