Starbucks and Aristotle
Searching for Civic Friendship in the Coffee Shop
Aristotle argued that democratic participation in decision-making rests on informal encounters between citizens, because these interactions help to build civic friendships. In modern-day North America, the Starbucks corporation has posited itself as a “third place”, a space other than work and home that acts as a theatre for the development of civic friendships. In this essay, I investigate whether visiting Starbucks allows customers to connect to their larger community by providing the opportunity for meaningful social interaction. While Starbucks’ marketing strategies capitalize on the human desire for belonging, its expensive brand succeeds in differentiating citizens by their socioeconomic status, thereby undermining social unity. Furthermore, the environment in Starbucks stores emphasize experiences of personal pleasure rather than the enjoyment of community, as evidenced by the lack of authentic civic dialogue occurring within these spaces. As it encourages customers to settle for less than the formation of civic virtue, Starbucks’ commodification of community may challenge the flourishing of contemporary democracy.