Power and Resistance within Commodity Chains, 1800-2000
Third Annual International Workshop of the Commodities of Empire Project

Open University, Camden, London. 29 June 2009

The Ferguson Centre for African and Asian Studies (Open University) and the Caribbean Studies Centre (London Metropolitan University) jointly organised the third annual international workshop of the Commodities of Empire project.

The serious financial crisis in which the world finds itself today is a contemporary manifestation of a global commodity system which has been built up over time and is the project’s object of analysis. The workshop sought to explore further these historical antecedents and contribute particularly to the growing research interest in the concept of the ‘commodity chain’, understood as a transnational network of processes (i.e. extending beyond the local but not necessarily ‘global’ in scope) that moves a product along different stages from production to consumption. In particular, it will aim to explore: first the different power positions among actors involved in the chain (producers, traders, transporters, consumers) paying particular attention to the significance of prevailing economic and political regimes; and second, the various modes and strategies of local resistance to the attempted imposition of export-oriented commodities by colonial and/or foreign interests.

Workshop: Re-Appropriating World Market Production –
Chains in the Project of Postcolonial Development (1920-2000)

University of Berne, Switzerland. 18–19 June 2009

This workshop was organised by the Historical Institute and the Institute for Social Anthropology at Berne University (Switzerland) in collaboration with the Commodities of Empire Project.

A perspective that explicitly focuses on post-colonial nation-states and looks at how commodity chains were established within competing projects of development and modernisation after World War II can shed new light on world economic developments happening from the 1980s onward. This workshop aimed to bring together papers which looked at the emergence of neo-liberal and structural adjustment policies from a wider perspective and thus question periodisations of globalisation and the often core-centred approaches to macro-scale developments. Because this perspective has the potential to show that events in the so-called peripheries actually triggered the slow-down of the growth of capitalism and the spectacular growth of finance capitalism in the West from the 1980s onward, it is important to take the postcolonial re-appropriation of world market production in the respective nation-states as a first empirical consideration.

The aim of the workshop was thus to compare different projects of postcolonial development, their origins and their trajectories in a comparative perspective that focuses on a single commodity central to the respective nation-state’s ideology of development.

Workshop: History of Commodities and Commodity Chains
Konstanz, Germany. 27-28 February 2009

The Center of Excellence ‘Cultural Foundations of Integration’ (University of Konstanz) and the International Institute of Social History (Amsterdam) jointly held a workshop on the history of commodities and commodity chains. An increasing number of research projects, both of junior and senior scholars, deals with the social, economic or cultural history of agricultural, mineral or manufactured commodities like tea, coffee, tobacco, indigo, cane sugar, gold, diamonds, textiles, etc. A few projects also situate the history of these commodities in commodity chains, that is in tree-like sequences of production processes and exchanges by which a product for final consumption is produced.