Citizenship and Consumption

KATHLEEN KUEHN

Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand

DOI: 10.1002/9781118989463.wbeccs041

Traditionally, citizenship and consumption have been relegated to oppositional spheres of human activity. At the one end, citizenship denotes association to a nation or state in which recognized members are granted a specific set of rights and responsibilities to participate in political life. As it describes activities performed in the “public sphere,” citizenship constitutes some allegiance to a governing body that, in turn, entitles its denizens to varying levels of sovereignty, rights, and protections. Consumption, at the other end, refers to activities of exchange performed in the “private sphere” of the marketplace. To practice consumption is to satisfy one's personal needs and desires through the use, purchase, or accumulation of goods, services, and other resources. Beyond occupying activities within the public and private realms, citizenship and consumption are ostensibly motivated by qualitatively different value systems. As a social ideal, citizenship – particularly in Western democracies – is rooted in classical liberal values of collective responsibility and a commitment to the larger social good or “commons.” To prioritize communal values as a fundamental task of citizenship, however, requires some restraint of individual rights. As the eighteenth-century philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1947/1762) argued, civil society functions best when ...

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