On Consumed Democracy: The Expansion of Consumer Choice, Its Causal Effects on Political Engagement, and Its Implications for Democracy

  • Datum:
  • Plats: Brusewitzsalen, Östra Ågatan 19, Uppsala
  • Doktorand: Wejryd, Johan
  • Om avhandlingen
  • Arrangör: Statsvetenskapliga institutionen
  • Kontaktperson: Wejryd, Johan
  • Disputation

This is a thesis about expansions of consumer choice, their causal effects on political engagement, and the democratic implications that follow.

This is a thesis about expansions of consumer choice, their causal effects on political engagement, and the democratic implications that follow. For material and ideological reasons alike, consumer choices have expanded over the last decades and are likely to become even more present in citizens’ lives in the future. Scholars’ appraisal of this expansion of consumer choice ranges from, on the one hand, seeing it as a threat to active citizenship to, on the other hand, celebrating it as inherently democratic.

The thesis accepts the assumed democratic potential of consumer choice as a means for conveying legitimate political preferences and affecting political outcomes. Yet the introduction shows that, from the perspective of normative democratic theory, citizens’ consumer choices are under most circumstances democratically inferior to civic engagement that addresses formal political decision-making. It is thus a pressing question whether there actually are elements in consumer choices that reduce citizens’ inclination to engage in conventional forms of political participation. This empirical question is addressed in the three essays.

The essays tap the effects of consumer choices in different contexts, such as parents’ school choices for their children (Essay I), consumer choices that interact with citizens’ political motivations, i.e. “political consumption,” (Essay II), and consumer choices regarding plainly private consumer goods (Essay III). All the three essays account for causality and do so by means of experimental designs. In addition, the essays are similar in that their results point in the same direction: expansions of consumer choice reduce citizens’ willingness to conventional political participation.

Given the democratic significance of conventional participation and the pervasiveness of consumer choice, the results are important both from a scholarly perspective and from a broader societal perspective. The results cast new light on a wide range of issues about the extension of consumer choices and their presence in citizens’ lives, including e.g. decisions about user choice in welfare services and advertising regulation. This thesis does by no means end the discussion about such policies, but demonstrates the significance of a certain outlook: issues about the extension of consumer choice are issues about democratic values.