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The civic sell: young people, the internet, and ethical consumption

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This article is based on newly completed research looking at the role of the internet as a means of promoting civic engagement and participation among young people aged 15-25. It focuses on one specific aspect of this phenomenon, namely the use of websites to promote 'ethical consumption' among young people. This paper begins by briefly examining several intersecting works discussing not-for-profit marketing, commercial marketing, youth cultures and subcultures, politics, and ethical consumerism. It then moves on to examine the rhetorical constructions of youth identity and ethical consumerism on a range of civic websites, exploring the identifications and disavowals implicit in the language, layout, and imagery, and the conceptualizations civic-orientated Web producers have of their audiences and of consumption per se. This is achieved by taking a case-study approach involving a qualitative textual analysis of web-pages taken from UK and US-based sites such as Adbusters, Oxfam's Generation Why, Ethics Girls, Adili and Amnesty International, which advertise or promote the buying of ethical goods by young people. It also involves an analysis of the aims of the site producers, as exemplified on the sites' mission statements and in in-depth interviews. By means of this analysis, the article seeks to identify and assess the actually or potentially 'civic' aspects of these sites and to question the notion of ethical consumption in particular.

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