Helsingin yliopisto


Helsingin yliopiston verkkojulkaisut

University of Helsinki, Helsinki 2006

Trust and Safe Choices: Coping with health-related risks in food consumption in St. Petersburg

Elena Ganskau

Doctoral dissertation, October 2006.
University of Helsinki, Faculty of Social Sciences, Department of Sociology.

This dissertation considers the problem of trust in the context of food consumption. The research perspectives refer to institutional conditions for consumer trust, personal practices of food consumption, and strategies consumers employ for controlling the safety of their food. The main concern of the study is to investigate consumer trust as an adequate response to food risks, i.e. a strategy helping the consumer to make safe choices in an uncertain food situation. "Risky" perspective serves as a frame of reference for understanding and explaining trust relations. The original aim of the study was to reveal the meanings applied to the concepts of trust, safety and risks in the perspective of market choices, the assessments of food risks and the ways of handling them. Supplementary research tasks presumed descriptions of institutional conditions for consumer trust, including descriptions of the food market, and the presentation of food consumption patterns in St. Petersburg. The main empirical material is based on qualitative interviews with consumers and interviews and group discussions with professional experts (market actors, representatives of inspection bodies and consumer organizations). Secondary material is used for describing institutional conditions for consumer trust and the market situation.

The results suggest that the idea of consumer trust is associated with the reputation of suppliers, stable quality and taste of their products, and reliable food information. Being a subjectively constructed state connected to the act of acceptance, consumer trust results in positive buying decisions and stable preferences in the food market. The consumers' strategies that aim at safe food choices refer to repetitive interactions with reliable market actors that free them from constant consideration in the marketplace. Trust in food is highly mediated by trust in institutions involved in the food system. The analysis reveals a clear pattern of disbelief in the efficiency of institutional food control. The study analyses this as a reflection of "total distrust" that appears to be a dominant mood in many contexts of modern Russia. However, the interviewees emphasize the state's decisive role in suppressing risks in the food market. Also, the findings are discussed with reference to the consumers' possibilities of personal control over food risks. Three main responses to a risky food situation are identified: the reflexive approach, the traditional approach, and the fatalistic approach.

The title page of the publication

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Last updated 05.10.2006

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