Crowdfunding a Better World? Ethical Consumption, Empowerment, and the Role of Infrastructures in Marketplace Change

Peter Hambrecht

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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Ethical consumption is propagated as one of the main means of alleviating sustainability problems in contemporary society. The thesis challenges the dominant Choice Paradigm within marketing, which assumes that buying behaviour leads to meaningful societal change. It asks instead how consumer empowerment can be conceptualised when users self-organise value creation activities and looks at the factors that influence their ability to affect marketplace outcomes. Lastly, it explores whether new ethical consumption opportunities and behaviours emerge from self-organised value creation.

A phenomenon-driven case study research design is adopted to address these questions in the context of crowdfunding, which is seen as an instantiation of self-organised value creation. Multiple crowdfunding projects are investigated to understand the meanings attached to the phenomenon and the implications of ethical campaigns in the market. Interviews, documents and observations are combined for an in-depth, grounded analysis of the cases.

The thesis makes various important contributions to the literature. First, it offers a more extensive conceptualisation of co-creative empowerment than that found in existing research. It argues that the earlier consumers wield an influence in market development cycles, the larger the impact they have within the economy, which ideally starts with the financing of innovations. It identifies several factors that shape the ability of people to affect marketplace outcomes. In particular, participatory market infrastructures play a crucial enabling role by providing open, transparent and collectively-organised means for coordinating value creation activities. This allows users to engage in collective market entrepreneuring, where resources are mobilised by a group or network of individuals towards social change. New solutions emerge out of these efforts, as institutional constraints are circumvented and diverse discourses attain a market presence. Finally, a detailed exploration of zero waste stores shows that the material realities that emerge out of crowdfunding campaigns influence the behaviour of multiple stakeholders. The concept of consumption infrastructures is introduced to demonstrate how varying socio-material constellations provide different lifestyle affordances and reflexively mobilise people to adopt or abstain from sustainable practices. Here, especially the discussion of aesthetic reflexivity and ethical experiences offers an innovative angle on research into responsible consumer behaviour.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Chatzidakis, Andreas, Supervisor
  • Maclaran, Pauline, Supervisor
Award date1 Oct 2019
Publication statusUnpublished - 30 Apr 2019


  • Ethical Consumption
  • Empowerment
  • User Innovation
  • Crowdfunding
  • Sustainability
  • Infrastructure
  • Marketplace Change
  • Co-creation

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