EASA2016: Anthropological legacies and human futures

(P136)
The political life of commodities
Location U6-16
Date and Start Time 23 July, 2016 at 09:00
Sessions 2

Convenors

  • Kelley Sams (Norbert Elias Center, Marseille/ Walden University, Minnesota) email
  • Lynda Dematteo (IIAC ) email

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Chair Boris Petric
Discussant Alessandro Monsutti

Short Abstract

This panel reflects upon the effects of the liberalization of the global economy through research on commodities involved in large-scale circulation. Case studies based on ethnographic research present the social as well as political shifts caused by production, regulation, and consumption.

Long Abstract

The current decline of some sectors of the European economy, the considerable weight taken on by China, and increasing competition on the African continent between European and Chinese economic actors invites us to analyze economic relationships that cannot only be viewed in terms of national opposition. Instead, we must think of the increasing interdependencies of economies and consequences on the governance of concrete societies. The goal of this panel is to present work based on ethnographic research describing how the multiplication of transnational networks and the emergence of new key places assure large-scale trade and become determinant factors in understanding the displacement of sovereignty and regulation.

An investigation of the political life of commodities goes beyond the classical division of cultural areas. By examining trade between Africa, Europe, Asia and beyond, we are able to surpass cultural and geographic boundaries and engage a comparative approach. The presentation of research conduced in geographically diverse sites will contribute to new knowledge of contemporary forms of governance within the context of globalization. One hypothesis guiding this panel postulates that the ethnography of these places of exchange offers an opportunity to analyze social practices and consumption patterns that produce new forms of social distinctions. The study of the circulation of commodities from an anthropological perspective also highlights a strategic issue for the political and economic future of Europe. By examining changes in production, food consumption, luxury goods, raw materials, and manufactured goods, the panel will analyze the transformations of political and economic relations.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

Along the 'New Silk Road': livelihoods, regimes and goods in contemporary Eurasia

Author: Philipp Schröder (Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin)  email

Short Abstract

Based on fieldwork in Central Asia, Russia and China, the paper traces post-Socialist trade formation along the 'New Silk Road'.The circulation and 'political lives' of goods will be explored in-between places such as a Siberian bazaar, a sewing-shop in Bishkek or a furniture factory near Guangzhou.

Long Abstract

During the Soviet era everything economic was deeply politicised. The production, distribution and consumption of goods were centrally planned, and since the 1930s deviations into private commerce had been condemned as 'criminal speculation'. This changed swiftly during the 1990s transformation period, when from the 'un-making of Soviet life' various forms of 'wild capitalism' and informal business-making emerged. In Kyrgyzstan for example, a small land-locked nation in Central Asia, independence was followed up by 'shock-therapy' reforms that introduced Western-style democratic and market economy principles. Soon, this profile qualified the country to become the prime regional hub for distributing a broad variety of goods 'made in China'. My contribution will first trace how the Kyrgyz 'pioneers' of this trade-craft began channeling such consumer products all the way to Russian bazaars. While establishing a vibrant diaspora in that 'near abroad', good profits always were opposed to substantial personal risks and cultural stigmatizations. About two decades later, a next generation of Kyrgyz business(wo)men is in place. Regardless whether these are apparel producers operating from home or middlemen who relocated to China, they face novel challenges in an accelerated, more 'consumer-oriented' and 'professionalized' economic environment. Drawing on recent fieldwork, my aim is to paint a picture of post-Socialist market formation along the so-called 'New Silk Road', which approaches the 'political life' of commodities through transnational flows in-between diverse locales, changing border and migratory regimes, and new regulatory bodies (e.g. 'Eurasian Economic Union').

"Made in Italy" under the hegemony of Chinese textile: defence of global branding and spilled alienation

Author: Lynda Dematteo (IIAC )  email

Short Abstract

By outsourcing manufacturing to China, Italian textile entrepreneurs have passed their know-how, with the consequence that their mastery is challenged. The strategies implemented to confront this unprecedented situation will be describe and question.

Long Abstract

This presentation examines the political implications of the paradoxical situation of the Italian textile industry today. On one hand, famous Italian brands are producing clothes that are the output of complex global value chains. On the other hand, they must market the specifically Italian industrial and craft heritage that made them famous in the world. This marketing necessity forces these producers to hide the conditions of production of their products in order to better sell them. By outsourcing manufacturing to Asia, Italian entrepreneurs have passed their know-how to technicians of this continent, with the consequence that the craft knowledge is becoming lost in Western Europe. Today, it appears clear that "Made in Italy" will survive thanks to the Chinese workforce and perhaps even thanks to the investments of Chinese distributors who wish to purchase prestigious European brands to meet the desire for authenticity of rich Chinese consumers.

How the Italian entrepreneurs and politicians confront this unprecedented situation? Is economic patriotism the only response to the threat of globalization? In this presentation, I will describe and question the strategies implemented by the different actors involved.

