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Euphoric Anomaly

Matsutake’s Elusive Elusiveness in 2010 Japan

Lieba Faier

Elusiveness can itself be elusive. This article considers why matsutake draw over-the-top excitement as an elusive commodity even in years of prolific harvests. In 2010 Japan, an unexpectedly copious domestic matsutake harvest prompted a precipitous drop in the mushroom’s price and made the mushroom readily accessible. The article traces the sources of consumer excitement that year, showing how matsutake commodity elusiveness is itself produced through contingent coordinations among trees, fungi, weather, pickers, mycology, popular media, and consumers. It suggests that, in 2010, media outlets and consumers resolved the contradictions of this elusiveness—celebrating matsutake’s elite status as an elusive commodity while enjoying its accessibility—by treating the bumper harvest as a euphoric anomaly.

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The Origins of the Girl Hero

Shirley Temple, Child Star and Commodity

Rebecca C. Hains

Since the late 1990s, "girl power" programs featuring girl heroes have emerged as an important new trend in children's television. However, girl heroes are not as new as they seem. Producers of mass media texts created many girl heroes in the 1930s, before the adoption of television as a mainstream medium, but the scholarly literature on today's girl heroes rarely acknowledges these pre-television predecessors. To address this gap, this paper presents research on the depictions of the strong orphan girls portrayed by Shirley Temple, positioned as cultural girl heroes in the 1930s. It explores the commercial contexts in which films starring Shirley Temple were produced and offers an analytical discussion of the positive and problematic features of these stories and the product lines associated with them. By understanding the themes, commercial contexts, and controversial aspects of Shirley Temple's on-screen stories as marketplace commodities, scholars can better study the relevance and importance of the girl heroes who are so popular in today's marketplace.

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Debarati Sen and Sarasij Majumder

The global circulation of food and agricultural commodities is increasingly influenced by the ethical choices of Western consumers and activists who want to see a socially and environmentally sustainable trade regime in place. These desires have culminated in the formation of an elaborate system of rules, which govern the physical and social conditions of food production and circulation, reflected in transnational ethical regimes such as fair trade. Fair trade operates through certifying producer communities with sustainable production methods and socially just production relationships. By examining interdisciplinary academic engagements with fair trade, we argue that fair trade certification is a transnational bio-political regime; although, it holds the potential for reflecting global counterpolitics. By reviewing the literature on the emergence and history of fair trade certification, agro-food chains, case studies on certified producer communities and the certification process, this article shows that fair trade certification is a new governing mechanism to discipline farmers and producers in the Global South by drawing them into globalized market relationships. However, recent studies suggest that fair trade also leaves open the potential for creative iterations of the fair trade idea in producer communities to give voice to their situated struggles for justice. Thus, fair trade constitutes a contested moral terrain that mediates between the visions of justice harbored by producers and activists in the Global South and reflexive practices of the Western consumers. To map these critical developments around fair trade and fair trade certification, close ethnographic attention to the material and symbolic life of certification is vital.

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“Tobacco! Tobacco!”

Exporting New Habits to Siberia and Russian America

Matthew Romaniello

Russia transitioned from enforcing the world’s longest ban on importing tobacco in the seventeenth century to legalizing the product at the beginning of the eighteenth and ultimately becoming one of the world’s largest producers of tobacco by the nineteenth century. A part of this process neglected by historians is the way in which Russia distributed tobacco among the indigenous communities in Siberia, Kamchatka, and Russian America, creating new consumers where none had existed. This article discusses both the process by which Russia exported tobacco to its frontier and the manner in which tobacco consumption was localized among its diverse populations. Tobacco was not a single product experienced the same way throughout the empire but rather became a marker of difference, demonstrating the multiple communities and trade networks that influenced the nature of Russia’s colonial presence in Asia and the North Pacific.

