EASA2016: Anthropological legacies and human futures

(P117)
Just prices: moral economic legacies and new struggles over value
Location U6-22
Date and Start Time 21 July, 2016 at 09:00
Sessions 2

Convenors

  • Giovanni Orlando (University of Turin) email
  • Peter Luetchford (University of Sussex) email

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Short Abstract

This panel explores the just price ethnographically and analytically. Despite engaging with issues central to anthropology, such as markets, moralities, and money, there has been little direct focus on the just price. The panel seeks to unpack neoliberal discourses on prices, and the alternatives.

Long Abstract

Despite engaging with issues that have been central to anthropology since the times of Mauss and Malinowski, the notion of the just price has been little explored either analytically or empirically. Rather, it has tended to be subsumed within wider discussions about value and moral economy. This contrasts with a long tradition of thought on the problem in philosophy, economics and theology. In this panel we seek to explore the just price ethnographically, primarily in relation to food. How do people define or contest a fair price, as producers or consumers? Are these categories of people useful in formulating a just price, and can different interests be reconciled? Is food the primary concern in discussions about fair prices, and if so, why? Can the concept be extended to other areas of exchange, such as labour, and what are the implications of this? We are interested in contributions that try to answer these questions from geographical locales both in the South and the North. While we wish to explore these issues through empirical examples, contributors may choose to refer to wider theoretical debates, such as the concepts of use value and exchange value (or other forms of value theory), ideas about quantity and quality, or anthropological theories of money and monetary exchange. By focusing on the just price, this panel aims to demystify ideologies of price-setting markets as the best route to development, and explore social/moral alternatives to them in an effort to better our common human future.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

“Yu sabi fᴐ tᴐk prays”: performing and navigating just prices in the streets of Makeni, northern Sierra Leone

Author: Michael Bürge (University of Konstanz)  email

Short Abstract

My paper focuses on how young men hustling northern Sierra Leone’s roads bring in and exclude diverse scales of value(s) into performances and navigations of just price for food and commodities. Beyond being monetary, just prices reflect and produce transient social relations and personal aspirations.

Long Abstract

In Makeni, northern Sierra Leone, prices for everyday goods appear to be transparent and comparable due to a – often by the state – fixed relation between monetary retribution and quantity acquired. Nonetheless, ethnographic insights show the indeterminacy of the final (just) price for e.g. rice, palmwine or cannabis and its irreducibility to monetary value. Prices comprise of, reflect and produce social relations and political conjunctures. This paper focuses on the diverse performances and scales of value(s), in which multifaceted prices are continuously re-negotiated. Bags for measuring rice can differ between customers. Discounts given or services included in calculations change. The transition from British imperial to metric measures – and their coexistence – offers further possibilities for negotiating (just) prices for palmoil or fuel. Cloth and electronics exist in various qualities not apparent to every eye. Opportunities for exchanges can be denied completely. Approaching price(ing) as performances, I emphasize the multiple skills and techniques needed and enacted for assessing, manipulating and sanctioning prices. I show how young men transporting and transacting goods and people on Makeni’s roads incessantly attune their capabilities for making and obtaining just prices. They try to match their desire ‘to enjoy life’ with the need of being ‘respected and responsible community-members’. Performing and navigating (just) prices, thus, always means to probe economic, social and moral limits. Assessments and negotiations not only concern the ‘actual’ transaction. With Jackson (2015) and Guyer (2004) I argue, they also include indirect and general pricing of ‘moral debts’ of the past and ‘investments’ into the future.

The politics of a just price: negotiating the price of a 'tomato of one hundred' and a 't-shirt of ten thousand' in oil-boom Equatorial Guinea

Author: Alba Valenciano Mañé (University of Barcelona-CSIC)  email

Short Abstract

Drawing on ethnographic data collected in Equatorial Guinea during the hight of the oil-boom (2010-2012) this paper considers how prices are negotiated and set. It explores the relationship between the negotiation of the just price and political struggles in the marketplace.

Long Abstract

In the light of Janet Roitmans' investigation of the connection between price determination and relationships of dependency this paper looks at how the notion of the just price is articulated into political practice in a context of dictatorship and economic extraversion.In Equatorial Guinea commodities appear to be categorised according to fixed prices: 'there is tomato of one hundred, pineapple of five hundred and pineapple of one thousand, t-shirts of five thousand, but also t-shirts of ten thousand' etc. These fixed prices serve as scales to asses quality in a broad and complex sense (Guyer 2004). However, the price Guineans actually pay for the different imported goods varies and is set anew in each transaction. It is contingent on many factors, including: the availability of merchandise, the particular consumer (age, gender, ethnicity, status, income), the relationship between the latter and the seller (kinship, patronage, friendship, status), and the reason for the exchange (profit, hardship, celebrations) (Roitman 2005: 80). The negotiation for a just price not only takes place between sellers and buyers in the context of a market transaction. The moral principles that underlay it are also present in other spheres, that include other actors like State institutions, for instance the payment of rent for the market stalls. I show how the just price becomes an important device in the articulation of power relationships and political claims.

