Accepted Paper:

Between event and amity: making sense of success and failure in the international fur trade  


Siobhan Magee (University of Edinburgh)

Paper short abstract:

Using ethnographic data collected from people who work in the Polish and Danish fur industries, the paper discusses how perceived successes and failures in international export deals are sometimes attributed to a suggestively discordant mixture of geopolitical and interpersonal factors.

Paper long abstract:

This paper explores the kinship and temporal idioms used by Polish and Danish fur industry workers to discuss international export. When describing the trajectories of their own careers in fur and those of other 'fur people' in relation to export, informants frequently speak of being impacted deeply by industry-specific changes such as the cooperatisation of certain international fur auction houses (see Skov 2005; Willerslev 2012); and broader socio-economic and political changes such as the fall of the Soviet Union in 1989 and Poland's 2004 accession to the European Union. One could therefore be forgiven for perceiving fur as simply a material manifestation of geopolitical phenomena. Historically, it has been both evidence of conquest and motivation for conquest (Kerner 1942; Wolf 1982), and latterly, it is the focus of nation-centred discourses brought to the fore by the selective breeding of animals 'from' different countries.

The anthropological issue at the crux of this paper, however, concerns informants' inclusion in their accounts of 'successes' and 'failures' in the establishment and/or delivery of export deals, of both allusions to state and international law and politics and, suggestively, either apparently serendipitous amity or unforeseeable failures to see eye-to-eye, with interlocutors from the 'other side' of the deal. The question asked by the paper, therefore, is not only 'how does export encompass both international and interpersonal relationships?' but 'what exists in the space between large-scale political and economic contexts and feelings of connection with - or disconnection from - other persons?'

Panel P27
A world of goods and the wealth of nations: anthropologies of export