My daily morning ritual includes not only the usual "shower, dress, food," but also the initial checking of Facebook. This morning, in my feed, I found the picture below. Part of the text attached to it stated:
Part of the text attached to it stated:
Part of the problem is that we’ve been victims of a campaign of systematic misdirection. Consumer culture and the capitalist mindset have taught us to substitute acts of personal consumption (or enlightenment) for organized political resistance.
The text was over two paragraphs long, and it hit many of the same points we did in class on Tuesday. While this picture is intentionally hyperbolic (although not really), it does drive home the point of how much "good" we are actually doing when we are choosing to practice consumerism as a substitute for political resistance and change. We are taught that, as members of a capitalist culture, the most useful thing we can do is to continue to consume.
Log on to youtube today and you'll find the following video link:
Right smack in the homepage, you can find a pair of Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg smiling faces staring right at you! Titled, "Whats most schools don't teach" I was surprised it to be a video on Coding. Particularly intriguing throughout was the various authors that came to mind when listening to so many of these hackers discuss the importance of Coding for this day and age. In minute 4 of the clip, you can find the creator of Code.org (Hadi) say, "Whether you're trying to make a lot of money or whether you just want to change the world, computer programming is an incredibly powerful skill to learn." This line struck me back to our discussion on West (and Tsing): are there really any social movements outside of the neoliberal state of mind? Or rather, is all human political activity (thought and planned) already succumbed within this contemporary capitalist moment?
It's really a interesting short video and I was wondering what you all thought regarding our class discussions on Intellectual Property, appropriation, neoliberalism and social movements.
for class todaylast week we decided to leave 30 min at the end of class for presentation discussions so be prepared for that. facilitations will be 45 min each.
- schedule updates and organization
- West facilitations
- lightening round presentations-discussions and outlines
a few issues/themes/ideas to think about:
- embedded social relations (55)
- neoliberalism/ization (26-27; 46-47; 244)
- contemporary capitalism (241, 250)
- naturalization of primitive and poverty (248)
apologies this is a little late--I made the terrible mistake of typing my response directly in here, and lost everything when I tried to upload it! forgive me if it's not quite so eloquent as the original...
Paige West’s From Modern Production to Imagined Primitive
offers a detailed and thorough exploration of the ways in which social meanings and relations are constructed via production and consumption of Papuan coffee. I’ll admit I was already somewhat familiar with her critiques of US/European consumers (there are many points in the text that echo the documentary Black Gold
, which is a similar treatment of coffee production in Ethiopia), but I was fascinated with her examination of the complex ways in which Papuans themselves—farming communities, “middlemen,” factory workers, etc—create social meaning through their relationship to coffee.
Surprisingly enough, the latter half of the text reminded me of Hipster Pocahontas—a creative and humorous iteration of the ever-popular internet meme with the goal of interrogating colonialism (I will say that to compress an appropriated racial stereotype combined with yet another stereotype of obnoxious privileged settlers in one single image to make a powerful statement on colonial occupation is pretty brilliant). It seems particularly ironic that wealthy European consumers are demanding that Papuans modernize by farming organic produce, as if non-organic farming wasn’t an imperial-colonial imposition in the first place. Like Hipster Pocahontas, Papuans went organic before it was cool! I think images like these are a really great bridge to West's implications and some of Coombe's interventions--I would love to see a series of images retooling/reappropriating the images of indigenous Papuans that are so common on organic coffee packaging in the spirit of Hipster Pocahontas to make a comment on Papuan experiences of colonialism.
