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Chapter 13

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Carleton University
SOCI 2702
Charles Gibney

Power and Everyday LifeChapter 13Coffee and Commodity Fetishism All coffee beans are produced in the tropical regions of Latin America Africa and Asiaareas that consume the least amount of the worlds coffeeCoffee is the second most valuable legally exported commodity by the South after oil and provides a livelihood for around 25 million coffeeproducing familiesIt is the quintessential global commodity linking the daily routine of millions of Northern consumers and Southern producers who live thousands of kilometres apart through a complex web of social economic cultural and political relationsThe production and consumption ends of the global coffee industry are composed of highly unequal participantsThe very nature of the global market serves to mask the relationship between producers and consumers and prevent flows of feedback and accountability between themOn both ends of the coffee chain peoples knowledge of lives of those who consume what others produce and those who produce what others consume remains obscure and mediated by the marketKarl Marx famously coined the term commodity fetishism to refer to this condition of modern capitalism the commodity itself becomes fetishized as an independent object with its own intrinsic value rather than being the end result of the work of other peopleIntertwined with the market relationships that underpin commodity fetishism are multiple takenforgranted everyday practices which in a Foucauldian sense embed the seemingly simple and direct act of drinking a cup of joe in complexpower relations around common discourses and images such as nationalismgender and domesticity and the normalization of particular practices that sustain and reproduce material conditions of inequalityCoffee is a complex commodity produced through the operations of an international social division of labour that has a long and often painful history interwoven with the histories of slavery and colonialism The global coffee elite who own the transnational coffee companies or the giant plantations in the South possess significant power over all other participants in the coffee chain through their control of coffee income massive marketing budgets and overall economic mightThis notion of power is intertwined with a Foucauldian approach focused on the power of dominant discourses and representations and a postcolonial approach which highlights the historical power of the West to define the normsvalues and assumptions around the coffee industry in a way which serves to obscure the inequalities in the industry making them look like the outcome of a natural global hierarchy rather than historical conflict1Coffee Production and Power
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