Encountering the Fairtrade farmer: Solidarity, stereotypes and the Self-Control Ethos

  • Matthew Adams University of Brighton
  • Jayne Raisborough University of Brighton


Recent research in social psychology has identified a specific social representation, the ‘self-control ethos’, which is constituted through neo-liberal virtues of self-management, reliance and discipline. This functions to mark an ‘ingroup’ through its allegiance to core values and behaviours, from an ‘outgroup’, forged through a perceived ‘lack’ or rejection of those values and further, serves as a basis for the denigration of outgroups. However, recent developments in mainstream social psychological theories of stereotype content have developed a model of prejudicial intergroup relations as ambivalent, involving both negative and positive content. In this paper we maintain an emphasis on the self-control ethos but depart from an emphasis upon denigration to focus on a particular outgroup – the fairtrade farmer/producer. We argue that developments in social representations theory and mainstream social psychology can both contribute to a deeper understanding of this particular example of a cultural encounter apparently engendering social solidarity. Recent social psychological models of stereotype content contribute an important emphasis upon ambivalence based on perceived structural relationships in the representations of outgroups. However the self-control ethos allows an understanding of the visual, symbolic and affective work involved in making solidarity with a ‘distant’ outgroup a possibility. Finally we claim that although representations of fairtrade farmers/producers ostensibly become the vehicle for a progressive cultural encounter, the forms of solidarity it encourages require critical scrutiny.

Author Biographies

Matthew Adams, University of Brighton

MATTHEW ADAMS is principal lecturer at the University of Brighton. His research
interests tend towards the borderland between psychology and sociology, with a particular
focus on subjectivity and identity. His most recent books are The Reflexive Self (2008: VDM)
and Self & Social Change (2007: Sage). He has published articles in Culture & Psychology,
Theory & Psychology and the British Journal of Sociology.

Jayne Raisborough, University of Brighton

JAYNE RAISBOROUGH is senior lecturer at the University of Brighton. Her main research
interests are cosmetic surgery, reality television and serious leisure, informed in particular by
feminism and queer theory. Her most recent book is Lifestyle Media and the Formation of the
Self (2011: Palgrave) and she has published in Culture & Psychology, International Journal
of Cultural Studies and Sociological Research Online.