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Campus Student Unions as Spaces for Fostering a Critical Pedagogy of Consumption


This qualitative, multisite case study examined the current landscape of student unions and discovered how these spaces can be leveraged to foster a critical pedagogy of consumption. Using a constructivist approach, this study relied on data from interviews with 41 members of student union governing boards and management staffs, documents, and observations at three universities: California State University, Fullerton, California State University, Northridge, and University of California, Los Angeles. This study addressed how campus consumption amenities, specifically the student union, can serve an important and critical educational mission.

Findings from this study suggested that student unions are highly responsive organizations that manifest community, commercial, and consumer values. Differences in their organizational, governance, and revenue structures revealed variations in the strategic priorities, oversight, and independence of these entities. The mixed-use options of student unions, especially when there was a food or consumer products retail component, and the discussions about services, practices, and potential tenants indicated that student unions are spaces in which the domains of campus commercialization, critical pedagogy, and ethical consumption can dovetail to foster a sense of caring and engagement within and amongst the communities they serve.

The implications for theory and practice discussed encourages researchers and practitioners to understand that student unions provide tangible contexts in which physical space, social relationships, and economic exchanges coalesce within a higher education environment to enact a critical pedagogy of consumption.

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