It’s been a long time since I visited this blog as the author. Scrolling through the posts reminds me of the times when I – a novice PhD student and later a fully-fledged doctoral researcher – visited this virtual space (deeply personal, yet inherently public) every week: to talk about my project and its most recent theoretical or methodological turn, or another book from my constantly growing pile of literature on consumption, or a new ethical controversy in the realm of food production, or to simply share the highs and lows of doing a PhD. Now that my project is complete, conclusions are drawn and packed into the seven chapters of a 80,000+ word thesis, I thought I owe to the readers a final post, an ending to the ethical consumer story that has been unfolding on these pages over the past three years. This story, as my readers will know, is based on the lived experiences of ten people who have volunteered to share with me the most intimate details of their lives not only as consumers persistently trying to navigate the ethical maze of the modern food industry, but also as moral agents in pursuit of their ultimate concerns about the objective world and their subjective relationship to it. Each of these individuals had a unique story to tell. Yet, it is these very unique stories that enabled me to reveal the common structures of people’s experiences as ethical consumers and develop a theory explaining the private psychological processes via which an ethical consumer identity is produced.
Such theory is what, in my view, has been long lacking in the literature on ethical consumption, dominated by numerous enquiries into consumers’ attitudes, behaviours, and potential to drive social change, yet almost fully oblivious of the need to understand what brings an ethical consumer into being in the first place. This has been the key aim and proved to be the major contribution of my project – a theoretically driven and empirically informed account describing and, most importantly, explaining the process and mechanism of the formation of an ethical consumer identity. In developing this theory, I was standing on the shoulders of giants – those whose minds have been long preoccupied by the all-important questions: How does society evolve? What is the role of a human being in creating, reifying or transforming the social order? How do people develop their distinct identities and become the unique persons they are? How do we interact with the world around us and what enables us to work out our relationships with it? How do we develop our moral concerns and what compels us to act upon them? Margaret Archer’s, Andrew Sayer’s and Christian Coff’s work has been instrumental in providing insights into these pertinent questions, and it is building upon their contributions to sociological knowledge that I was able to develop a theory illuminating the ways in which consumers construct and manifest their ethical self amidst constraining and enabling contexts of objective reality.
So where I am now, having seemingly reached the end of a seemingly never-ending journey? Turns out, the journey has just begun. And the story of an ethical consumer? Truth is, this story never ends. Identities are in perpetual transition, self-construction is always a work in progress, and the dynamics between the multiple aspects of self are as influential as they are elusive. To understand an ethical consumer identity, then, is to understand not what it is, but how it emerges, develops, and transforms. This requires bringing together all the different dimensions of identity: the individual, the social, the relational, and the collective self. It is this mission that I aim to embark on next, which will hopefully define a new stage in my academic career and open a new page on this blog.
P.S. I have successfully passed my viva this summer. My proposed theory of ethical consumer identity along with other contributions of my project will reach academic audiences via three journal articles (currently under review at different journals) and a book which I hope to publish in the Routledge Critical Realism Series.