Based on multi-sited ethnography, my work is centered on major brands' communication services and the main international trade fairs. I conduct a critical analysis of the construction of global branding of the Italian luxury fabrics.

The managers are now engaged in global processes they do not agree with, but from which they cannot escape without disappearing. This divided consciousness and its political outcomes are the objects of my anthropological reflection.

The Chinese motorcyles in Burkina Faso: a matter of state

Author: Guive Khan Mohammad (University of Lausanne)  email

Short Abstract

This communication aims to underline the economic and political consequences of the arrival of Chinese goods in Africa in term of extraversion management, through ethnographic materials collected in motorcycle sector in Burkina Faso, between 2010 and 2013.

Long Abstract

This communication aims to underline the economic and political consequences of the arrival of Chinese goods in Africa in term of extraversion management, through ethnographic materials collected in motorcycle sector in Burkina Faso, between 2010 and 2013. Importation of Chinese motorcycles in Burkina Faso has increased significantly since 2000. This supply chain reorientation has led to a deep restructuring of this sector, marked by the withdrawal of historical industrial and commercial actors under the pressure of the emergence of a new generation of African transnational traders. Prior to that change, the motorcycles industry was used to be a rent-seeking sector for Burkinabe elites. In stressing on the creation and the capture of a rent generated by dependency, the theory of extraversion would entail highlighting who now benefits from the rent of the motorcycles' importation. In this article, I assume that, behind the accumulation positions redistribution process, occurred following the emergence of the new generation of transnational traders, rent control have only been partially modified by the arrival of Chinese motorcycles. In fact, it has led to a redefinition of extraversion management modalities, but not a subversion of its logics. The rent is still to the benefit of the Burkinabe political elite, but they are now inclined to give up a part of their rentier spaces in order to maintain stability.

Governing risk, producing commodities: biosafety and the commodification of genetically modified cotton seeds in Colombia

Author: Diego Silva (Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies)  email

Short Abstract

This paper analyses the relationship between biosafety regulations and the commodification of genetically modified cotton-seeds in Colombia. It examines how the governing of these seeds, as potential risk carriers, becomes part of the production and reproduction of the seeds as a commodities.

Long Abstract

The international food regime has undergone major chances since the Conventional of Biological Diversity (CBD) agreement entered into force in 1993. The CBD converged multiple debates on biological conservation as well as intellectual property rights over biological resources and traditional knowledge. One of the major changes that were triggered by the CBD was the construction of a biosafety protocol that would protect human health and biodiversity from the potential risks of GMOs. This was in part a response to the anxieties generated by the introduction of a new technology in an increasingly liberalised world, and in part a response to the increasing mobility of biological organisms across borders since the end of the Cold War. Risk discourses on GMO safety were finally stabilised at the international level under the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, which served as basis for the design of national regulatory frameworks. This paper follows the social life of biosafety regulations from these spaces to the way in which they are translated and practiced in agricultural fields. Based on two case studies of GM cotton production in Colombia, the study analyses the ways in which biosafety regulations are part of the production and reproduction of GM cotton-seeds as a commodities. This has important implications for the way in which GM seeds are governed/produced by public and private actors through risk discourses and apparatus. The economic and political spheres are blurred in a network of risk discourses, biosafety regulations, crop management practices, and government and multinational company´s surveillance.

The political life of sacred commodities at auction

Author: Andrew Meyer (EHESS-Marseille)  email

Short Abstract

This paper focuses on the political stakes of efforts by Native American tribes to remove commoditized sacred objects from the Parisian auction market of antiquities. Will continued opposition lead to more acceptance of international declarations protecting indigenous cultural patrimony?

Long Abstract

This paper focuses on the political implications of an effort driven by Native American tribes from the United States to remove commoditized sacred objects from the Parisian auction market. With the support of indigenous solidarity NGO's and the diplomatic participation of the US government, tribes are asserting their "cultural sovereignty" in transnational economic arenas. This analysis is based on fieldwork conducted at contested auctions in Paris and among local actors from the US involved in the trade and regulation of Native art and sacred artifacts.

The artifacts being sold in Paris are conceptualized by auction houses and transnational networks of anonymous buyers of Native objects as "art" and therefore the private property of individual collectors. The right of indigenous collectivities to control sacred artifacts is outlined in non-binding UN international declarations, yet has been resisted by nation-states, including France. While the US has begun to support tribes in their repatriation of these objects, this has been viewed in France as an attack on the sacred French Republican ideal of private property. The French judicial system and auction regulatory board have not ceded the tribes any victories. However, there have been diplomatic discussions between US and French cabinet officials on the possibility of prohibiting these auctions. Will continued opposition to auctions lead to more regulation and acceptance of international declarations? What impact does the rise of tribal sovereignty and transnational indigenous networks have on the sovereignty of the state concerning the ownership of sacred objects?

