Constituting consuming bodies: food labeling and the bio-politics of consumerism
Associate Professor Carl Yngalk, Stockholm University School of Business
8th Mar 2013 02:00 pm - 02:00 pm Darlington Centre Boardroom
Consumerism can be understood as a nexus of powerful discourses that construct and link consumption practices to marketplace rationalities. That consumption entails essentially ritual and embodied practices has not been missed by consumer research and the field of consumer culture studies. However, while issues of power and embodiment remain marginalized in the field as such, previous research tend to focus on the individualistic, experiential aspects of consumption, and we know little about the politics of the consuming body and concrete ways in which consumerism at larger levels of scale seeks to construct and manage the ways in which people embody consumption practices. Through qualitative data generated from official documents and interviews with state agency officials as well as food manufacturers and retailers, the study undertakes a discourse analysis of food date labeling (e.g. best-before and use-by dates) in the Swedish market. In accounting for the regulative, organizational and performative dimensions of consumption, the case of food date labeling makes it possible to study consumerist discourses at the intersection of the state, business and consumers. The study shows how a multiplicity of mundane power struggles taking place between the different market actors in the wake of date labeling give rise to particular institutional conditions which constitute embodied consumption practices as controlled, predictable and responsible. As such, the study argues that date labeling reproduces a mind/body dualism of consumer culture by privileging cognition and choice at the cost of the human embodiment and sensory perception.