Social architectonics of the market price: basic principles behind the perception of prices by Russian consumers (the case of Moscow)

Authors: Elena Berdysheva (National Research University Higher School of Economics)  email
Regina Romanova (National Research University Higher School of Economics )  email

Short Abstract

This paper summarizes the results of empirical study to shed light on the social basis of consumers' price perception, developing analysis from the sociological (instead economic or psychological) point of view.

Long Abstract

This paper attempts to deconstruct the perception of market prices on the part of Russian consumers, based on the assumption that regularity and large-scale involvement in market exchange is possible only if prices which mediate it are socially legitimate. In the last decade the social legitimacy of prices has started to be questioned in light of increases in consumer prices as an outcome of economic crises. Data from in-depth interviews with economically active residents of Moscow is analyzed using the methodology of grounded theory, and demonstrates that the interpretation of price can be thematized according to four main areas: "not to be deceived," "it is not a poor person who checks prices, but a smart one," "people "like me" buy at those prices," and "not every product can be bought without regard to the price." The study supports the hypothesis that Russian consumers are more and more artfully mastering the grammar of the market price. From a sociological point of view this observation refers to an entire group of theories (with classic origins) about the increasing rationalization of society, which at the beginning of the twenty first century is translated at the level of everyday life as a demand for calculative social behavior. The paper documents the way Russian consumers have increasingly engaged with prices as part of the process of marketisation.

The political ecology of just prices in alternative agriculture in Hawai'i

Author: Mary Mostafanezhad (University of Hawaii at Manoa)  email

Short Abstract

This paper ethnographically examines the contradictory struggles between, on the one hand, the proliferation of agro-food initiatives, and on the other, the ongoing structural challenges of alternative agriculture and farmers’ persistent struggle to receive just prices in Hawai'i.

Long Abstract

On January 6, 2016 Alexander & Baldwin Inc. announced that over the course of the year it would phase out sugarcane farming on Maui at Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Co., thus marking the final phase of the plantation era in Hawai'i. Political ecological analysis reveals that the structural disadvantages that rendered Hawaii's plantation agriculture uncompetitive have also affected subsequent efforts to diversify agriculture. Tight margins and volatile costs severely limit the potential profitably of farms in the state and have driven many of Hawaii's independent small farmers out of business. In spite of the uncertain viability of agriculture, interests in agro-food initiatives (AFIs) have proliferated in Hawai'i, and a growing number of citizens have become engaged in innovative ways to participate in AFIs. Espousing neoliberal discourses of individual and privatized food justice agendas, they attempt to reconnect farmers and consumers, preserve agricultural land, revive and protect cultural food practices, and develop new processes and mechanisms that enable broader participation in consumer led decision-making. While these groups have been decidedly vocal, farmers' ongoing struggle to receive just prices for their products has not been substantively addressed. Drawing on semi-structured interviews and focus groups among AFI participants and farmers, this paper ethnographically examines the political ecology of alternative agriculture and argues that the broader structural challenges of Hawaii's agrarian economy are overshadowed by neoliberal discourses of social enterprise which contribute to the widespread fetishization rather than materialization of just prices in alternative agriculture in Hawai'i.

Moral economy in dairy family farms in Galicia: ambivalence and ambiguity around the just price

Author: Bibiana Martínez Álvarez (Universitat de Barcelona)  email

Short Abstract

In this paper I analyse ideas around the "just price" in the context of family dairy farms in Galicia, and the clash between this concept and that of "sustainable price"; a clash that appeared in the context of the crisis that arose after the elimination of milk quotas in Europe.

Long Abstract

In April 2015, European Union milk quotas - a mechanism to control milk production- came to an end. This meant the liberalization of the dairy market. From that moment many producers across Europe began a series of protests and demonstrations, among them farmers in Galicia (a region in north-western Spain). In this paper I analyze the protests that took place in Galicia in order to discuss ideas around a key concept: the "just price".

I carry out this analysis from the perspective of the moral economy. Drawing on the work of J.C. Scott and William James Booth, as well as authors that examine Thomas Aquinas' notion of just price, like John W.Baldwin, I argue that just price is not a new claim for Galician farmers, and that they have used it constantly to protest against economic dependence that, in their opinion, the Common Agricultural Policy subsidies entail. The concept of just price that is used in the claims of the farmers clashes with another concept that has developed during this crisis: the "sustainable price". The latter is used mainly by the central and regional governments, and also by other powerful actors, such as the dairy industry and distribution companies. Farmers consider that, unlike "just price", the notion of "sustainable price" does not represent their interests. Rather, it is used by the government in a way that allows the industry and distributors to circumvent the regulation that ensures a fair minimum price.