The social and political life of medicines: R&D, circulations and governance issues from China-related context

Author: Evelyne Micollier (IRD (French Research Institute for Development))  email

Short Abstract

Medicines circulate following complex trajectories involving transnational networks and actors: the social life of medicines from basic research/R&D processes to consumption modes&sites can be traced, raising political and governance issues along its route (cases taken from China-related context)

Long Abstract

Medicines circulate following complex trajectories involving transnational networks and actors, bringing to light "long networks" (or short ones) and producing "hybrid objects" (Latour 1991; applied to the anthropology of medicines, Micollier, 2013) far away or not so from sites of R&D and production in line with their degree of integration into the global health market. The "social life" of things (Appadurai 1986) with a focus on medicines (Whyte et al. 2002) can be traced from research process to consumption modes and sites: along its route, it raises a number of political and governance issues so much so that a "political life" of medicines and medicines taken as commodities, can be considered. In today China, better compliance to international and national guidelines gradually implemented in the country, and of course marketing strategies, partly explain recent changes in medicines regulatory framework and regimes, assessing a governance shift. In the meantime Chinese officials gained key positions at WHO, a power-shift signal in the international organization; therefore a relative displacement of sovereignty in favour of China among other international actors is at work in this domain at a global scale. Drawing on multi-sites ethnography, case studies and documentary research, my paper is about R&D, circulation of medicines, political and governance issues from China-related context.

China and the circulation of artemisinin-based malaria treatment in the Comoros Union

Author: Kelley Sams (Norbert Elias Center, Marseille/ Walden University, Minnesota)  email

Short Abstract

Artemisinin-based malaria treatment changed how malaria is treated in sub-Saharan Africa and led to China's first Nobel Prize in 2015. Based on ethnographic research, this presentation explores the relationships created by the circulation of this medication and the imaginary of China in Africa.

Long Abstract

Developed as a result of Mao Zedong's initiative to use Traditional Chinese Medicine to treat malaria, artemisinin-based treatment did not enter the global market until the early 21st century. The production, use, and regulation of artemisinin-based medications provoke new controversies as well as social and political relationships. This paper uses the results of ethnographic fieldwork conducted in China, Geneva, and the Comoros Union to reflect upon some of the effects of the circulation of these medications and situate these effects within the broader context of Chinese public health and development work in sub-Saharan Africa.

In the Comoros Union, a team of doctors from one of Mao Zedong's original malaria research laboratories, in partnership with the national government, implemented a malaria elimination project from 2007-2015 using the strategy of free and obligatory mass distribution of artemisinin-based malaria medication. The WHO took a strong position against this strategy of mass distribution, while local and transnational stakeholders had mixed reactions. At the end of the eight-year malaria elimination program, the disease was almost completely eradicated from the country.

This paper explores the social and political relationships provoked by this circulation of artemisinin-based malaria medications as well as China's increasingly visible role in public health and development in Africa. In the Comoros Union that was under French rule until 1975, how is the growing Chinese influence on health care interpreted? What kind of alternative does the Chinese approach to health offer to individuals living within this post-colonial context?

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Contemporary forms of market: pharmaceutical wholesaling in Ghana questioning current modes of regulation

Authors: Carine Baxerres (IRD/ Université Paris Descartes/CNE)  email
Daniel Arhinful (NMIMR, University of Ghana)  email

Short Abstract

Based on ethnographic study of a large pharmaceutical wholesale market in Accra, Ghana, we analyse the links between state and market regulation and the influence of transnational actors and how they shape formal and informal practices of the market, its products and its actors.

Long Abstract

Pharmaceuticals provide an ideal window into studying contemporary societies and understanding how and why they change. We present data from two years ethnographic studyof the pharmaceutical wholesale market at Okaishie "drug lane" in Accra, which hosts a large number of companies involved in the pharmaceutical wholesaling in Ghana. We question thecurrent links between state regulation and market regulation, while taking into account the influence of transnational actors.

We examine sales practices in this market against the background of current national regulation by highlighting informal practices on both pharmaceuticals and actors. Some of them will be analysed as inherent to the way the business is thought in Ghana by key players including authorities. The various dynamics generated by the opening of the market to numerous pharmaceutical firms (mainly from "emergent" countries of Asia, like India and China, and from Western countries), to numerous importers who are also involved in marketing and their competitive financial pitch and the quality of supplied pharmaceuticals, seem to generate logically informal practices. The consideration of medicines against malaria subsidy program proposed by the Global Found will enrich the analysis.Finally, we will examine the underlying logical structure by considering the economic elements such as prices and payment modes, as well as the human relations aspects which shapes the social structure of the market.

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This panel is closed to new paper proposals.