Cover of The Sympathetic Consumer by Tad Skotnicki
The Sympathetic Consumer
Moral Critique in Capitalist Culture
Tad Skotnicki

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May 2021
288 pages.
from $28.00

Hardcover ISBN: 9781503614635
Paperback ISBN: 9781503627734

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When people encounter consumer goods—sugar, clothes, phones—they find little to no information about their origins. The goods will, thus, remain anonymous, and the labor that went into making them, the supply chain through which they traveled, will remain obscured. In this book, Tad Skotnicki argues that this encounter is an endemic feature of capitalist societies, and one with which consumers have struggled for centuries in the form of activist movements constructed around what he calls The Sympathetic Consumer.

This book documents the uncanny similarities shared by such movements over the course of three centuries: the transatlantic abolitionist movement, US and English consumer movements around the turn of the twentieth century, and contemporary Fair-Trade activism. Offering a comparative historical study of consumer activism the book shows, in vivid detail, how activists wrestled with the broader implications of commodity-exchange. These activists arrived at a common understanding of the relationship between consumers, producers, and commodities, and concluded that consumers were responsible for sympathizing with invisible laborers. Ultimately, Skotnicki provides a framework to identify a capitalist culture by examining how people interpret everyday phenomena essential to it.

About the author

Tad Skotnicki is Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.