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Embracing ethical fields: constructing consumption in the margins

Deirdre Shaw (Department of Management, University of Glasgow, Glasgow, UK)
Kathleen Riach (Essex Business School, University of Essex, Colchester, UK)

European Journal of Marketing

ISSN: 0309-0566

Article publication date: 26 July 2011




Literature examining resistant consumer behaviour from an ethical consumption stance has increased over recent years. This paper aims to argue that the conflation between ethical consumer behaviour and “anti‐consumption” practices results in a nihilistic reading and fails to uncover the tensions of those who seek to position themselves as ethical while still participating in the general market.


The study adopts an exploratory approach through semi‐structured in‐depth interviews with a purposive sample of seven ethical consumers.


The analysis reveals the process through which ethical consumption is constructed and defined in relation to the subject position of the “ethical consumer” and their interactions with the dominant market of consumption.

Research limitations/implications

This research is limited to a single country and location and focused on a specific consumer group. Expansion of the research to a wider group would be valuable.

Practical implications

The impact of ethical consumption on the wider field of consumption can be witnessed in the “mainstreaming” of many ethical ideals. This highlights the potential movements of power between various stakeholders that occupy particular spaces of social action.


Understanding the analysis through Bourdieu's concepts of field and the margins created between spaces of consumption, the paper focuses on the theoretical cross‐section of practice between ethical and market‐driven forms of consumption, advancing discussion by exploring how self‐identified “ethical consumers” defined, legitimatised and negotiated their practices in relation to consumption acts and lifestyles.



Shaw, D. and Riach, K. (2011), "Embracing ethical fields: constructing consumption in the margins", European Journal of Marketing, Vol. 45 No. 7/8, pp. 1051-1067.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2011, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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