Conceptual Reflections on a cultural paradigm shift: The example of Fair Trade


  • Mira Knauff



Fair Trade is an alternative trading approach that emerged during the 1950s and attempts to establish fairer trading relations between rich and the poor countries, thus achieving a fairer distribution of wealth. Fair Trade as a label is defined by certain standards, such as minimum prices, in order to improve working and living conditions of underprivileged employees in Third World countries. When looking at the expansion rate of Fair Trade products, there seems to be a growing appreciation of the Fair Trade concept. This essay presents reflections on the question of how product labelling and changes of cultural paradigms are intertwined. On the one hand, I will discuss whether there has been a paradigm change within the Fair Trade movement itself. To that end it will examine the niche where Fair Trade first emerged as a political and cultural movement. Did Fair Trade standards that were part of the original paradigm change over the last few decades? On the other hand, this chapter is also concerned with the values that define the Fair Trade movement; fairness, solidarity and sustainability. I shall deal with the question of whether and how these values have become part of mainstream society. It is this ‘mainstreaming’ of Fair Trade, that is the base of the paradigm shift that I discuss here. Therefore this chapter aims at describing and analysing the character of a (cultural) paradigm shift in general and in the context of the Fair Trade movement. I base my argument mainly on sources from those engaged in Fair Trade (including interviews). The claims that I make about attitudes and practices of the consumers are thus of an indirect and somewhat hypothetical character. It will be left to future empirical research to substantiate these claims, and the framework that is proposed in this essay by more detailed consumer studies. 


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