English title: Why are Boycotters Not Automatically Buycotters? Investigating the Aims Underlying Citizens' Decision to Consume Politically Across Countries

Author(s): Caroline Zorell -

Language: English

Type: Conference paper/poster

Year: 2013


This paper investigates why “positive” political consumers (i.e. buycotters) are not automatically “negative” political consumers (i.e. boycotters), too. The deliberate decision to buy a product clearly seems to be driven by other factors than the decision not to buy a product for political, environmental or social reasons: buycotting relates to the idea that a firm is behaving very well and thus should be rewarded for this. In contrast, boycotters want to express their discontent with certain market practices and to put pressure for more regulation. The change in firms’ practices may be reached by voluntary self-regulation of companies (i.e. Corporate Social Responsibility/CSR), or determined by the state or supranational institutions (for example through labeling schemes and similar standards). However, the spread of CSR and labeling schemes is somewhat different across countries. Likewise, the analysis of the European Social Survey 2002/03 reveals a different pattern of buycotting and boycotting across countries. This suggests that the citizens’ decision to use their consumption as a tool for expressing political concerns interacts differently with CSR compared to labeling schemes, and across countries. In view of that, the paper examines whether the discrepancy is due to citizens’ “concept of the state”, that is to say, their attitudes concerning the state, the market and civil society and their view about who is responsible for what, how the cooperation between the three actors should look like and which role each of them should take over. The logic underlying this idea is that CSR embodies the taking over of responsibility of firms in cooperation with other actors of civil society and the state. In contrast, labeling schemes and similar standards serve as tools to influence demand for specific products and thus embody a culture that favors market-driven, formal solutions. Hall and Soskices’ theory of “The Varieties of Capitalism“ (2001) differentiates countries exactly on these lines, i.e. according to the relationships between firms, the state and society, depending on their respective preferences for how to best solve coordination problems between them. The presented paper uses this theory to investigate whether countries exhibit different magnitudes of political consumerist activities, of CSR and of labeling schemes depending on the way in which coordination problems in interactions concerning economic- and sociopolitical matters are typically solved there. The result is a framework according to which, on the country level, boycotting brings about the “landscape” in which buycotting becomes possible since it puts companies under pressure to change their practices and thereby generates the information required for buycotting. In this process, the concept of the state influences individual citizens’ preferences for either CSR or labeling schemes. And depending on which of the two they want to promote, citizens may rather prefer to engage in a boycott or a buycott. Accordingly, the entire development of political consumerism and its overall extent are different across countries depending on the prevailing concept of the state.

Conference name: American Political Science Association

Location: Washington DC

Start date: Sep 1, 2013

Type: Paper

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