This assignment is intended to make students reflect on the causes and consequences of a globalised market economy. They will do so by following the trail of a specific commodity from its original source(s) to its ultimate sink(s) or disposal. Students are expected to examine both the social and environmental impacts of a specific commodity originating from the global South (e.g. cosmetics, a cotton t-shirt, coffee, papaya, Niketm shoes, a type of timber, a rare mineral used in electronics, etc.).
Students may write this as a quantitative essay (lots of figures and statistics as is commonly used in ‘value chain’ analyses) or a more descriptive analysis (more ethnographic, using examples, references, images, about working conditions, rights and impacts).
Students should explore the following key areas/headings:
– Colonial and/or recent history of the trade in the specific commodity
– Political economic dimensions (e.g., trade rules or laws affecting it, volume of trade, countries involved, etc)
– Social impacts, labour and human rights, class and gender inequalities
– Environmental impacts in the producer country, and globally
An excellent starting point is the website set up by Ian Cook (University of Exeter in the UK) and his students/peers: http://www.followthethings.com/. Ian also has several relevant articles, plus there are other authors who have done similar studies:
– Cook, Ian. (2004) “Follow the thing: papaya.” Antipode 36.4 : 642-664.
– Cook, Ian, and Michelle Harrison. (2007) “Follow the Thing.” West Indian Hot Pepper Sauce. Space and Culture 10.1 : 40-63.
– Robinson, D.F. (2020) The Moroccan Argan Trade: Producer Networks and Human Bio-Geographies, Routledge, Oxon. In Leganto reading list. Chapters 4 and 5 most relevant.
– Gereffi, G., & Memedovic, O. (2003). The global apparel value chain: What prospects for upgrading by developing countries Vienna: United Nations Industrial Development Organization. http://www.ids.ac.uk/ids/global/pdfs/AppareF1.pdf
– Marcus, G. E. (1995). Ethnography in/of the world system: The emergence of multi-sited ethnography. Annual review of anthropology, 95-117.
– Mather, C. (2008). Value Chains and Tropical Products in a Changing Global Trade Regime. International Centre for Trade and Sustainable Development (ICTSD). www.ictsd.org/downloads/2008/07/mather_issuepaperno13.pdf