DS0805 - Droit, démocratie, gouvernance et nouveaux référentiels

The political Life of commodities Qualitative Approach of transnational flows – VIPOMAR

VIPOMAR/POLICO : The Political Life of Commodities

A Qualitative Study of Transnational Circulation <br />

Context, economic and social issues

Since the last half of the 20th century, intensified trade at the global level has produced important impacts on social order as well as on relationships between societies that have become increasingly interconnected. The end of the Cold War and rise of economic liberalization supported an acceleration of the circulation of people, commodities, and ideas. The growing importance of the circulation of commodities on a large scale has revolutionized the organization of production and forms of consumption, while at the same time raising questions about regulation, the classic prerogative of the nation-state. Globalization produces ambivalent, even contradictory, effects that may be observed at various scales. These effects can be seen as forms of accelerated economic decline that affect an entire country, a particular economic sector, or a class. <br /> <br />At the same time, these rearrangements can produce new opportunities as expressed by the rapid enrichment of a territory or country. This can also provoke unexpected social mobility. In the context of globalization, the issue of regulation exceeds State limits and becomes a key political challenge for understanding how the organization of these new social and economic realities is becoming increasingly complex. <br />

Within this project, each researcher is producing a case study on the complex trajectory of a commodity that connects distant political and economic spaces, selected according to the political, economic or symbolic importance that it holds for the actors and societies involved. Some researchers are studying the globalization of commodities whose production can be easily industrialized, while others favor the study of commodities strongly linked to social and territorial practices and skills. Researchers conduct qualitative multi-sited investigations to observe concrete practices and strategies on different levels. The aim of this comparative approach is to document and analyze the variety of effects and political configurations caused by the large-scale circulation of commodities.Commodities are considered primarily as an anthropological way to understand the creation of major political dynamics. A key assumption is that the large-scale circulation of goods cannot be reduced to simply its economic dimension, but has direct socio-political effects. Behind a commodity there are social networks that are constructed and territories created that connect at multiple levels while crossing cultural models and social organizations. Increased trade leads to two major political dimensions that the VIPOMAR project intends to analyze: first, the emergence of transnational economic networks that become transnational political forces threatening the historical role of national elites; secondly, the territorial expression of this phenomenon shown through the emergence of various political locations that have specific functions in the organization of the global economy.

VIPOMAR focuses on the effects of changes in large-scale production, circulation, and regulation of commodities on the political imaginary and practices. VIPOMAR finds itself at the crossroads of different fields that converge toward the study of flows and trade routes, while bringing additional reflection based on the effects and political places induced by globalization. A central hypothesis of this project is that the intense circulation of commodities provokes the emergence of actors and transnational networks that relate to the State in manner that is different from the traditional elites generally associated with national bureaucracy. VIPOMAR would like to draw particular attention to the study of social relationships built through the large-scale circulation of commodities in a perspective of studying emerging transnational political forms. Circulation causes a reformulation of the value and the status of a commodity and involves a multitude of actors who exchange and negotiate with regulation organizations such as States, international bodies, and private entities. A transversal dimension also contributes to an anthropological reflection on commodities by focusing instead on expertise and certification by different organizations of the regulation of flows. Contemporary commodities are not only impersonal economic goods that can be studied as they circulate without considering dimensions related to identity, society, aesthetics, and politics. In the current context, the massive circulation of commodities and dynamics of importation/exportation can have considerable social and political effects whose implications are sometimes misjudged. Wine, cheese, art, textiles, medication, motorcycles, qât, and cocoa will act as gateways for the concentrate analysis of trade and social practices that develop within large-scale networks.

