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Issue 4: June 2005





>Programme News

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>Research Focus

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Photograph of a lady holding a giant fairtrade banana with Bristol council members in the background

Regina (Fairtrade banana producer from Winward Islands) with Bristol City Council dignitaries, celebrating Bristol becoming a fairtrade city during Fairtrade Fortnight, March 2005.


Bristol Fairtrade Network

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Programme News: Research Findings

Consumer Knowledge and Trust in Professional Services

The information society is becoming ever more important for consumers of professional services, but this has had contradictory effects for consumers' trust in doctors, financial advisers, and solicitors. Perceptions of independence are at the core of trust in professionals. Consumer knowledge of regulatory practices is central to the degree of trust, researchers studying the impact of new information technologies on consumer-professional relations have found. Focus groups and interviews with professionals reveal a recurrent theme. Where consumers understand the constraints on professional independence, their trust in the profession remains high.

Where the boundaries of professional independence appear unclear and consumers perceive there to be little case for consumer protection for such restrictions, trust declines. This is most pronounced in relation to financial advisors. In their dealings with GPs, consumers acknowledge the risks of unfettered independence and are more likely to accept some constraints on professional behaviour. But trust is not unlimited, as perceptions of service failure show. Expanding formal codes of practice and control of service delivery in medical services has the potential of eroding trust in GPs. Regulatory policies need to pay more attention to the role of consumers' understandings of regulatory practices which can either strengthen or weaken trust in professional organisations.

For more information contact:
Angus Laing, University of Glasgow
telephone 0141 330 8693
email or
Gill Hogg, University of Strathclyde
telephone 0141 548 4919

Fairtrade Urbanism in Bristol

In March 2005 Bristol became recognised as a Fairtrade City. The campaign included a photography exhibition 'A Taste for Life' which was co-sponsored by the research project on Governing the Subjects and Spaces of Ethical Consumption. The touring exhibition 'A Taste for Life' portrays the lives of Fairtrade farmers from Africa, Asia, and Latin America, and was commissioned by the Fairtrade Foundation to mark 10 years of its distinctive Fairtrade Mark.

Researchers have traced the relationship amongst different actors in the Bristol Fairtrade Network, including local authority departments, trade unions, church groups, charities, local schools, and the city’s two universities. The emergence of 'Fairtrade urbanism' has reconnected local concerns with broader, global imaginaries. 'Ethical' and 'sustainable' consumption practices have become embedded in routine procedures of procurement, supply, and marketing in both the public and private sector.

For more information contact:
Clive Barnett, The Open University
telephone 01908 659700
email or
Paul Cloke, University of Bristol
telephone 0117 928 8301

Civil Society can play a vital role in water service delivery frameworks. This was the theme of Bronwen Morgan’s contribution to a meeting examining international policies to reduce poverty convened by the City of Johannesburg, South Africa, 21-23 February 2005.

For more information on how civil society can help build bridges between regulatory and citizen space:
Bronwen Morgan, University of Oxford
telephone 01865 284226


Research Focus: Research Projects

The Cappuccino Conquests is a research project led by Jonathan Morris and examines the transnational history of Italian coffee. It follows coffee culture through the evolution of espresso in Italy in the early 20th century, the first international fad for cappuccino in the 1950s following the introduction of the Gaggia machine, the fall and rise in the popularity of 'Italian coffees' between the 1960s and the present day, and the impact of the international fortunes of these beverages on the coffee industry in Italy itself. The project will analyse variations in the consumption of Italian coffees across time and space, their transfer between different locations, and the manufacture of symbolic meanings around these beverages.

For more information:
Jonathan Morris
University of Hertfordshire
de Havilland Campus
History Subject Group
AL10 9AB
telephone 01707 285563

Seed Money is a project directed by Marina Moskowitz and explores the American seed trade during the nineteenth century. The seed trade illuminates the transition from agrarian to industrial economies. Research examines the ways in which seeds were commodified by a nexus of growers, traders, and consumers. The vibrant visual images of the trade were the end result of a long process of growing, breeding, classifying, packaging, and distributing. The project explores the ways in which value is added to raw materials to entice consumers into a national marketplace.

For more information:
Marina Moskowitz
Department of History/ Centre for American Studies
University of Glasgow
1 University Gardens
G12 8QQ
telephone 0141 330 2962

Re-connecting Consumers, Food and Producers is a research project led by Moya Kneafsey and examines 'alternative' food networks ranging from local food projects and community supported agriculture to box and Internet schemes. Research explores the social, economic and ethical implications of consumer and producer participation in these networks and assesses the potential for the formation of radically different production-consumption relationships.

For more information:
Moya Kneafsey
Geography Subject Group
Coventry University
Priory Street
telephone 02476 887703

Alternative Hedonism is a project led by Kate Soper and offers insights into current signs of disaffection with consumerism among affluent groups and their implications for consumer practice. The main focus of this theory and media study is on the growing ambivalence towards material sources of gratification, and its impact on changing perceptions of the 'good life'. The idea of an 'alternative hedonism' is related to existing debates about consumer agency, motivation, and ethical consumerism. Research contributes to the expanding debate about 'nature', needs, personal fulfilment and life-style options.

For more information:
Kate Soper
Institute for the Study of European Transformations
London Metropolitan University
166-220 Holloway Road
N7 8DB
telephone 0207 133 2761

For additional projects see our webpage:



'Technological Change and the Consumer as Citizen' was the focus of a one-day workshop at the University of Cambridge in early June. Experts examined technological practices and innovation from the perspective of the consumer as citizen. Discussion highlighted tensions between expert and amateur cultures of knowledge in public debates about nanotechnology as well as more mundane practices, like recycling. The workshop was coorganised with the Sustainable Technologies Programme and the School of Humanities and Social Sciences, University of Cambridge.

