Chapter 4: Italy’s Solidarity Purchase Groups as ‘citizenship labs’
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Contemporary societal analyses often contrast consumers and citizens as having competing roles. In the highly individualized ‘consumer society’, the profit-driven, calculating consumer is often opposed to the citizen who should act in the name of the public good. Yet many contemporary social movements address consumers precisely in their capacity to leverage societal change and environmental sustainability. Some try to move beyond political consumerism as a form of merely individual responsibility to develop fully fledged, citizenship-driven alternative styles of provisioning. Italy’s Solidarity Purchase Groups are a particularly interesting case study. Our work unveils the collective processes of their mobilization. These groups aim not only to exercise ethical or critical consumption but also to co-produce common benefits, to intervene in local food-provisioning chains, and to reintroduce issues of social and environmental sustainability in regional economies. They sometimes explicitly express the ambition of participating in public governance. On the basis of detailed quantitative and qualitative research on Solidarity Purchase Groups in Italy, this chapter contextualizes such dynamics within the theoretical framework of sustainable citizenship as social practice. Our thesis is that political consumerism may well be not only the objective, but also frequently the result, of engaged practices of direct democracy. Keywords: solidarity purchase groups, critical consumption, new forms of political participation, social movements, individual and collective responsibility.

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