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Issue 2: April 2004





>Programme News

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>Research Focus

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Professor John Brewer, Madeleine Bunting, Dr Frank Trentmann and Professor Geoff Crossick

John Brewer (far right) gave the first public lecture on ‘The Error of Our Ways’, 23 September 2003 at The Royal Society.

Comment was provided by Professor Geoff Crossick (near left), chief executive of the Arts and Humanities Research Board and Madeleine Bunting, Guardian columnist. The event was chaired by Dr. Frank Trentmann, programme director of the Cultures of Consumption Programme.


Programme News

The Khat Nexus
Farm cultivation of khat covers a far larger space than previously known. Khat (catha edulis) is grown in South Africa, Israel, Afghanistan, Madagascar and Morocco as well as areas in East Africa and Yemen more conventionally associated with the drug. This is one of the findings of an international research team with implications for the current debate about reforming drug policy in the United Kingdom. Researchers have tracked shipment of khat from Africa and the Red Sea to Europe. They have also followed the growing call for the control of khat from community based organisations in the United Kingdom. Public policy debate now needs to recognise a wider pattern of production and consumption with deep historical roots.

For research findings and papers contact David Anderson, St Anthony’s College, Woodstock Road, Oxford, OX2 6JF. Telephone: 01865 284735 or

Consumption and Citizenship is the theme of a public policy/academic seminar at HM Treasury, 22 April 2004 jointly organised by the Cultures of Consumption programme and the National Consumer Council. The seminar will broaden the discussion of public service reform by connecting it to new research about cultural consumption and norms of citizenship. Speakers include Wendy Thomson, Head of the Prime Minister's Office of Public Services Reform, Sue Slipman OBE, Chair of the Policy Commission on Public Service, David Marquand, Former Principal of Mansfield College, Oxford, Colin Campbell, Professor of Sociology, The University of York and members of the programme.

Children and Consumption was the topic of discussion at a seminar covered by the Cultures of Consumption programme together with the National Family and Parenting Institute at The Royal Society, 20 February 2004. It presented new research from Canadian studies about children’s media consumption, new approaches to media literacy as well as emphasising the importance of children as active consumers. Seminar papers are now available at Research on the fashion consumption of children aged 6-11 is conducted by a team at Leicester. The project examines children’s use of clothing in relation to pleasure, desire, need and identity as well as to pressures from design, advertising and marketing.

For more information contact Chris Pole, Department of Sociology, University of Leicester, University Road, Leicester, LE1 7RH. Telephone: 0116 252 2724 or

International experts assess the future place of consumption
Sustainability Reinvented is the focus of Gerhard Scherhorn’s public lecture at The Royal Society, on Friday 21 May 2004 at 6.30pm. Professor Scherhorn has been at the forefront of European consumer politics for the last 30 years. He was a member of the Council of Economic Advisors to the Federal Government of Germany. He is now Co-director of the Research Group on Sustainable Production and Consumption at the Wuppertal Institute of Climate, Environment, Energy, Wuppertal.

On Monday 21 June a roundtable will debate questions of ‘Consumption and the Good Life?’ at The Royal Society. The roundtable will be chaired by Evan Davis (BBC) and include Deirdre Hutton (Chairman, National Consumer Council), the leading sociologist Alan Warde (University of Manchester) and other prominent guests.

Both events are free and open to the public but space is limited. For tickets to the Roundtable and Gerhard Scherhorn’s lecture please contact: Stefanie Nixon, 020 7079 0601 /


Research Focus: Consumers and Citizens

1. Creating Citizen-Consumers: Changing Relationships and Identifications, by John Clarke at the Open University.

Public services have been the focus for waves of reform, restructuring and modernization. In these processes, relationships between states and citizens have been changing. One of the big ideas driving reform in recent years has been ‘consumerism’: the view that we now live in a consumer culture and that public services need to be remade to reflect the attitudes, expectations and identities of a consumer society. Services are expected to adapt to these new conditions – becoming more flexible, accessible, and responsive to the demands of their consumers. Services should enable choice and a project headed by John Clarke at the Open University asks how this big idea has developed and shaped the policy agenda of public service reform. Case studies look at health care, social care and policing analysing how these different services are adapting to the challenges of consumerism.

Research also asks: Do people think of themselves as consumers? What difference does it make to treat people as consumers? What might be gained and lost in the shift to a consumer or customer focus? Research is making visible questions about the changing relationship between the people and the state.

John Clarke will discuss these issues at a public event at The Royal Society on Thursday 22 April 2004 at 6.30pm.

For more information on the research findings contact John Clarke, The Open University, Walton Hall, Milton Keynes, MK7 6AA. Telephone: 01908 654530 /

2. Cultures of Consumption and Consumer Involvement in Public Services, by Johnston Birchall, Stirling University.

A second project headed by Johnston Birchall at Stirling University, focuses on the consumption and delivery of housing, social care and leisure services. It is exploring the depth of involvement consumers have with each of these services, and how consumers experience and evaluate the alternative ways in which their views may be represented to service providers. We are interested in why some people come along to groups whose aims include having some influence over the planning and delivery of public services, why some people use the channels available to them as individuals (such as feedback systems and contacting elected officials), and why some people never express their views at all. These matters are not currently well understood.

Local authorities have a duty to consult with service users, but consultation can take a number of different forms. This project asks service users about the choices they make and how they want to be consulted. Many public service users are interested at one time or another in making their views known. We want to know if people think that some forms of involving consumers are more effective than others, and to see if some forms of involvement work better in one public service than another.