I was also reminded of a selection from Maori scholar Linda Tuhiwai Smith's classic test, Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples--
The real critical question in this discussion relates to the commercial nature of knowledge ‘transfer,’ regardless of what knowledge is collected or how that knowledge has been collected or is represented. In this sense, the people and their culture, the material and the spiritual, the exotic and the fantastic, became not just the stuff of dreams and imagination, or stereotypes and eroticism, but of the first truly global commercial enterprise: trading the Other. This trade had its origins before the Enlightenment, but capitalism and Western culture have transformed earlier trade practices (such as feudal systems of tribute), through the development of native appetites for goods and foreign desires for the strange; the making of labour and consumer markets; the protection of trade routes, markets and practices; and the creation of systems for protecting the power of the rich and maintaining the powerlessness of the poor. Trading the Other is a vast industry based on the positional superiority and advantages gained under imperialism. It is concerned more with ideas, language, knowledge, images, beliefs and fantasies than any other industry. Trading the Other deeply, intimately, defines Western thinking and identity. As a trade, it has no concern for the peoples who originally produced the ideas or images, or with how and why they produced those ways of knowing. It will not, indeed cannot return the raw materials from which its products have been made. It no longer has an administrative Head Office with regional offices to which indigenous peoples can go, queue for hours and register complaints which will not be listened to or acted upon.
Has the Papuan coffee West studies become another form of trading the Other? Are the images and ideas sold with the coffee a consumable product? I found myself elated to read that the members of the community West was working in began to demand compensation from tourists who were photographing them--from this perspective it seems obvious that is the very least that's owed them. This, however, this brings us back to Coombe (particularly our conversation on the Atlanta Braves)--what is at stake in these kinds of social-capital flows? What are the ramifications of individualistic survival/profit on a colonial racial stereotype?
- Throughout the latter half of the text West delves into the specifics of how both producers and consumers of Papuan coffee construct material social realities and spatial imaginations through their relations to said Papuan coffee—how can this complicate our understanding of globalization and transnational interconnection?
- West mentions that she is concerned about what will happen when millennials no longer have interest in the alleged wellbeing of the primary producers of the products they consume (eg Papuan coffee farmers)—considering the broader imperial-colonial landscape things like Papuan coffee cultivation are embedded in, is this a major concern? Should we be worried about would happen if and when the essentialized primitive romantic Indigenous Laborer is no longer trendy? Do you foresee a future in which that occurs, or will commodification and exploitation of indigenous bodies continue albeit perhaps in new spaces and forms (perhaps in the vein of Black Gold)?
- West’s assertions re: the imagery sold alongside organic coffee has strong connections to some of the themes present in Coombe’s text—namely commodification of indigenous bodies, essentialism and appropriation of indigenous cultures, and the larger stakes of public battles over signs and meanings. How can Coombe’s text help us to understand the images of an essentialized primitive indigenous Papuan on coffee packaging? Can we imagine a space allowed to indigenous peoples in which it is possible to both mobilize public ignorance and survive/profit off a distinctly indigenous product without furthering more violence (eg Tanka Bars)?
Invested in understanding the sort of “changes resulting from the new emphasis on fair-trade, organic, and single origin marketing schemes,” (23) Modern Production to Imagined Primitive: The Social World of Coffee from Papua New Guinea (2012) is an ethnographic account between the local and global significance of coffee production, marketing, and consumption. Anthropologist Paige West applies her ethnographic research in the highlands region of Papua New Guinea to contextualize the historical shifts that Coffee has played out in national and international arenas. Aligning her work within the expansive fields of political ecology and consumption studies, West contextualizes her analysis of coffee’s global fluidity through the ‘commodity circuit approach’. This provides for a critical formation to know “the ways that both forms and meanings transform as commodities move, and it attempts to understand the social practices that lead to these transformations.” (20) Coffee, then, provides a necessary intervention in weeding out contemporary intricacies of global capitalism.
Modern Production grounds itself in the politics of neoliberalism and neoliberalization in order to understand the role of Papua New Guinea coffee. (26) Specifically worthwhile is West’s analysis of how neoliberal philosophy has hyper-circulated this individual global commodity, and in turn, developed consumers’ grappling of political economy, social relations, and structural inequalities. Identifying two core tenets of neoliberalism—deregulation and structural adjustment policies—West places these two socio-political ramifications and argues it has hijacked the abilities for everyday consumers to configure the intricacies of coffee labor and production.
