Consumption, Ethics and Harm. Thinking beyond the boundaries of licit and illicit economies.

Dr Joanna Large1

1University Of Bristol, Bristol, United Kingdom

Highlighting findings from original qualitative research with consumers in two different contexts (illicit goods and charity tourism), the paper argues that criminologists need to think beyond the boundaries of illicit and licit economies and behaviour, and approach critically from a perspective that centralises the focus on harm, rather than crime. This paper explores this debate by considering how consumer demand for licit and illicit goods and services are practices which both engage in, and further, ‘harm’. Examining debates around authenticity, ethics, social responsibility, this paper seeks to explore the complex and contradictory nature of ‘harm’ in the context of consumption. Starting from the observation that consumers are, on the one hand, drivers of global, national and local economic growth and prosperity (‘the solution’) by, for example, engaging in tourism, giving to charity, or consuming products. Yet on the other, their needs, desires and motivations may generate harm (‘the problem’) by, for example, perpetuating social inequalities or exploitation, or further, driving and sustaining illicit markets. In particular, this paper concludes that from a policy, industry and community perspective, better understandings of consumer motivations and behaviour is needed, alongside more critical questions around who is harmed. Noting additionally the response of policymakers to addressing ‘problematic’ consumption (such as the proposal to criminalise counterfeit products purchase) or to promote ‘good’ consumption (such as volunteer or ‘charity’ tourism) may also engender further harm that reproduces and exacerbates structural inequalities.


Dr Jo Large, Senior Lecturer in Criminology, School for Policy Studies, University of Bristol, UK

Jo’s research focuses on the connections between consumption and harm. Jo’s research has focused primarily on the demand and supply of counterfeit goods which includes a more general concern with the harms of the fashion industry. Jo has also published on charity tourism and its relationship with harm, and the experiences and motivations of adventure tourists.


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