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Soft skills, hard rocks

Making diamonds ethical in Canada’s Northwest Territories

Lindsay A. Bell

In 2007, Canada was the third-largest producer of diamonds in the world. Marketed as ethical alternatives to ”blood diamonds,” Canadian gemstones are said to go beyond basic “conflict-free” designations by providing northern Indigenous peoples with high-wage work and training. This article makes two connected points. First, it describes how the ethics of diamond mining are connected to the uneasy management of people groomed to do extractive work. Second, following the development and delivery of job training programs for Indigenous people over the course of the financial crisis of 2008–2009, this article reveals how mandatory “soft skills” courses attempt to adjust would-be worker speech to meet corporate norms in ways that were essential in maintaining the ethical sign value of subarctic stones.

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Robert B. Marks

In nature, tigers have existed only in Asia. Over the millennia, Asian peoples have had much interaction with tigers, and those experiences have come to influence the patterns of everyday life, especially for villagers. In short, humans and tigers have a long history in Asia. Through case studies of China, the Malay world, and India from the sixteenth to the twentieth centuries, this article argues that Asian rulers used tigers—or more properly, their control of tigers—to enhance their political power, further the reach of central states, and inform their understanding of colonizing European powers.

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Introduction

Environment, Society, and Food

Rebecca Feinberg, Paige West and Dan Brockington

During the past two decades social scientists have paid an increasing amount of attention to the circulation of commodities and the effects that commodity production, distribution, and consumption have on social life (see Miller 1995). Today, social scientists are beginning to think carefully about the political ecologies of these same commodity circulations (see Bryant and Goodman 2004; Doane 2010; West 2012). We are exploring the environmental consequences of the creation, circulation, and consumption of commodities, the role of nature in shaping the commodity form, their circulation and resulting social life, and the broader political economy in which commodity circulation is found.

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Nothing in Return?

Distinctions between Gift and Commodity in Contemporary Societies

Michaela Benson and Denise Carter

According to Mauss’ seminal works, it was through obligations laid bare by the gift exchange process—the obligation to give, receive and reciprocate—that pre-modern societies were symbolically reproduced. Mauss’ distinction between those early societies and the encroaching capitalist world has led to questions about whether gift exchange can play a similar role in today’s highly individualised and impersonal contemporary societies. In addition, it has also stimulated a great deal of debate about the relationship between gifts and commodities. If, as many theorists suggest, commodities are a central feature of daily life in capitalist societies, there is the possibility of fluidity between gift and commodity. This invites several interesting questions about the forms and functions of exchange: what forms does exchange take in contemporary societies; what implications, if any, do these forms of exchange have for relationships in contemporary society; and, does gift exchange still have a function in society?

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“Forging New Malay networks”

Imagining global halal markets

Johan Fischer

This article explores Malaysia’s bid to become the world leader in rapidly expanding halal (literally, “lawful” or “permitted”) markets on a global scale through the embedding of a particular global Islamic imagination. The Malaysian state has become central to the certification, standardization, and bureaucratization of Malaysian halal production, trade, and consumption. The vision is now to export this model, and for that purpose the network as a strategic metaphor is being evoked to signify connectedness and prescriptions of organization visà- vis more deep-rooted networks. I argue that an imagined global halal network conditions the halal commodity form. This imagination is at least as important as halal commodities themselves for the emergence of a novel form of globalized halal capitalism.

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A 'base and spurious thing'

Reading and Deceptive Femininity in Ellen Wood's Parkwater (1857)

Janice M. Allan

Concentrating on Ellen Wood's Parkwater, a little-known New Monthly Magazine serial, this article attempts to complicate the long-standing construction of Wood as a 'quiet sensationalist'. It argues that Wood's serial was self-consciously appealing to the New Monthly's male readers and thus incorporated scenes and details of a surprisingly graphic nature. At the same time, the article situates the narrative within the context of a new commodity culture, as well as the 1857 murder trial of Madeleine Smith, suggesting that Wood's exploration of deceptive femininity resonates with current events in a particularly insistent manner.