One of the more appreciative points that I gravitated towards was West’s discussion on the imagery of capitalism. Finding “images [are] used to add value to coffee, like all images in contemporary marketing, are part of a capitalism with an extraordinary velocity,” I found this highly indicative to the very nature of western liberal economics. Ever adjusting to differential socio-cultural circumstances, West’s interrogation to the post-1980s marketing of coffee provides an illustrative example to the sponge-like nature of liberal capitalism. One means by which this process of is done is through the employment of rhetoric. For example, Papua New Guineans are continually cognitively pitted to resemble the “stereotypes of ‘indigenous’, ‘native’, and ‘tribal’ peoples” (59).
Accordingly, a capitalist ethos enlists these rhetorical devices to “liken rural peoples to ‘children’ who must be helped to understand the modern world by well-meaning outsiders, and discourses of threat and danger that characterize rural peoples who are not ‘indigenous enough’ as overpopulating, tree-cutting, over-harvesting resources users” (60-61). Here, it might be applicable to apply Tsing’s theory of friction; the perpetuation of western hegemony in defining the Other for its own political-economic purposes. This friction goes on to maintain views perpetuated in the minds of everyday consumers, whereby “retailers create stories which coffee drinkers consume” (66). Coffee, as traced in Modern Production, becomes much more than a simple morning luxury.
1) In her chapter “Frontiers of Capitalism”, Tsing conceptualizes: “Frontiers are not just edges; they are particular kinds of edges where the expansive nature of extraction comes into its own” (1). How might we view the rhetorical devices as employed to facilitate the global consumption of coffee as kinds of edges?
2) In closing her argument, West questions: “what happens when consumers get tired of hearing about people from the global South?” (255) Might not this question be expanded to include discussion points pertinent to race, gender, or sexuality? What role does/should the American university has in fostering critical conversations related to global structural inequity?
Paige West's From Modern Production to Imagined Primitive: The Social World of Coffee from Papua New Guinea (2012) uses ethnography to show how coffee (particularly specialty coffee) is produced and consumed (both in a material sense and "virtually") and how the labels assigned to these coffees by the global North have material consequences for not only Papua New Guinean growers and their attendant industries but also for consumers on a global scale.
West's focus on specialty coffees is important because she makes a distinction in terms of their marketing to consumers. This marketing creates an image of the people of Papua New Guinea as both primitive (in a "good" way, the "noble savage" story) and impoverished. This image is highly problematic because it sustains a relationship between global North and South (as West uses these terms) that is unbalanced at best and, at worst, continues to damage Papua New Guineans' ability to have much agency in their coffee industry. Consumers, "by literally buying into a troubling set of fantasy images of Papua New Guinea that are grafted onto the coffee through marketing, work to replicate dangerous ideas about indigenous people and poverty that have drastic material effects" (29).
I found myself particularly interested in how the development of neoliberal capitalism helped to foster a system of "self-regulation" that these specialty coffee companies use to further their own image as socially responsible, ecologically friendly industries. That image is expressed through labels – "fair trade-certified," "organic," "free-range," or "vegetarian" (47) – that serve to sell not only a potentially "better" coffee but also a more "aware" coffee. The industries that engage in this third-party system of self-regulation have, by labeling their products in this way, managed to commodify environmental awareness and social responsibility on a "global" scale, as well as make "ethical consumption…a lifestyle choice that marks status" (51).
The way specialty coffees are labeled is also part of a (neoliberal, according to West) process called "disembedding." This process occurs
when economic activities, like buying coffee, bec[o]me increasingly removed from the social relationships in which they had historically occurred and when the objects circulating in the economy c[o]me to be seen as fetishes seen as emerging in and of themselves and not from labor (56).
