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Table of Contents
                            Front Matter
Chapter One
Chapter Two
Chapter Three
Chapter Four
Chapter Five
Document Text Contents
Page 1

How Personal is the Political? Understanding Socially Responsible Consumption


Ethan D. Schoolman

A dissertation submitted in partial fulfillment
of the requirements for the degree of

Doctor of Philosophy

in The University of Michigan

Doctoral Committee:

Professor Howard A. Kimeldorf, Chair
Assistant Professor Sandra R. Levitsky
Professor Mark S. Mizruchi
Associate Professor Thomas E. Princen
Associate Professor Geneviève Zubrzycki

Page 2

© Ethan D. Schoolman


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purchasing also appeared to be missing for conventional political activities, such as volunteering

for campaigns and civic groups. This finding, in particular, helps to explain the relative diversity,

in terms of political engagement, of practitioners of locally-focused purchasing. In this section, I

explore several cases of participants who experienced most ways of taking political action to be

stressful and unpleasant, but who found locally-focused purchasing to be associated with positive

emotions and meanings.

Selective incentives played an important role in the locally-focused purchasing of

Melissa, an elementary school teacher in Adams County. Melissa grew up near Kalamazoo,

where her parents rarely discussed politics. Shy and soft-spoken, she knew early in life that she

wanted to teach, but her distaste for crowds and being the center of attention always led her to

steer clear of anything smacking of politics.

Interviewer: When election season comes around, and there is more activity, with people

going door-to-door and things like that—is that ever something you thought about getting

more involved in?

Melissa: Um, I don’t know, I guess I think maybe part of it is my parents just never did it

so much and my siblings never did it so much, and so I guess there’s that fear factor of

the unknown … It’s not something that I would say I would never do, but um, I just


Interviewer: What do you mean by a “fear factor” with this kind of thing?

Melissa: Um, I guess not knowing enough, lack of knowledge, that I’d feel embarrassed

or something, say the wrong thing. Does that make sense? … I guess I’m a very laid-back

personality, so I tend to not ruffle too many feathers and I just kinda go with the flow

kinda thing, so…

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For Melissa, political activities conjure images of having to make articulate speeches to

strangers—not something she finds at all appealing. But although Melissa does not have an easy

time expressing her political views, she clearly cares deeply about leaving a healthy environment

and supportive communities for the next generation—including her daughter.

Interviewer: What sorts of things makes you feel like you’re more on the left, politically?

Melissa: Um, helping the underdog, you know. The poor, the needy, those—helping

others, um, getting government involved in certain programs and things like that, versus,

you know—I don’t mind that big government, everyone’s helping and—sorry! [She was

worried about being inarticulate.]

Interviewer: No worries!

Melissa: Um, you know, funding programs that help people, like SOS [a counseling

program] or Planned Parenthood; those types of things that, um, are out there for helping

people that maybe didn’t have a great life or circumstances, that have fallen upon—um,

helping them. Where I find that if you lean the other way—those programs, people want

to cut those.

As a citizen, what Melissa wants to do—and a big part of why she became a teacher, and why, as

she told me, her four sisters all became nurses—is to find concrete ways to make a difference in

the world. But getting involved in political or civic organizations is not an option for Melissa,

because of the intimidating “fear factor.” Locally-focused purchasing, however, is just the right

kind of social.

Locally-focused purchasing, for Melissa, is something that is a natural part of her

economic life, and operates as an extension of her enjoyment of the amenities and social rewards

of dense, urban communities in general. She first realized that the social life of small cities was

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