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Knowledge flows across global commodity supply chains: circulations and asymmetries

Pauline von Hellermann (Goldsmiths)
Izabela Delabre (University of Sussex)
Advocacy and Activism
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Short abstract:

This panel is concerned with how knowledge flows across global supply chains: we are all intimately connected as growers, traders and consumers, yet different agents’ knowledge about each other is often limited and partial. We invite papers to explore imaginatively and in different ways the asymmetries and circulations of knowledge about supply chains.

Long abstract:

As consumers, we are all intimately connected across the globe: so much of what we eat, drink and use every day was grown, harvested, mined or made in other, often far-away places in the world. In recent decades, largely through the efforts of investigative journalists, activists and academics, there has been growing awareness amongst consumers in the West and elsewhere of the perpetuation of global inequalities these global supply chains can entail, and of the – often devastating – social and ecological impacts of modern capitalism and consumerism. Consumer awareness and activism have led to both boycotting campaigns and certification efforts, such as the Fairtrade Movement or the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), which seek to provide transparency and accountability. Yet despite these efforts, there remain significant limitations to what different agents – so intimately connected through the products they make, circulate and consume – know about each other, and real discrepancies between different forms of knowledge, imaginings and discourses. This panel seeks to explore the knowledges and imaginations of different agents in global supply chains – producers, consumers, traders, activists, academics - and how they relate to each other. We invite papers exploring the commodity flow/knowledge nexus in different and imaginative ways, addressing questions like: • Why do British consumers decide to boycott palm oil – what do they know about deforestation and orangutans? • How do certification schemes, labels and blockchain technologies seek to provide transparency, and produce and share knowledge? How is this renegotiated/refracted by different agents? What convergences and conflicts arise? • How are supply chains graphically visualised? • What role does the media play in shaping knowledge, myths and discourses? • How do (former) academics working in policy negotiate between different forms of knowledge, practices and uses of knowledge? • How do anthropology and geography think about supply chains as disciplines? • If all knowledge is limited and partial, what does that mean for the quest for fair and sustainable global trade?

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