The problem with specialty coffees as West sees it is that they seem to be re-embedding consumers in a social network when, in fact, they are doing the opposite because consumers are buying from a "virtual" producer, one that has been constructed for them. Buying from a fantasy producer (the poor, primitive Papua New Guinean coffee grower) has the effect of separating the consumer from the material coffee world.
1) I know this is super general, but since I missed last week's discussion (stupid bronchitis), I'm really hoping we can connect West to Tsing. I'm still working through Tsing's concept of scale-making, and I'm wondering how we can tie in West's ethnography, especially as she talks about embedding/disembedding and how the world becomes bigger for Papua New Guineans but smaller for consumers of these coffees.
2) If the "virtual" producer is a creation of a specialty coffee company, is that image/label (however untrue or unethical) safeguarded by copyright? (Am hoping to expand this question further as I continue to think about it.)
This evening as I was doing my nightly troll on Reddit, I came across this image. It's so appropriate and inappropriate at the same time. Most of all, it's fitting when thinking about neoliberal capitalism and the effects of globalization. ~Rachel
In From Modern Production to Imagined Primitive: The Social World of Coffee from Papua New Guinea, Paige West (2012) used ethnography to chart the commodification of coffee, in all its forms, as a framework to show the often complicated social relationships between coffee producers in Papua New Guinea to the coffee consumers in the West—and all of the other links in the commodification chain in between. Stating that coffee, besides petroleum, is the most popular commodity in the world, West (2012) detailed how it has an impact upon culture, narratives, semiotics, and economics at both the national (in Papua New Guinea) and international level. This text is effective at charting the effects of globalization through coffee, a commodity that is near and dear to so many Westerner’s (especially graduate students’) hearts. By doing this West (2012) is masterful at being able to uncover the implications of global trade within a neoliberal political and economic framework.
One thing I thought was interesting was how West (2012) tied neoliberalism into production and (intellectual) property rights. Specifically, West (2012) stated: “Neoliberals propose privatizing and commodifying everything through the assigning of property rights…” (p. 27). While this is something we have talked about for the past few months, there were a couple of things that struck me about this in specific context of West’s (2012) unpacking of the term vis á vis worldwide coffee trade. The first was how Western-centric this concept of property rights really is. In Tsing’s (2005), ethnographic work in Indonesia, I started to get a sense of how Western concepts of commerce and political ideology can be damaging to areas where they have been co-opted—often with little input by citizens. In West’s (2012) ethnographic work in Papua New Guinea and beyond, I was really able to see how these concepts of privatization and neoliberal commerce can really disrupt cultures, nations and societies. For example, when she was talking about the fact that a pound of coffee at Starbucks costs $12.95, and the fact that whether it’s free trade or not, the growers and pickers will only net between $.12-$1.00 per pound in profit. However, our demand for coffee around the world is putting undue pressure on these growers in Papua New Guinea to provide enough supply for the demand without taking into consideration the cultural or social aspects that coffee symbolizes in that region. This reminded me of the macadamia nut farms of Hawaii. My father-in-law is the manager of the largest macadamia nut farm in the state of Hawaii. Even though the nut farm is within the boundaries of the United States, my father-in-law, a haole (Hawaiian term for “white person”), is still cognitively aware of the older, more relevant cultural and social aspects of macadamia nut harvests on the Big Island of Hawaii. Simultaneously, he is pulled in the other direction by the parent company to try to maximize profits and minimize losses each quarter. Like West (2012) charted, however, most of us as consumers never see the native Hawaiian and Pilipino harvesters, bent over picking for nuts under the trees, filling 50 lb. bags by hand when we go to the grocery store to indulge in a can of macadamia nuts. We do, however, complain about the price without ever understanding the complicated commodity chain that brings commodities like nuts and coffee so conveniently to us. In the end, I am reminded that macadamia nuts, like coffee are apt symbols for globalization today: seemingly simple, yet unfathomably complex in their histories, routes and meanings.
1. One of the things West (2012) talked about is the creation of the narrative to sell coffee. What do we think about the reinforcement of the “imagined primitive” as a tool to drive coffee sales? Is this a fair assessment of why we buy “exotic” coffee, or is this selling informed consumers in the West short?