For more information:
Frank Trentmann
telephone 020 7079 0601

'Fashion's World Cities', was a two-day conference jointly hosted by the London College of Fashion and the Museum of London at the end of April. The conference brought together 140 delegates from over ten different countries. The meeting explored the role of fashion designers, metropolitan cultures, production and consumption in London, Milan, Paris, New York and Los Angeles.

For more information:
Rob Lutton
telephone 020 7514 7690

The role of social status and cultural capital in contemporary cultures of consumption was the focus of an interdisciplinary workshop at Oxford in March 2005. Presentations included research on social stratification and music consumption in Britain; the role of cultural taste and participation in leisure and media participation; a comparison of patterns of eating, cooking, and eating out in different countries in the developed world; and discussion of statistical methods in the assessment of longitudinal and shortterm behavioural factors.

For more information:
Tak Wing Chan
telephone 01865 286176

Food and Globalisation was the theme of an international conference in May 2005 held at the Netherlands Institute of Advanced Study in the Humanities and Social Science, co-organised by the programme and the Volkswagen Foundation. Leading researchers from geography, anthropology and history discussed food chains and transnational identities, food and migration, and international food crises.

For more information:
Frank Trentmann
telephone 020 7079 0601

Consumerism in public services was the focus of a comparative conference at the Open University in April 2005. Experts from Britain, Scandinavia, Germany, and Australia discussed the different meanings and workings of consumerism and customer service in health care, social policy, and public discourse more generally.

For more information:
John Clarke
telephone 01908 654542

Designing and Consuming is the first of a series of interdisciplinary workshops that explore ideas of objects, practices and processes, in June 2005 at Durham University. Design scholars, sociologists of consumption, and researchers in science and technology studies met to discuss how designed artefacts are configured and appropriated, and how objects structure the social practices and situations of which they are a part.

For more information:
Elizabeth Shove
telephone 0191 334 1946

The changing production and consumption of Chewing Gum was discussed by Michael Redclift on BBC Newsnight in May 2005.



'Is There a Status Order in Contemporary British Society?' is the question addressed by Tak Wing Chan and John H. Goldthorpe in European Sociological Review, 20(5)(2004).

The evolution of a Standard of Living: The Measure of the Middle Class in Modern America is traced in a new book by Marina Moskowitz, just published by Johns Hopkins University Press.

The role of the local in the global and of the global in the local is the theme of Peter Jackson's article 'Local Consumption Cultures in a Globalizing World' in Transactions, Institute of British Geographers 29 (2)(2004).

The subjects and spaces of ethical consumption are examined by Clive Barnett, Paul Cloke, Nick Clarke and Alice Malpass in 'Consuming ethics', Antipode, 37(1)(2005).

Bronwen Morgan discusses 'The Regulatory Face of the Human Right to Water' in the Journal of Water Law 15 (2004).

'Time Use Surveys and the Changing Organization of Everyday Life in UK, 1975-2000' are discussed by Dale Southerton, Alan Warde, Wendy Olsen and Shu-Li Cheng, in their contribution to Manufacturing Leisure: Innovations in Happiness, Well-being and Fun, a collection of papers edited by M Pantzar & E Shove for the National Consumer Research Centre: Helsinki,

New Working Papers in 2005: Adam Arvidsson, Quality Singles: Internet Dating as Immaterial Labour

Bronwen Morgan, Building Bridges Between Regulatory and Citizen Space

Jane Whittle, Housewives and Servants in Rural England, 1440-1650: Evidence of Women's Work from Probate Documents




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. The Glass Consumer: The National Consumer Council's (NCC) work on new technology focuses on areas that consumers have not been fully informed about. The NCC reports that "we are all 'glass consumers'. Organisations know so much about us, they can almost see through us. Governments and businesses collect and process our personal information on a massive scale. Everything we do, and everywhere we go, leaves a trail. But is this in our interests?" The Glass Consumer, edited by Susanne Lace, brings together an overview of latest issues from a consumer perspective and sets out the NCC agenda for change.

For further information see:

National Consumer Council
20 Grosvenor Gardens
telephone: 020 7730 3469

2. The UK's Sustainable Consumption Roundtable brings together leading experts in consumer policy, retailing and sustainability to advise government on how to create consumer choices that stay within environmental limits. The Roundtable initiative is hosted by the National Consumer Council and the Sustainable Development Commission, and is funded by the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs and Department of Trade and Industry.

For more information go to:

3. Which? research has shown that 41% of people feel overwhelmed by the choices available to them. A debate is underway about extending 'choice' as a means of meeting core public policy objectives. The Government is introducing new choices into the National Health Service (NHS) and wants to enhance the role of choice in education, nutrition and pensions. Which? believes that for choice to meet public policy objectives, public services need to become more responsive and citizens more engaged. Which Choice? is a new report that includes analysis of the impact of the choice agenda, together with recommendations to government for managing some of the adverse effects.

To download a copy of the report see:

2 Marylebone Road
telephone: 020 7770 7000

3. VivaCity2020 is a research project developed by the Sustainable Urban Environments consortium investigating urban sustainability for the 24-hour city. This EPSRC-funded research initiative will deliver practical tools and resources to support sustainable and socially responsible urban design decision-making. Adopting an action research methodology, VivaCity2020 will analyse urban planning, design and consultation processes to identify when and how key decisions related to urban sustainability are made.

For more information contact
Joanne Leach
telephone 0161 295 2690

4. Rating retailers for health: how supermarkets can affect your chances of a healthy diet. This report details findings from the NCC's spot-check survey of major supermarkets around England. A series of consumer-focused Health Indicators were used to measure retailers' progress in promoting healthier eating.

For more information see:

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