Anthropology of the contemporary is at the heart of the analysis of complex connections induced by globalization. The societies and territories traversed by its logic do not disappear, but reformulate themselves. The strength of VIPOMAR comes from its capacity to produce empiric data on transnational networks and places where current major economic and political logics are developed. The first originality of the VIPOMAR project is that it will simultaneously study modes of production and forms of circulation of commodities and regulation, as well as analyzing the political effects produced by their articulation. The second originality lies within its resolutely empiric approach that differs from economic approaches focusing primarily on quantitative data, such as that of political science privileging an institutional and normative dimension of global exchange, as well as other approaches in anthropology within which discursive analysis holds priority over fieldwork. The third innovative element is its introduction of a reflection through commodities in order to observe social dynamics and especially concrete politics that cross production territories or national political spaces. The complexification of the production and expansion of markets implies forms of regulation displacement. We propose to study the changes that are produced within modes of governance and systems of regulation open to the global economy, captured from concrete practices and the trajectories of actors involved in these transformations.

VIPOMAR takes place over three periods. The first period is dedicated to three main tasks: the beginning of the collective approach with the organization of three thematic workshops; the launch of individual field-based research; and the delivery of relat

“The Political Life of Commodities” (VIPOMAR) seeks to produce a reflection on the political effects of the liberalization of the world economy. Based on a qualitative approach, eight anthropologists will study the trajectories of goods involved in large-scale circulation to provide an analysis of the transformation of governance. Each researcher will produce a "biographical" study of a commodity (wine, cocoa, cheese, textiles, coffee, qât, motorcycles, contemporary art, medication), especially focusing on the political displacements caused by the transformation of their production, circulation and regulation. This ethnographic approach will focus on the analysis of transnational networks and proposes an original reflection on places of connection. The project will pay particular attention to the emerging role of “hubs” as key places of connection related to global trade. The hub is seen as a strategic political location related to global governance. One hypothesis of the project postulates that the ethnography of these places of exchange offers an opportunity to analyze social practices and consumption patterns that produce new forms of social distinctions. The qualitative investigation will examine the emergence of transnational elites who engage a new logic of their relationship with the State and “politics” in general. This project therefore addresses a major theoretical question related to the contemporary transformation of governance and of elites.
An investigation of the political life of commodities goes beyond the classical division of cultural areas. By examining the exchanges between Africa (Cameroon, Ethiopia, Niger), Europe (France, Italy, Switzerland), and Asia (China, India), the project goes beyond cultural and geographic boundaries and engages a comparative approach. The circulation of researchers between the study sites will contribute to new knowledge of contemporary forms of governance within the context of globalization. Each researcher will produce a case study through multi-sited fieldwork that examines different scales of participation, from local to global.
This collaborative project is built upon a strong consortium of eight anthropologists. This team will collaborate with the MUCEM (Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilizations) research department to create multimedia tools that represent the findings of this study in an original and accessible way. In addition, the team will also collaborate with the Hong Kong Institute for Social Sciences and Humanities in order to contribute to the institute’s priority research theme of globalization hubs. The structure of the consortium aims to give its researchers the opportunity to produce knowledge in supportive conditions, as well as share their research findings at the international level with diverse audiences.
VIPOMAR focuses on a strategic issue for the political and economic future of Europe. By examining changes in production, food consumption, luxury goods, raw materials, and manufactured goods, the project will analyze in detail the changes in Europe, but also the transformation of political and economic relations in Africa where France and Europe are experiencing increasing competition from China. Findings of this research project will offer a way for economic and political decision-makers to better understand the issues related to the transformation of regulation and displacement of influence in the global economy. VIPOMAR will offer in particular a key analysis of how the displacement of economic influence towards emerging hubs is a strategic political issue for France and Europe.

Project coordinator

Monsieur Boris PETRIC (Centre Norbert Elias - Centre National de la Recherche Scientique Délégation provence Corse)

The author of this summary is the project coordinator, who is responsible for the content of this summary. The ANR declines any responsibility as for its contents.


LISST Laboratoire Interdisciplinaire Solidarité, Sociétés, Territoires
HKIHSS Hong Kong Institute for Humanities and Social Sciences
OMD Organisation mondiale des douanes
MUCEM Musée des Civilisations de l'Europe et de la Méditerranée
IIAC Institut Interdisciplinaire d’Anthropologie du Contemporain
CNE, CNRS DR12 Centre Norbert Elias - Centre National de la Recherche Scientique Délégation provence Corse

Help of the ANR 398,999 euros
Beginning and duration of the scientific project: September 2014 - 36 Months

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