2. One interesting thing that struck me was West’s (2012) assessment of Fair Trade, which, as she pointed out, is not a completely failsafe way of assuring that growers and producers are being compensated fairly or treated ethically. Thinking about how we have been challenged throughout this semester to think of other ways to challenge issues like intellectual property rights, can we think of other ways to regulate (or de-regulate) the coffee trade that would provide the compensation and ethical treatment that Fair Trade often falls short of?
Tsing, A. (2005). Friction: An ethnography of global connection. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
West, P. (2012). From modern production to imagined primitive: The social world of coffee from Papua New Guinea. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
In "From Modern Production to Imagined Primitive: The Social World of Coffee from Papua New Guinea," Paige West's (2012) detailed ethnography tracks coffee as it moves from producers in Papua New Guinea to
consumers around the world. She explains the social lives of the people who produce coffee, and those who process, distribute, market, and consume it. West describes that the Gimi peoples, who grow coffee in Papua New Guinea's highlands, are eager to expand their business and social relationships with the
buyers who come to their highland villages, with the people working in Goroka, (where much of Papua New Guinea's coffee is processed); at the port of Lae (where it is exported) and in Hamburg, Sydney, and London (where it is distributed and consumed). This rich social world is disrupted by neoliberal development strategies, which impose regulatory regimes of governmentality that are often contradictory to Melanesian ways of being in, and relating to, the world. The Gimi people are misrepresented in the specialty coffee market, that creates and uses images of primitivity and poverty to sell coffee. By implying that the backwardness" of Papua New Guineans impedes economic development, these images obscure the structural relations and global political economy that actually cause poverty in Papua New Guinea. As Page describes through her ethnography, she examines, "commodities as meaning bearers and social connectors
across the commodity ecumene for coffee...how neoliberalization needs for nature to be a commodity" (p. 31).
This book was a great reader, West is highly successful in providing a detailed and revealing ethnography and answering many questions. Her analysis of the creation of a primitive view of Papua New Guinea and the marketing nuances surrounding selling coffee are insightful. Further, I also like the way she
provides a detailed examination of the certification of coffee primarily focusing on the intricacies of Fair Trade and Organic certification. I liked her description of how marketing viewpoints such as Mr. Nebraska’s (Chapter 2) impact coffee consumers in countries such as Germany, England, Australia and the United
States. As a devoted (did not want to call myself addicted) coffee drinker West's description really challenged my ethical values. Probably because of that, this book appealed more to me than the other, even though it constantly reminded me of Tsing's conception of universalism.
1. West describes the creation of a primitive view, if we apply Tsing's conception of universalism, can we say that West's conception of the creation of a primitive image is an example of how universals are
2. West does an excellent job of framing the role of the anthropologist today and addressing the misconceptions about and changes in anthropology in recent decades (p. 181). Her conversation and interviews with the expatriates she claims shows new areas that were previously not studied by
Anthropologists. I would like to know what you all think about the section on the expatriates' critique of the local people. Can we explain it with Tsing's conception of scales?
West, P. (2012). From Modern Production to Imagined Primitive: The Social World of Coffee from Papua New Guinea. Duke University Press Books.
