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.
"A path-breaking work. This book contributes significantly to scholarship on consumer society and to broader debates about how to understand the economic culture of capitalism."
—Lyn Spillman, University of Notre Dame
"This fascinating comparative account reveals striking similarities and interesting differences between three social movements across two centuries. Skotnicki relates these to the form of capitalism itself, thus making the book an excellent companion for teaching Marx's Capital."
—Andreas Glaeser, The University of Chicago
"This book is a joy to read for many reasons, but mostly for its careful work in identifying the moral appeals of consumer activism and what the sympathetic consumer tells us about capitalism."
—Caroline Heldman, American Journal of Sociology