An emerging eco-habitus: the reconfiguration of high cultural capital practices among ethical consumers

BY: Lindsey B Carfagna, Emilie A Dubois, Connor Fitzmaurice, Monique Y Ouimette, Juliet B Schor, Margaret Willis and Thomas Laidley

Bourdieu’s concept of habitus describes a set of tastes and dispositions operating according to a class homology – for example, a working-class preference for utility, or a bourgeois orientation toward luxury. In the United States, Holt found that high cultural capital consumers were characterized by their cosmopolitanism, idealism, connoisseurship, and affinity for the exotic and authentic. In this article, we use Holt’s analysis as a comparative case, finding an altered high cultural capital habitus incorporating environmental awareness and sustainability principles, in a configuration that has been called ethical or ‘‘conscious consumption.’’ Using both quantitative survey data of self-described conscious consumers as well as four qualitative case studies, we argue that ethical consumers are overwhelmingly high cultural capital consumers, and that high cultural capital consumption strategies have shifted since Holt’s study in the mid- 1990s. We show that on a number of dimensions – cosmopolitanism, idealism, and relation to manual labor – a new high cultural capital consumer repertoire privileges the local, material, and manual, while maintaining a strategy of distinction. While the critical literature on conscious consumers has suggested that such practices reflect neo-liberal tendencies that individualize environmental responsibility, our findings suggest that such practices are hardly individual. Rather, they are collective strategies of consumption – what we have termed an emerging high cultural capital ‘‘eco-habitus.’’

View/Download Report

Network Members