"From Modern Production To Imagined Primitive", by Paige West is an ethnographic expose' of the coffee plantation system in Papua New Guinea and its effects on the indigenous population. Using the literature of globalized commodification to locate herself, she presents a historical account of the colonization of New Guinea and the rise of coffee as a stable crop, alongside the ethnography of the Gimi people of the highland coffee producing region. The "commodity chain" approach to understanding the global movements of commodities such as coffee highlights the links between production, distribution, and consumption in a vertical approach. Calls for a horizontal approach that focuses on space and place helps to understand the material effects of commodity production. The commodity circuit approach attempts to understand the social practices that move things, ideas, and people in the globalization of commodities. Many Papua New Guineans visualize coffee production as a means of development and connection to the outside world. The ways in which coffee production is portrayed in coffee advertising creates desires in consumers. She quotes Harvey (1989) " Flexible accumulation has been accompanied on the consumption side, therefore, by a much greater attention to quick-changing fashions and the mobilization of all the artifices of need inducement and cultural transformation that this implies. The relatively stable aesthetic of Fordist modernism has given way to all the ferment, instability and fleeting qualities of a postmodernist aesthetic that celebrates difference, ephemerality, spectacle, fashion, and the commodification of cultural forms". The neoliberal economic ideology of privatizing and commodifying everything has affected coffee in two major ways. "First deregulation of the global coffee market that resulted in the collapse of the International Coffee Agreement in 1989 both opened the market to specialty coffee and created the structural conditions for the current "global Coffee Crisis"... The second way that neoliberalization has affected the world of coffee is through the structural adjustment programs implemented in most coffee growing countries beginning in the late 1950s. These programs, demanded of developing countries by the International Monetary Fund(IMF) and the World Bank in exchange for debt relief, new loans, and lower interest rates were of a piece with neoliberal philosophy." THe relationship between neoliberalism and certification, the ways images of indigenous authenticity are grafted onto certified commodities is " literally buying into a troubling set of fantasy images of Papua New Guinea that are grafted into the coffee through marketing, work to replicate dangerous ideas about indigenous people and poverty that have drastic material effects." Another theory of accumulation by dispossession is Marx's "primitive accumulation" in which the producers become wage laborers and their land base becomes private property, causing the inequality of producers, marketers, and consumers. Seeking a wider analysis of globalization engages both fields, consumption studies, and political ecology. Two fantasies: the pristine primitive and that of the impoverished villagers obscures the actual structural relations that give rise to poverty. Mr. Nebraska and Dean's Beans marketing narratives engage these fictional accounts. "The global agro-food system, is known to be both ecologically and socially destructive." Third party certification systems seek to connect consumers with coffee producers and their locations. The power of the consumer is excersized by choosing the ecologically freindly product that makes them feel good about consuming it. THe development of Papua New Guinea's indigenous population is seen as basically good for everyone concerned. THe masking of actual reality in the social development of coffee producers creates its own truth for sale. International firms are controlling the marketing of coffee by use of so-called fair trade. THe reality is that words like "organic", "natural", and "Fair Trade" have been co-opted by huge corporations that control the distribution of coffee. Labeling certification has become a powerful ideology. The income levels of native producers does not reflect the standard of fair trade spewed forth by the corporation marketeers. The idea of the stone age is deeply embedded in Western Civilization, along a continuum of development from stone age to modernity. Complicating the representation of ecologically noble savages that make just enough money to sustain their roles as producers without gaining access to all the riches of the consumer classes, marketeers graft fantasies about indigeneity held dear by the West. Not only do they reproduce troubling stereotypical images but they "occlude the real history and political economic position of the real producers and both the social benefits and consequences of coffee production. Quoting Kavanamur: "Despite reform efforts, the country continues to record negative growth in GDP per person and has Human Development Indicators (HDIs) that are among the lowest in the world...over a third of the population now live in absolute poverty." THe Island contains about 10% of the total species of the planet. The rapid intensification of all coffee agriculture causes a loss in diversity. The Gimi people live in communion with nature, the sweet potato, and the forest. Coffee has radically transformed both society and ecology over the past 60 years. Almost 400,000 families produce coffee in Papua New Guinea. It is their major source, often the only source of income. The Gimi people depend on gardening, hunting, and coffee production. THeir very being is their relationship with plants and animals. Coffee is a foreign invader and has caused an increase in individualism at the expence of community. As this human drama unfolds the concerns of the indigenous are relegated to stereotypical representations of marketeers to satisfy the consumer demands of the west.
Questions: What can consumers do to change the lives of the Gimi people? What can corporations do? What can governments do?