A theory of the conscious class: An exploratory study of the relations between organic food consumption and social prestige

Ruben Benjamin Zelwak

Student thesis: Master thesis


The intention of this study is to explore the social motives with relation to social status and prestige among young organic food consumers in the Copenhagen area. Behavioural processes is certainly a complex matter and although organic food consumption as well as the organic product’s properties and effects have caught a fair amount of attention from scientist across the globe, little is in fact known about underlying motives of these sort of goods. Denmark and Copenhagen lies in the forefront when it comes to the level of organic food consumption and the notions of its implications for social stratification has been raised in the public media. My aim is to provide for insights and investigate such possible tendencies, decision-­making processes, values and motives with direct or indirect implications for prestige seeking. In so doing, I present related theories both to establish the historic understanding of any social inferences of consumer goods and to frame the somewhat unique attributes and values that are to be found in organic food products. The problem field is investigated empirically through twelve in-­depth consumer interviews, which in turn have examined using the method of a content analysis. The findings suggest that, although combined with various other personal drivers, motives related to prestige seeking and strive for personal positioning in the social status hierarchy, is relatively common. These conclusions are derived from numerous concurrent categories observed in the empirical material were consumers values and perceives symbolic attributes of organic food products which are effectively used to distinguish themselves from other groups in society. Significant differences were however found between identified sub-­groups. Based on a simplified distinction between individuals with a high and low level of organic consumption, which in turn were shown to be related to measures of involvement in the category, it was inferred that for the sub-­group with a lower level of organic consumption, engagement in the category was in many instances directly related prestige seeking behaviour. Apart from the aforementioned interpersonal effects, which often are conspicuous displays of organic goods, a number of personal effects with implications for prestige seeking were simultaneously identified. This is of relation to situations where consumers reward and honour themselves through feelings of fulfilment and self-­respect when purchasing organic products and further, through the higher pricing and perceived superior quality of these products are reassured that their choice is in fact the “correct” one.

EducationsMSocSc in Management of Creative Business Processes , (Graduate Programme) Final Thesis
Publication date2012
Number of pages219