Digitizing Consumer Activism: A Thematic Analysis of Jezebel.com

Digitizing Consumer Activism: A Thematic Analysis of Jezebel.com

Veronika Novoselova (York University, Canada)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-0212-8.ch009
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Charting connections between consumer protest, feminist activism and affordances of digital media, this chapter argues that social media and blogging platforms are becoming instrumental in creating new spaces for feminist action. Women's blog Jezebel (www.jezebel.com) has been chosen as a case study to examine how feminist bloggers use the dialogical environments of digital media to construct narratives of involvement in consumer culture. The chapter provides a critical overview of the major thematic categories identified on Jezebel. Such an analysis is particularly important for situating the blogosphere as a site of ongoing cultural negotiations while marking the limits of feminist consumer mobilization under the conditions of neoliberalism. The chapter concludes with the discussion of how Jezebel.com establishes a feminist networked space where bloggers construct diverse narratives of consumer activism.
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Feminism’s relation to commercial culture and consumer activism has always been conflicted. The 1970s were marked by anti-consumerist and anti-marketing tendencies in the women’s movement; feminist thought of the 1980s and the 1990s brought to the fore the complex meanings that consumers attach to commercial products and consumer practices (Catterall, Maclaran, & Stevens, 2005). Although contemporary feminist scholarship exhibits a continuous interest in the intersections of gendered, sexual and consumer citizenship (Cronin, 2000; McRobbie, 2009), there has been little discussion of how feminism reshapes the contours of consumer activism and develops new modes of citizen-consumer agency in the context of digital cultures.

Scholars of feminism and consumer culture have been largely skeptical of politics aligned with consumerist logics of the neoliberal marketplace. Angela McRobbie (2009), for example, tackles the impact of neoliberal demands on young womanhood in her book The Aftermath of Feminism: Gender, Culture and Social Change. In particular, McRobbie contends that feminist concerns with sexual politics are rendered irrelevant in the terrains of capitalist economy, mainstream media and popular culture. According to McRobbie, the prevailing paradigms of individual empowerment create modes of sexual and economic regulation that curtail possibilities of collective feminist actions. Informed by these critiques, this chapter offers a different perspective on the possibilities of feminist collective mobilizing from within consumer culture. After providing a brief overview of the literature on consumer activism, the chapter offers a thematic analysis of Jezebel blog (www.jezebel.com) to examine the roles of feminist networked publics in advancing and reshaping the existing modes of consumer protest.

As a number of academics have pointed out, consumption has become a legitimate, although not unproblematic, form of political action (Kang, 2012; Lekakis, 2012). Consumption-based or consumer activism is an umbrella term for various ways in which consumers attempt to challenge and sway producers through displays of discontent: letters, street demonstrations, petitioning, lobbying, boycotting and the practice of ethical consumption, or “buycotting”, involving purchases based on ethical concerns around trade, environmental sustainability and the political meanings of products (Hawkins, 2010). As Richard A. Hawkins (2010) points out in his overview of historical and global dimensions of consumer activism, “boycotts, buycotts and other forms of consumer activism provide an opportunity for the relatively powerless individual consumers and workers to redress the imbalance in the marketplace” (p.123).

Given an increasing consumer awareness of the intersections in purchasing and political power, it is counterproductive to dichotomize between active civil duty and self-interested, individualistic consumerism (Banet-Weiser & Mukherjee, 2012; Scammel, 2000). Instead, a more fruitful approach is to frame consumer citizenship as a form of political involvement based on consumption and implicated in consumer culture. Such framing of consumer practices implies that neoliberal consumer-citizens realize their political subjectivities from within rather than from outside of consumer culture (Mukherjee, 2012). Rejecting the notion that all forms of consumer activism are inherently futile or hypocritical, Sarah Banet-Weiser and Roopali Mukherjee (2012) reconsider the productive potential of consumer mobilization in their introduction to Commodity Activism: Cultural Resistance in Neoliberal Times:

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