How Techniques of Neutralization Legitimize Norm- and Attitude-Inconsistent Consumer Behavior

Journal of Business Ethics 121 (1):29-45 (2014)
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Abstract

In accordance with societal norms and values, consumers readily indicate their positive attitudes toward sustainability. However, they hardly take sustainability into account when engaging in exchange relationships with companies. To shed light on this paradox, this paper investigates whether defense mechanisms and the more specific concept of neutralization techniques can explain the discrepancy between societal norms and actual behavior. A multi-method qualitative research design provides rich insights into consumers’ underlying cognitive processes and how they make sense of their attitude–behavior divergences. Drawing on the Ways Model of account-taking, which is advanced to a Cycle Model, the findings illustrate how neutralization strategies are used to legitimize inconsistencies between norm-conforming attitudes and actual behavior. Furthermore, the paper discusses how the repetitive reinforcement of neutralizing patterns and feedback loops between individuals and society are linked to the rise of anomic consumer behavior.

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