Fields of Obligation: Rooting Ethical Consumption in Kenyan Horticulture

Dolan, Catherine (2005) Fields of Obligation: Rooting Ethical Consumption in Kenyan Horticulture. Journal of Consumer Culture, 5 (3). pp. 365-389.


It was not so long ago that mangoes, papaya and snow peas evoked images of tropical climes and exotic peoples. Recently, however, the consumption of so-called luxury fruits and vegetables has elicited a different sort of imagery. Far from the lure of seductive landscapes, today’s consumer is confronted with haunting images of toxic fields, child slavery and the African poor. Such images are part of a new morality of consumption, where consumers, NGOs, trade unions and global supermarkets aspire to ‘save’ the African worker from the downside of globalization. This article explores the ways in which Kenya’s highly valuable vegetable trade has become the field on which notions of justice, economic rights and African development are played out. Based on archival research and consumer interviews, it focusses specifically on how the ethical turn of UK consumers (and the retailers’ branding of this sensibility) is rooted in an older legacy, whereby 19th-century liberal considerations of duty, morality and progress inhabited the agenda of the late colonial state. The article suggests that, in both cases, African labor is an arena in which discourses of justice are played out, as a consuming public (re)constitute the African worker as an object of their duty and obligation.

Item Type: Article
Keywords: colonialism, ethical consumption, Kenya, labor
Subject(s): Retail
Centre: Oxford Institute of Retail Management
Faculty of Marketing
Date Deposited: 26 Oct 2011 13:24
Last Modified: 23 Oct 2015 14:05

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