Ethical consumerism and parenting in a new urbanist neighborhood in Austin, Texas
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This dissertation examines how people understand themselves---and, therefore, others like them---to be "good people." Recent decades have witnessed enormous changes in the American cultural landscape, changes which have eroded, replaced, or transformed many of the institutions which Americans once more exclusively relied on (at least ideologically) to construct their moral identities. In this dissertation I argue that today where, how, and what people buy matter a great deal in how they define themselves as good people. I show, moreover, that these consumer choices contribute to new forms of social inequality. This project utilizes in-depth interviews with 31 residents of the Mueller neighborhood in Austin, Texas who are parents of young children. The first part of this dissertation illustrates how, in the case of Mueller, ethical consumerism is a product of particular social settings. I draw on Muellerites' experiences with ethical consumerism to challenge conventional understandings of (1) what compels people to engage in ethical consumerism, and (2) the relationship between self-interest and civic behavior. Second, I explore how liberal, progressive ideals held by residents of Austin---and residents of the Mueller neighborhood in particular---coexist with gentrification and persistent inequalities in surrounding neighborhoods. Third, I explore how middle-class parents in Mueller interpret and negotiate dominant discourses regarding the need to shelter children from market influences, and the cultural work that these parents engage in to draw distinctions between the types of consumerism that are acceptable for their families and those that are not. I conclude with a discussion of the relevance of my findings for social theory and understanding contemporary inequalities.