Accepted paper:

The coffee market as a global value chain: understanding contemporary transformations


Estuardo Chacon (University of Vienna)
Andrew Lawrence (Vienna School of International Studies)

Paper short abstract:

This article challenges global commodity chain analysis with ethnographic insights to illuminate changes in the coffee industry. While economists focused on pricing, the market paradox demands greater understanding of how financial issues intersect within and across the GCC nodes.

Paper long abstract:

Following the decay of the International Coffee Organization (ICO) in 1989, which mediated the price of coffee and the relations between producing and consuming countries, the liberalization of the market brought about crucial transformations to the coffee industry. Classic economic analysis on the matter has focused on bulk pricing and fair trade as well as new trends in ethical consumption. In this article it is demonstrated how rich ethnographic insights may help to deepen our understanding of the Global Commodity Chain (GCC) rather than just scraping the surface of economic flows and price speculation. The emergence of a quality market is shaping taste by widening of the spectrum of consumer demand and challenging industrial trade along traditional product fetishisms. These transformations increased mobility for producers and roasters across and within the GCC, challenging the inherited industry paradox. This ethnographic endeavor based on interviews and participant observation in coffee shops and with producers in Guatemala, Mexico and Indonesia, as well as roasters and importers in Vienna and Germany explains the financial intersectionality abiding producers, importers, exporters and roasters. It also provides a framework better suited to understand contextual challenges ahead sustainability, traceability and fairness. While fair brandings collided with different organizational models in producing countries , direct trade fosters interpersonal relations creating resistance and exposing market weakness. In order to understand how market intermediaries shaped changing consumer taste and the opportunities that these changes afford for empowering small-scale producers and transforming producer/consumer relations, we take a regional and global approach to adequately observe the interplay of this multi-sited global field.

panel P059
Rearticulating labour: staying, moving, and mobilizing along global commodity chains