Document Type


Publication details

Neale, K 2015, 'Children and ethical consumption', PhD thesis, Southern Cross University, Lismore, NSW.

Copyright 2015 KE Neale


This research explores children’s views and experiences of ethical consumption within a family context. Ethical consumption may be defined as “the conscious and deliberate decision to make certain consumption choices due to personal moral beliefs and values” (Crane, McWilliams, Matten, Moon, & Siegel, 2008, p. 341). It enables a person to engage with societal problems through their consumption practices (Cairns, Johnston, & MacKendrick, 2013; Lewis & Huber, 2015; Sachdeva, Jordan, & Mazar, 2015) and transform goods into tools for the expression of morality (Hall, 2011). Children’s status as both current and future consumers, as well as their influence over family consumption decisions, make their contribution to the field of sustainability a potentially important one (Fien, Neil, and Bentley, 2008; Francis and Davis, 2014). However, little is known about the active social child as an ethical consumer (Collins, 2015).

Through semi-structured interviews with twelve children aged between eight and ten years of age and their parents or carers, this study explores how children come to understand and practice ethical consumption within a family context. In doing so, the research takes an interdisciplinary approach, drawing on theoretical interests linked to childhood studies, sociocultural theory and commercial enculturation. The study makes a number of important contributions to knowledge.

Firstly, there has been little research to date on ethical consumption that draws directly upon the views and experiences of children. In addressing this gap, the study highlights the rich contribution that children can make to building more just and ethical consumer practices within families and communities. Hence, the findings underline the

importance of recognising children and their participation in shaping understandings and practice in an area of social life (ethical consumption) where this has received scant attention. Secondly, by exploring in more depth the rich and complex ways children influence, and are influenced by others with respect to ethical consumption, the study extends existing knowledge about children’s consumer socialisation and the dynamic, reciprocal and non-linear ways in which commercial enculturation occurs. Thirdly, this research also advances understandings about the methodological issues that need to be considered in authentically ‘child-focused’ research, including key ethical considerations regarding informed consent and the development of tools to assist in facilitating this. Fourthly, this research challenges dominant understandings of children’s consumption by reframing the ethical dimensions as a means of engaging in discussions and activities surrounding broader social issues that concern them. Finally, the study draws attention to the immense potential of interdisciplinary approaches for understanding children’s lives and the social worlds they inhabit.

Additional information

NOTE: Thesis lodged 2015, degree awarded 2016.