The bodywork of consumer boycott movements and the production of race: anti-apartheid citrus (1972-94) and anti-slavery chocolate (2006-Present)

  • Crosfield, Hugh (CoI)

Project: Research

Project Details


Consumer boycott movements are a modern phenomenon; the abolitionist slave-sugar boycott of 1792 and its associated petitions, pickets, and campaigning methods are widely considered the prototype for Western forms of ethical consumption and civic activism. Anti-slavery boycott activists make consumers responsible for the subjugation of producers by suggesting that demand for particular commodities produces slavery and exploitation. To the end of socially contaminating a commodity to the extent that it is boycotted, such movements make explicit chains of causality and enjoin producers, consumers and commodities in ways that shock and disgust, and often point to binaries of eater and eaten. I describe this unveiling of the embodied violence of food consumption (and its assoicated politics of pity, persuasion, complicity, guilt and responsibility) as the 'bodywork' of consumer boycott movements. Initial shock tactics, I argue, are sometimes channelled into a productive engagement with wider politics of anti-apartheid or anti-slavery, but unabated guilt can lead to a politics of pity and forms of bodily abjection with ambigious consequences.

Through a series of extensive interviews with activists, and discourse analysis of campaign material, images and correspondence, I analyse the bodywork of two organizations: the anti-apartheid and anti-racist Boycott Outspan Action (BOA), based in Leiden, Holland during the 1970s and 80s, and the global anti-human trafficking coalition, Stop The Traffik (STT), whose international chocolate campaigns are organized from offices in Amsterdam. Over four chapters, I contextualise the bodywork of the BOA and STT with wider geographies of Dutch anti-apartheid (characterised by trade unions and solidarity over distance) and Western anti-trafficking (characterised by universal ideas of childhood and a politics of global responsibility), I analyse threats to consumer purity, and the unmaking of appetites for apartheid citrus and slave cocoa at different stages of the production/consumption chain, and I examine how the BOA and STT produce a contrasting relational politics of race through citrus and chocolate repectively.

I contend that the last thirty years has seen a gradual shift in boycott activism from a politics of solidarity (where interventions are made by workers and consumers in unison) to a more consumer led politics of responsibility characterized by distant caring that can often represent producer suffering in problematic ways, while creating networked communities of activists and consumers often engaged in fun and convial actions.
Effective start/end date9/01/099/06/13


  • consumer boycotts
  • anti-apartheid
  • anti-slavery
  • consumption activism
  • critical race studies
  • 'white' studies