The moral economy of price setting in rose oil industry in Isparta, Turkey

Author: Lale Yalcin-Heckmann (Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology and University of Pardubice)  email

Short Abstract

Rose price and rose oil price are interrelated yet the price setting mechanism is primarily veiled through state patronage, producer protection and world market demand. This paper looks at the negotiations between different actors and various mechanisms of price setting in the rose oil industry.

Long Abstract

The province of Isparta in southwest Turkey has been known for its rose oil industry since the end of the 19th century. The specific rose grown in the region, rosa damascene, is used to produce rose oil, rose water and other rose products for the food, perfume and cosmetic industries. The province claims to produce nearly 60% of rose oil needed yearly in the world market and the price of rose oil has been steadily increasing over the last six years. Yet the price of roses does not increase at the same rate, and is set yearly by a former state agricultural cooperative at a base rate, which private firms do not challenge. This paper examines the dynamics of price setting and negotiations between different actors, namely the rose producing households, rose oil producing private firms and the former state cooperative. The world cosmetic industry is also an important actor, yet access to the world market is veiled through market economic language as well as the cooperative 'acting like the state'. Why state patronage still fulfills certain roles for the producers in the neoliberal economy of Turkey and how the private firms manoeuvre between labour shortage for harvesting and producers who successfully bargain for better prices are questions which will be examined ethnographically. The strategies of secrecy and veiling in price setting as well as discourses of protecting producers and tradition reflect and shape the moral economy of good price in the rose oil industry.

Just price and global labour markets: aspiring to be a rugby player in Fiji

Author: Daniel Guinness (University of Amsterdam)  email

Short Abstract

Many young i-taukei (indigenous) Fijian men today engage in frequent, difficult un-paid rugby training despite the precarity of their lives, and the uncertainty of overseas careers to which they aspire. Just price for labour must deal with the social embeddedness of work.

Long Abstract

Extending just price to labour markets is particularly complicated at the margins of global industries, where work, hope and precarity intersect. Many young i-taukei (indigenous) Fijian men today aspire to achieve social, material and geographical mobility through rugby. They hope to ideally obtain a lucrative professional contract overseas through which some acquire sufficient resources to transform their and their families’ lives, or alternatively amateur contracts overseas or recruitment into the Fijian institutions with prominent rugby teams (Fire, Navy, Corrections, Army, Police). They value rugby partly because of its important symbolism for Fijian (ethno)national identity, i-taukei communities, and ideas of appropriate masculinities. They experience difficult un-paid rugby training as a complex mixture of pleasure, self-development and work: pursued as an alternative to formal education, as a symbolically empowering activity, as fun-filled time with friends and kin, and as an investment in hope from precarity, but always in relation to differing socio-economic, geographic and (rugby) professional positions. Employment through rugby remains precarious, dependent upon recruitment by unknown, unseen agents, contingent upon seemingly chance encounters, subjective evaluations and luck. These agents take into account certain physical and social qualities in pricing, choosing players based upon physical tests, subjective evaluation of matches and signs of a reliable pedigree, such as participation in regional representative teams, elite rugby schools and national academies. Coaches look for qualities which indicate the potential for exceptional, even innovative work, but also a degree of reliability. However, contracting processes fail to recognise the individual and communal work invested in raising the young men to be rugby players. Ultimately a just price would take into account the production of people within dynamic systems of hope and social significance, recognising monetary and non-monetary forms of value.

A just price for solidarity? Compensating kin through white plates

Author: Kenneth Sillander (University of Helsinki)  email

Short Abstract

Based on long-term fieldwork, this paper explores the practice of compensating kin through white plates among the Bentian of Indonesia to reflect on its implications for theorizing the just price and struggles of value.

Long Abstract

Giving away white porcelain plates is a distinctive custom and salient ceremonial preoccupation of the Bentian, a group of shifting cultivators of Indonesian Borneo. Large numbers of store-bought plates are frequently handed out as rewards or reimbursement on a variety of public occasions. Of little economic value, the plates primarily represent symbolic compensation for valued assistance by kin and neighbors. They are viewed as epitomes of "good form" and a moral economy based on ideals like respect, reciprocity, and solidarity, which ideally guide kinship and close relations, and is defined in opposition to the market economy and associated principles of calculation, profit, and selfishness. However, like money, which they in many ways resemble, the plates set a standard for compensating services, specifying a fair, commensurate price for inalienable assistance, and in their own way advance the "quantification of social life" (Marx), publicly spotlighting concerns of recompensation and expenditure, and promoting, like "tournaments of value," a hierarchy of moral virtue. This paper unpacks the complex case of setting a just price for moral virtue in plates. Straddling different "registers of valuation," drawing on notions of both ethical and economic value, the distribution of plates complicates the relationship between the just price and the good life. Interestingly, while economic value, following in the trail of monetarization and invasive corporate natural resource exploitation, colonizes ever more private zones of the Bentian's informal "everyday redistributive economy," the public distribution of white plates, associated with commensality, persists as an exemplar of moral values.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.