Tracking Globalization Commodities and Value in Motion

Handbook of Material Culture Tracking Globalization: Commodities and Value in Motion Contributors: Christopher Tilley & Webb Keane & Susanne Küchler & Michael Rowlands & Patricia Spyer Print Pub. Date: 2006 Online Pub. Date: June 22, 2009 Print ISBN: 9781412900393 Online ISBN: 9781848607972 DOI: 10.4135/9781848607972 Print pages: 285-303 This PDF has been generated from SAGE Knowledge. Please note that the pagination of the online version will vary from the pagination of the print book. SAGE KN
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  Handbook of Material Culture Tracking Globalization:Commodities and Value in Motion Contributors: Christopher Tilley & Webb Keane & Susanne Küchler & Michael Rowlands& Patricia SpyerPrint Pub. Date: 2006Online Pub. Date: June 22, 2009Print ISBN: 9781412900393Online ISBN: 9781848607972DOI: 10.4135/9781848607972Print pages: 285-303This PDF has been generated from SAGE Knowledge. Please note that the paginationof the online version will vary from the pagination of the print book.  SAGE KNOWLEDGE - FACULTYCopyright ©2012SAGE Publications, Inc.Page 2 of 41Handbook of Material Culture: TrackingGlobalization: Commodities and Value in MotionSAGE knowledge 10.4135/9781848607972 [p. 285 ↓  ] Chapter 18: Tracking Globalization:Commodities and Value in Motion The rhetoric of economic globalization invokes the movement of goods, money,information – usually rapid, sometimes promiscuous, always expanding. Images ofhyper-mobility abound, for example, across the ‘landscapes of capital’ depicted incorporate television advertising since the 1990s (Goldman et al. n.d.; see also Kaplan1995). Likewise, academic literature on the cultural dimensions of globalization,typified by Appadurai's influential 1990 essay, deploys the liquid trope of ‘flows’ – non-isomorphic movements of images, people, and ideas that describe shiftingconfigurations or ‘scapes’: mediascapes, ethnoscapes, ideoscapes, and so forth. Whilequestions have rightly been raised about the intensity, extent, and velocity of thesemovements, what concerns me here is how the current fascination with border-crossingmobility has prompted investigations into the social and geographical lives of particularcommodities (Jackson 1999). This detective work is not restricted to specialists.Consider, for example, the spate of popular books devoted to tracking through historicaltime and geographical space such commodities as cod and salt (Kurlansky 1997, 2002),potatoes and diamonds (Zuckerman 1998; Hart 2002), coal and tobacco (Freese 2003;Gately 2001). (For global flows in the art market see Myers in the previous chapter.) Itis as if renewed interest in the sociospatial life of stuff – in following tangible, ordinarythings such as glass, paper, and beans (Cohen 1997) – has emerged as a therapeuticdefense against the alienating specters of globalization.Inside the academy, it is undeniable that ‘the commodity is back’ (Bridge and Smith2003: 257). Commodities from bluefin tuna (Bestor 2001) to maize husks (Long andVillareal 2000) have provided material vehicles for narrating economic change, politicalpower, and cultural identity. Improvising upon Kopytoff's (1986) rich idea of ‘commoditybiographies’, researchers have traced the movement of everyday things through diversecontexts and phases of circulation. Many of these exercises begin with the aim of  SAGE KNOWLEDGE - FACULTYCopyright ©2012SAGE Publications, Inc.Page 3 of 41Handbook of Material Culture: TrackingGlobalization: Commodities and Value in MotionSAGE knowledge demonstrating how such movement links geographically separate locales and connectsproducers and consumers stratified by class, ethnicity, and gender; they end with anargument about how the meaning of things shifts as a function of use by human agentsin different social situations. Researchers thus do not simply trace the movement ofcommodities in the mechanical manner of a radar or a bar code scanning device; moreimportant, they trace the social relations and material linkages that this movementcreates and within which the value of commodities emerges.At the same time, researchers emphasize the ways in which the active materiality ofnon-human things – the heterozygosity of apples (Pollan 2001) or the erucic acidity ofrapeseed (Busch and Juska 1997) – constitute these very social contexts of use. Thatis, researchers acknowledge how materiality is an irreducible condition of possibilityfor a commodity biography – a condition that sometimes challenges or exceeds theattribution of