Current Research


My article “Extending Ethical Consumerism Theory to Semi-Legal Sectors: Insights from Recreational Cannabis” is forthcoming in Agriculture and Human Values. Cannabis industry professionals and journalists may be interested my Ethical Pot Working Paper or its 2-page Summary. To my knowledge, this is the first study of political consumption in cannabis.

Article abstract: Ethical consumerism theory aims to describe, explain, and evaluate the ways in which producers and consumers use the market to support social and environmental values. The literature draws insights from empirical studies of sectors that largely take place on the legal market, such as textiles and agri-food. This paper takes a first step toward theorizing ethical consumerism in semi-legal sectors where market activities occur legally and illegally. How does extant theory extend to sectors such as sex work, cigarettes, and recreational drugs? This study draws on the case of recreational cannabis (marijuana) in Portland, Oregon (USA). Data from 33 interviews, structured fieldwork at 64 dispensaries, and the US Census Bureau American Community Survey are analyzed using qualitative, quantitative, and spatial methods. The findings are compared to twelve suggestions that emerge from the literature on fair trade, organics, alternative agriculture, and political consumerism. I argue that not all ethical consumerism theory extends to semi-legal sectors. Cannabis closely resembles theoretical expectations in terms of supply/demand, prioritization of ethical issues, and pervasiveness of false claims, but differs in terms of who organizes, which types of strategies are pursued, and how ethical products are framed. The differences stem from several pervasive stigmas about cannabis. I also argue that the stigmas that set cannabis apart from other (more legal sectors) and present challenges to ethical consumerism in cannabis are directly related to the War on Drugs. These insights suggest that prohibition (and its lingering effects) can inhibit the emergence of ethical consumerism.


My book chapter, “Political Consumerism and Cannabis: Insights from the United States and Canada” was invited by scholars Magnus Boström (Sweden), Michele Micheletti (Sweden), and Peter Oosterveer (The Netherlands) to be included in their forthcoming edited volume, The Oxford Handbook of Research on Political Consumerism (Oxford University Press). The chapter first provides background information about the international political economy of cannabis, outlining the global cannabis market, cannabis legalization and regulations in the United States and Canada, labor and environmental issues in cannabis, and the state of social science research on political consumerism in cannabis. It then provides a descriptive account of ethical consumerism in the Canadian and US cannabis markets, describing and evaluating the ways in which non-state actors are (or are not) applying typical ethical consumerism tactics to this burgeoning industry. The chapter illustrates the ways in which government regulatory regimes create contexts that facilitate or inhibit various forms of political consumerism. It also argues that state-sponsored stigmas shape civil society responses to new opportunities for action and activism.

My book chapter, “After 20 Years of Fair Trade: Seven Contemporary Debates and a Discussion of What Next” was invited by scholars Katharine Legun, Julie Keller, Michael Bell, Michael Carolan to be included in their forthcoming edited volume, The Cambridge Handbook of Environmental Sociology (Cambridge University Press). In recognition of the 20-year anniversary of Fairtrade International, the NGO that manages the world’s leading fair trade certification program, this chapter describes the current landscape of fair trade, identifies key debates among scholars and movement members, presents literature from various perspectives, and discusses possibilities for the future. The chapter is organized around seven debates: 1) Is competition among labels a race to the top or the bottom? 2) Should labeling organizations be governed by multinational corporations or farmers and workers? 3) Is the renewed debate around living wages fulfilling old promises or limiting market penetration? 4) Do close corporate collaborations lead to co-optation or large-scale change? 5) Should efforts focus on hired workers, small farm owners, or both? 6) Should fair trade be brought to the Global North through new programs or by expanding existing labels? 7) Are new transparency tools (e.g., QR readers) the ultimate in consumer empowerment or information without impact? Overall, this piece is an extensive literature review organized to give a clear understanding of the state of fair trade after 20 years and offer provocative suggestions about what these findings mean for the coming decades.

My article “Social movement organizations, the private sector, and political consumerism: learning from the new recreational cannabis industry” was invited by scholars Francesca Forno (Italy) and Graeme Hayes (UK) to be submitted as part of a special issue of the peer-reviewed academic journal Environmental Politics. The article draws on a case study of how industry actors and social/environmental movement groups responded to the opportunity to support ethical consumerism in the recreational marijuana sector in Oregon in the first two years after legalization (fall 2015-fall 2017). The analysis contributes to the literature on the intersection of political consumerism and social/environmental movements by illustrating how stigmas can limit social movement groups from participating in ethical consumption, and highlighting the shortcomings of industry-led ethical consumerism.