Buying Power: A History of Consumer Activism in America

Overview

A definitive history of consumer activism, Buying Power traces the lineage of this political tradition back to our nation’s founding, revealing that Americans used purchasing power to support causes and punish enemies long before the word boycott even entered our lexicon. Taking the Boston Tea Party as his starting point, Lawrence Glickman argues that the rejection of British imports by revolutionary patriots inaugurated a continuous series of consumer boycotts, campaigns for safe and ethical consumption, and ...

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Buying Power: A History of Consumer Activism in America

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Overview

A definitive history of consumer activism, Buying Power traces the lineage of this political tradition back to our nation’s founding, revealing that Americans used purchasing power to support causes and punish enemies long before the word boycott even entered our lexicon. Taking the Boston Tea Party as his starting point, Lawrence Glickman argues that the rejection of British imports by revolutionary patriots inaugurated a continuous series of consumer boycotts, campaigns for safe and ethical consumption, and efforts to make goods more broadly accessible. He explores abolitionist-led efforts to eschew slave-made goods, African American consumer campaigns against Jim Crow, a 1930s refusal of silk from fascist Japan, and emerging contemporary movements like slow food. Uncovering previously unknown episodes and analyzing famous events from a fresh perspective, Glickman illuminates moments when consumer activism intersected with political and civil rights movements. He also sheds new light on activists’ relationship with the consumer movement, which gave rise to lobbies like the National Consumers League and Consumers Union as well as ill-fated legislation to create a federal Consumer Protection Agency.

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Editorial Reviews

Chicago Tribune

"In his impressively researched Buying Power, Glickman reminds us that consumer activism 'has been a consistent and long-standing element of American political culture,' extending back to the 18th Century. . . . [Buying Power is] a rich, provocative, and—given the explosion of consumer activist campaigns in recent years—timely study whose insights into the successes, failures and meanings of consumer activism its practitioners would do well to consider."—Eric Arnesen, Chicago Tribune

— Eric Arnesen

Journal of American History

“A sweeping reinterpretation of American history.”—Daniel Scroop, Journal of American History
 

— Daniel Scroop

Journal of Social History

"An excellent history that sits comfortably among the very best of the books that have been produced on American consumer society over the last two decades."

Labor

“Glickman helps us reconsider how people in history have seen themselves as embedded in a material and political world, how they envisioned themselves as economically and morally linked to distant others, and therefore how they could imagine themselves as potentially able to effect change in the world.”

— Nan Enstad

Charles F. McGovern

"Lawrence B. Glickman's long-awaited volume surveys the social movements animated by and through consumer actions. Consumers today routinely ponder the ethical implications of their spending for workers, the environment, and the national or local economy. Yet the myriad movements that seek to influence spending all have long and subterranean histories. Glickman's book offers a powerful account of the ways American consumers have organized to influence spending for political and social ends from the Boston Tea Party until today."

— American Historical Review

Chicago Tribune - Eric Arnesen

"In his impressively researched Buying Power, Glickman reminds us that consumer activism 'has been a consistent and long-standing element of American political culture,' extending back to the 18th Century. . . . [Buying Power is] a rich, provocative, and—given the explosion of consumer activist campaigns in recent years—timely study whose insights into the successes, failures and meanings of consumer activism its practitioners would do well to consider."—Eric Arnesen, Chicago Tribune

Journal of American History - Daniel Scroop

“A sweeping reinterpretation of American history.”—Daniel Scroop, Journal of American History
 

Labor - Nan Enstad

“Glickman helps us reconsider how people in history have seen themselves as embedded in a material and political world, how they envisioned themselves as economically and morally linked to distant others, and therefore how they could imagine themselves as potentially able to effect change in the world.”

Charles F. McGovern - American Historical Review

"Lawrence B. Glickman's long-awaited volume surveys the social movements animated by and through consumer actions. Consumers today routinely ponder the ethical implications of their spending for workers, the environment, and the national or local economy. Yet the myriad movements that seek to influence spending all have long and subterranean histories. Glickman's book offers a powerful account of the ways American consumers have organized to influence spending for political and social ends from the Boston Tea Party until today."

Daniel Horowitz

“In this major, learned, and ambitious book, Lawrence Glickman weaves together social, cultural, and intellectual history to show how consumer activism has, since the mid-eighteenth century, waxed and waned but never disappeared. Glickman has an incomparable grasp of the entire sweep of the history of consumer society, and Buying Power is the most influential, wide-ranging, nuanced, provocative, original, and commanding book on the subject in recent memory. It will shape discussions of American political and social history for years to come.”

Lizabeth Cohen

“Between the American revolutionary patriots’ defiant boycott of British tea and today’s pressuring of retailers to sell only fair trade coffee, there lies a long, fascinating, and important history of consumer activism in the United States. Lawrence Glickman marvelously illuminates how Americans time and again have used their purchasing power not for self-indulgence but rather to prove themselves ethical, politically responsible citizens. This book demonstrates that ‘we are what we buy,’ and there is much to make us proud in the history of what Americans bought and what we refused to buy.”
Michael Pertschuk

“Beginning in the 1960s and 1970s many of us have been proud to be consumer activists, some in pursuing more serious government regulation; others in mobilizing boycotts and other citizen action. Yet we were never quite convinced that we were part of a great, historic citizen movement such as the labor, civil rights, or peace movements. In one gigantic historic sweep, Lawrence Glickman successfully puts these doubts to rest. Though largely unaware, we were tributaries of a stream of consumer action dating back to the origins of our republic and constantly renewed ever since. More than timely, Glickman’s all-encompassing narrative can now help guide and channel exploding consumer outrage into focused consumer power, from boycotts to demands on legislators to regenerate appropriate governmental constraints and accountability for consumer abuses in and affecting the marketplace.”

Gary Cross

“Challenging the common association of shopping with materialism and individualism, Buying Power offers a lively, comprehensive, and fresh history of the consumer as citizen. Glickman deftly leads the reader from the revolutionary-era embargo of British tea to the bus boycotts to combat segregation, showing how Americans have used consumer power politically and how consumer activism relates to the modern interest group politics of the consumer movement. This is a timely book that deserves a wide audience.”

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780226298672
  • Publisher: University of Chicago Press
  • Publication date: 5/15/2012
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 424
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 8.80 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Lawrence B. Glickman is professor of history at the University of South Carolina. He is the author of A Living Wage: American Workers and the Making of Consumer Society.

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Table of Contents

Preface

Acknowledgments

Introduction: An American Political Tradition

Part I: The Birth of Consumer Activism

1 The American Revolution Considered as a Consumer Movement

2 Buy for the Sake of the Slave

3 Rebel Consumerism

4 Travels of the Boycott: What’s in a Name?

Part II: The Birth of the Consumer Movement

5 Remaking Consumer Activism in the Progressive Era

6 The Strike in the Temple of Consumption

7 “Make Lisle the Style”

Part III: Advocates and Activists: Consumer Activism since World War II

8 Putting the Postwar “Consumer Movement” in Its Place

9 The Rise and Fall of the Consumer Protection Agency: The Origins of American AntiAntiliberalism, 1959–1978

Epilogue: Consumer Activism Comes Full Circle: The Revival of Consumer Activism in Contemporary America

Appendix

Notes

Index

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