Research findings shed new light, not just on what works, but why it works and where it works. This will help users and providers to plan in the future for more effective consultation and involvement strategies in the constantly changing environment of today’s public services. For more information contact: Johnston Birchall, University of Stirling, FK9 4LA. Telephone: 01786 467981 /

3. Media Consumption and the Future of Public Connection, by Nick Couldry, London School of Economics.

There is widespread concern among politicians and policymakers about the apparent decline of interest in the political process. Most democracies’ working assumption remains that their members share a basic level of attention to the public world - a basic level of ‘public connection’. But can we be certain this holds any more? As a shared national media landscape has given way to multiple media formats, the possibilities grow for individuals to ‘personalise’ their media landscape.

This project headed by Nick Couldry at LSE, investigates both of these connected assumptions: do they correspond any more with people’s everyday lives and the sense, if any, they have of a public world? To approach these difficult questions, research offers an in-depth look at the everyday practices of 36 people across England, asking what the public world means to them, and how, it is linked to the media they consume. In a second stage emerging themes will be used to generate survey questions for a nationwide survey. Research will produce an original account of the various, perhaps incompatible, ways in which people understand their relationship to the public world, and the role media play in sustaining their relationship to that world.

Pilot research is now available at:
For more information contact Nick Couldry, LSE, Houghton Street, WC2A 2AE. Telephone: 0207 955 6243 /

4. Towards a Participatory Consumer Democracy: Britain, 1937-1987, by Lesley Whitworth at Brighton.

Consumer education is one theme in the research project directed by Lesley Whitworth. This project follows the history of the Council of Industrial Design founded in 1944, to promote the improvement of design in the products of British industry.

Faced with a complex task that also involved the reformation of design education and the enlightenment of retailers, the Council strove for an essential symbiosis: industry was to be encouraged to supply well designed goods while the public would be trained to recognise and demand these goods.

Through its varied programme of product evaluation, labelling, and the dissemination of texts, the Council of Industrial Design sought to influence patterns of consumption. In the light of recent government assertions about the value of active discriminating consumers, research will show what may be learnt from the successes and failures of these earlier engagements with consumer education.

For more information contact Lesley Whitworth, Design History Research Centre, University of Brighton, BN2 0JY. Telephone 01273 643304 /



‘Knowing Consumers’ was the theme of a conference organised by Dr Frank Trentmann (Birkbeck) and Prof. Dr. Heinz-Gerhard Haupt (Florence) at ZIF (Zentrum für Interdisziplinäre Forschung/ Centre for Interdisciplinary Research), Bielefeld (Germany) from 26-28 February 2004. The interdisciplinary meeting explored the different ways in which consumers emerged as subjects in different settings, their identities, and their changing status in fields of knowledge and policy. For further information and conference papers see:

Dr Axel Klein presented research on ‘Khat and Prohibition’ to the Drug Policy Alliance Biennial Conference in New Jersey – the largest drug reform movement internationally.

First findings of Prof. Alan Warde’s large-scale comparative research on the diffusion of consumer culture using time-use data from 1975 to 2001 were presented to the British Sociological Association meeting in March 2004.

The Media Consumption and the Future of Public Connection project headed by Dr Nick Couldry, held a seminar for policymakers, media professionals and academics at LSE on 3 February.

Dr Bronwen Morgan (Oxford) has produced a research briefing, “Water and the New Economic Partnership for African Development (NEPAD)”, for Freshwater Action Network, an umbrella organisation of water-related NGO’s whose secretariat is based at Wateraid, a British NGO.



Michael Redclift’s Chewing Gum: the fortunes of taste, is published by Taylor and Francis (Routledge).

Christopher Breward’s Fashioning London: Clothing and the Modern Metropolis, has just appeared with Berg Publishers.

International experts re-examine Markets in Historical Contexts: Ideas and Politics in the Modern World, is an interdisciplinary volume edited by Mark Bevir and Frank Trentmann for Cambridge University Press.

In press: ‘Talking Together: Exploring Consumer Communities and Healthcare’ in Advances in Consumer Research, Vol.31 by Hogg, G; Laing, AW and Newholm, TJ (2004).



The Cultures of Consumption research programme seeks to facilitate dialogue between research in academic and public bodies. On this page we will provide you with updates and links to work done elsewhere.

1. ‘Making public services personal: A new compact for public services’
The independent Policy Commission on Public Services, set up by the National Consumer Council (NCC) to examine consumer interests in public services, is launching its report on Monday 19 April. The report looks at people’s experiences of using public services and tries to clarify the values that must be adopted in order to deliver services with responsiveness and consumer choice at their heart.

The commission has examined four crucial areas: health, education, social care and neighbourhood renewal, and makes strong recommendation for change.

For further information see:

2. ‘Health Warning to Government’, Report by the Consumers’ Association
The Consumers' Association has launched a fierce Health Warning to the Government, on the back of new research which shows seven in ten consumers think the Government should be doing more to promote what we should eat for a healthy diet.

In its report, "Health Warning to Government" Consumers' Association sets out twelve demands to tackle Government and industry inertia over obesity and diet related disease.

Three core demands are:

  • The Government and Ofcom (the regulator for UK communications) must commit to restricting advertising of all foods high in fat, sugar and salt during children's TV viewing times;
  • The Government must commit to setting up a Nutrition Council, made up of representatives from across Government and key stakeholders and experts.
  • The big four high street supermarkets must take the lead to develop a labelling scheme that helps consumers easily identify foods high in fat, sugar and salt which they should be cutting down on.

For more information see:

3. Wuppertal Institute for Climate, Environment, Energy
Research papers on Sustainable Consumption and Development by the Wuppertal Institute can be found at

4. Sustainable Technologies Programme

Working papers on sustainable consumption in the Sustainable Technologies Programme are now available at:

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