meaning to things by human agents (Keane 2005). The overall result isa paradoxical form of self-aware, critical fetishism – an attitude of inquiry well suited tomaking sense of economic circumstances in which accumulation of wealth and creationof value seem mysterious and occult (Comaroff and Comaroff 1999). This attituderesponds, moreover, to a world in which people's perspectives on distant others areoften filtered [p. 286 ↓  ] through commodity consumption and/or its denial. Hence,tracking commodities and value in motion becomes a means for apprehending the‘global consciousness’ (Robertson 1992) and ‘work of the imagination’ (Appadurai 1990)often associated with globalization.Critical fetishism – a heightened appreciation for the active materiality of things inmotion – entails certain methodological questions and challenges, which recentwritings in anthropology and geography address. For anthropologists, the exigenciesof tracking commodities define a mode of fieldwork that Marcus has identified asdoing ethnography ‘in/of the world system’ (1995). This sort of fieldwork requiresethnographers to work in and across multiple field sites, to follow people (e.g., scientistsand traders), images (e.g., Rambo and Pokémon), and commodities of all kinds(e.g., coffee and flowers) as they move from place to place and/or from node tonode within a network of production and distribution. Marcus asserts that ‘Multi-sitedresearch is designed around chains, paths, threads, conjunctions, or juxtapositionsof locations in which the ethnographer establishes some form of literal presence, withan explicit posited logic of association or connection among sites that in fact defines   SAGE KNOWLEDGE - FACULTYCopyright ©2012SAGE Publications, Inc.Page 4 of 41Handbook of Material Culture: TrackingGlobalization: Commodities and Value in MotionSAGE knowledge the argument of the ethnography  ’ (1995: 105, my emphasis). Tracking strategiesthus bring anthropology closer to geography at the same time as they introduce anelement of radical contingency into the ethnographic project, especially in cases ‘whererelationships or connections between sites are indeed not clear, the discovery anddiscussion of which are precisely in fact the main problem, contribution and argument ofethnographic analysis’ (Marcus 2000: 16).Geographers – long used to following things and mapping distributions as cultureareas – have debated what sort of understanding of far-flung commodity networkscritical fetishism ought to accomplish. Harvey's (1990: 423) exhortation to ‘deploy theMarxian concept of fetishism with its full force’ has been met with sympathetic rebuttalsthat ‘getting behind the veil’ of the market implies both a privileged position for theunmystified analyst and an undue emphasis on the site of production as the ultimatesource of a commodity's value (see, e.g., Castree 2001). Instead of tracing a line fromacts of guilty consumption to the hidden truth of exploited producers, some geographershave taken up anthropological preoccupations with symbols and meanings in order toemphasize the strategic interests and partial knowledges with which particular actorsencounter and construct a commodity at different moments in its circulation (for a briefreview, see Bridge and Smith 2003). Critical fetishism, in this approach, begins with‘acknowledging the fragmentary and contradictory nature of the knowledges throughwhich commodity systems are imagined’ (Leslie and Reimer 1999: 406; see, e.g., Cookand Crang 1996a).Critical fetishism, in short, challenges a geographical view of globalization as ‘aspreading ink stain’ and instead promotes a spatial recognition of globalization as‘partial, uneven and unstable; a socially contested rather than logical process in whichmany spaces of resistance, alterity and possibility become analytically discernible andpolitically meaningful’ (Whatmore and Thorne 1997: 287, 289). This view is an effect ofswitching metaphors, of abandoning the opposition between ‘local’ and ‘global’ in favorof the idea of networks – longer or shorter networks, always in the making, composedof people, artifacts, codes, living and non-living things (Law and Hetherington 1999). Inthis regard, both anthropologists and geographers extend the work of Bruno Latour's(e.g., 1993) science studies, including his emphasis on the role of nonhuman ‘actants’in lengthening networks and sustaining connectivity. Tracking commodities in motionperforce becomes part of a larger strategy designed to identify the collective agency,
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