Shopping for Change

Shopping for Change

Consumer Activism and the Possibilities of Purchasing Power

Edited by Louis Hyman and Joseph Tohill



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Consuming with a conscience is one of the fastest growing forms of political participation worldwide. Every day we make decisions about how to spend our money and, for the socially conscious, these decisions matter. Political consumers “buy green” for the environment or they “buy pink” to combat breast cancer. They boycott Taco Bell to support migrant workers or Burger King to save the rainforest.

But can we overcome the limitations of consumer identity, the conservative pull of consumer choice, co-optation by corporate marketers, and other pitfalls of consumer activism in order to marshal the possibilities of consumer power? Can we, quite literally, shop for change?

Shopping for Change brings together historical and contemporary perspectives of academics and activists to show readers what has been possible for consumer activists in the past and what might be possible for today’s consumer activists.


Shopping for change leaves us thinking deeply about who is responsible, and who should be held accountable, for creating a more suitable future.

– Quill & Quire

This book could not be more timely. We see in many nations a large number of people reacting badly to their inability to maintain a standard of living they believe they need. Smarter, more active, and more restrained buying is what is called for. This book provides an outstandingly detailed guide for how to proceed.

– Amitai Etizoni, University Professor and author of The New Normal

Is consumer activism a worthwhile endeavour? And, if so, how should it be pursued? The contributors to this volume grapple creatively with these, and many other, important questions. Hyman and Tohill have assembled a wonderful array of engaging and insightful essays that mine the distant and recent past to show us what’s worked, what hasn’t, and why.

– Michael Dawson, Department of History, St. Thomas University

Shopping for Change wrestles impressively with the possibilities and obstacles for consumer activism over time. This is important history, but it is also a compelling call to harness the full potential of the consumer marketplace to create a more equitable, democratic society.

– Lizabeth Cohen, author of A Consumers’ Republic: The Politics of Mass Consumption in Postwar America

Shopping for change leaves us thinking deeply about who is responsible, and who should be held accountable, for creating a more suitable future.

– Quill & Quire

Shopping for Change is replete with the documented beliefs that individual and collective political purchasing reduces and redirects the basic reservoir of giant corporate power—the dollars we give them that they use against the people and the planet. Read this book and shop wisely, sometimes shop less, and, increasingly, shop together for your democratic voice.

– Ralph Nader


Introduction Shopping for Change
Louis Hyman and Joseph Tohill
1. Conscience: The Free Produce Movement in Early America
Michelle Craig McDonald
2. Boycotts, Buycotts, and Legislation: Tactical Lessons from Workers and Consumers during the Progressive Era
Wendy Wiedenhoft Murphy
3. Making a Market for Consumers: The Calgary Consumers’ League and the High Cost of Living
Bettina Liverant
4. Making a Middle Class "Public": Middle-Class Consumer Activism in Post-First World War America
Mark Robbins
5. You Are Purchasing Prosperity! : Local Buying Initiatives and Women as Conscious Consumers in the Great Depression
Allison Ward
6. Making Money in Hard Times: Scrip and Grassroots Efforts to Solve the Great Depression
Sarah Elvins
7. Protecting the "Guinea Pig Children" : Resisting Children’s Food Advertising in the 1930s
Kyle Asquith
8. Our Economic Way Out : Black American Consumers' Cooperation in the First Half of the Twentieth Century
Josh Carreiro
9. Not Buying It : Reconsidering American Consumer Opposition to Nazi Anti-Semitism
Jeffrey Scott Demsky and Randall Kaufman
10. Canada’s Citizen Housewives : Cold War Anti-Communism and the Limits of Maternalism
Julie Guard
11. The Consumer Goes to War : Consumer Politics in the United States and Canada during the Second World War
Joseph Tohill
12. From the Great Society to Giant : Esther Peterson and the Politics of Shopping
Lawrence Black
13. The Countercultural Roots of Green Consumerism
Philip A. Wight
14. Purchasing Change : The (Un)Intended Consequences of Biofuel Consumption on the World's Poor
H. Louise Davis
15. Buying a Better World : From Cause Marketing to Social Innovation, Can Consumption Create Positive Social Change?
Mara Einstein
16. What About the Cause? : The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics and the Pinkwashing of Breast Cancer Activism
Daniel Faber, Amy Lubitow, and Madeline Brambilla
17. The Making of a Coke CAN : Coca-Cola’s Civic Action Network (CAN) and the Seeding of Corporate Astroturf Campaigns, 1995–2015
Bartow Elmore
18. Boot the Bell : Solidarity as Strategy in the Neoliberal Era
Dawson Barrett
19. Where’s the Beef . . . From? : Boycotting Burger King to Protect Central American Rainforests
Katrina Lacher
20. The Sweatshop Effect : Consumer Activism and the Anti-Sweatshop Movement on College Campuses
Meredith Katz
21. Hating Wal-Mart, Loving Target, and the Contradictions of Supply Chain Capitalism
Jessica Stewart
22. Ports are the New Factories : Supply Chains and Labour Power in the Twenty-first Century
Louis Hyman
23. To Speak in One Voice : Dynamics of a Cross-Movement Coalition for Financial Reform
Robert N. Mayer and Larry Kirsch
24. On Demand
Tracey Deutsch