Tag Archives: labour

Commodity geographies: bringing liveliness into the fold

Maan Barua, British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow, School of Geography and the Environment, University of Oxford

figure-1-panda-bees

Left: The ‘panda effect’: giant pandas escalated Edinburgh zoo visitation rates and merchandize sales © Credit: Todorov.petar.p CC-SA 4.0; Right: Transporting bees to pollinate orchards is now a growing industry © Credit: Migco CC-SA 4.0.

In December 2011, a pair of giant pandas arrived in Edinburgh zoo. Flown in 5,000 miles from Sichuan, they triggered what some have called ‘the panda effect’: visitation rates and merchandize sales escalated. Income increased by 53%, rescuing the zoo from almost going bankrupt (Anon., 2013) . In an analogous vein, transporting bee hives to pollinate crops is a growing industry in the USA and Europe. Crashes in pollinating insect populations means farm and orchard owners are now willing to pay as much as $200 per hive for the service (Kleinman, 2016). Pandas and bees are examples of ‘lively commodities’ par excellence: commodities whose value derives from their status as living being.

Lively commodities strike at the heart of conventional geographical and political economic thinking about production, consumption and exchange. In no way are they made by capital, although they can become part of capitalist accumulation and reproduction. If socially-necessary labour time embodied in a thing indexes the value of commodities (cf. Marx, 1976), the value of lively commodities cannot be understood through analytics solely focused on human actions. As Sarah Whatmore, presciently observed in Hybrid Geographies over a decade ago, what is at stake are ‘lively currents’ in an ‘inter-corporeal commotion’. They amount to much more than ‘traffic in things set in motion by exclusively human subjects’ (Whatmore, 2002; p.118).

In my recent paper titled ‘Nonhuman labour, encounter value, spectacular accumulation: the geographies of a lively commodity’, I develop a set of relational diagnostics for understanding how liveliness – living potentials and material forces – configure political economies of capitalist accumulation. Tracking archival stories of lion trophy hunting in colonial India, and subsequent commodification of lions in 20th century ecotourism enterprise, I show how liveliness emerges at particular historical junctures and assay the circumstances in which it is brought into the fold of capitalist reproduction. Central to this endeavour is to make evident commodity lives: how animals’ worlds undergo changes when commodified and conversely, ways in which material and ecological lives have bearings upon the commodification process. I then turn to mobilizations of lions as ‘lively capital’ – the various ways in which animals, or their body parts, are set in motion to open up possibilities for further valorization.

Drawing upon these empirics, the paper posits a triad of concepts – nonhuman labour, encounter value, spectacular accumulation – that provide insights for understanding relations between ecology and the economy.

Nonhuman labour is an intransitive activity performed by animals and plants, immanent to many commodities that are on sale in contemporary economies. Nonhuman labour goes into circulating animal and plant bodies as well as their parts. The production of ‘ecosystem services’, the generation of consumptive encounters with charismatics in zoos, are contingent upon bodily labours of animals. Nonhuman labour is integral to the generation of what I, following Donna Haraway (2012), term encounter value: the value of a commodity derived not just from human labour embodied in it, but co-configured by lively potentials themselves (also see: Barua, 2016). When considered part of a tripartite structure with use and exchange value, encounter value enables understanding ways in which nonhuman labour becomes vital, value-forming practice (Barua, 2015). The labour of bees in co-producing many of the commodities that end up in supermarket shelves are a case in point.

I further argue that contemporary capitalist economies gravitate toward producing spectacular natures. They are specular: encounters with lively commodities are constantly orchestrated, reiterated and amplified, giving them a currency of their own. They are also speculative. As I show in the case of lions, the animals are deployed to set new forms of accumulation in motion, with dynamic effects and promissory orientations in dispersed spaces. The consumptive spectacle triggered by pandas is yet another example of spectacular accumulation at work.

With nature fast becoming a frontier for accumulation, ongoing geographical debates on commodification have significant charge and critical import. Understanding how lively potentials configure or thwart such processes adds to these debates. Furthermore, products of nonhuman labour are not automatically aligned with the logics of capital. They retain the potential for being value-forming for other socio-ecological projects. Attending to these tensions is likely to be a fruitful geographical intervention, especially in a world that is increasingly becoming contingent upon the exchange, sale and consumption of lively commodities.

About the author: Maan Barua is a British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow at the School of Geography and the Environment, University of Oxford, and is also an Early Career Fellow of Somerville College. Maan’s work engages political ecology and posthumanist thought to develop new understandings of the geographies of nature.

References

60-world2 Anon. 2013 Edinburgh pandas help zoo to turn around its fortunes. BBC News 07 May 2013 http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-edinburgh-east-fife-22441069

books_icon Barua M 2015 Encounter: Living Lexicon for the Environmental Humanities Environmental Humanities 7 265-270

books_icon Barua M 2016 Lively Commodities and Encounter Value Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 34 725-744

books_iconBarua M 2016 Nonhuman labour, encounter value, spectacular accumulation: the geographies of a lively commodity. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers. doi: 10.1111/tran.12170

books_icon Haraway D 2012 Value-Added Dogs and Lively Capital in Sunder Rajan K ed Lively Capital: Biotechnologies, Ethics and Governance in Global Markets, Duke University Press, Durham and London 93-120

60-world2 Kleinman Z 2016 Can tech keep the world’s bees buzzing? BBC News http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-37386490

books_icon Marx K 1976 Capital: A Critique of Political Economy, Volume I Fowkes B trans Penguin Books London

books_icon Whatmore S 2002 Hybrid geographies: natures, cultures, spaces. Sage London

‘A woman’s place is in the kitchen’: Changing culinary culture

Kate Whiston, University of Nottingham

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Source: Wikimedia Commons

In a recent article, Meah (2016) discusses the space of the kitchen – seemingly mundane and neglected by geographical study – and the ways in which it has evolved through time to become more than just a food preparation area for the confinement of women.

“A woman’s place is in the kitchen” is a well-known, oft-used phrase. Last month, BT Sport presenter Lynsey Hipgrave was subjected to this type of misogynistic abuse on social media following her criticism of Lionel Messi’s controversial un-sportsmanlike penalty. Amongst the sexist replies she received were; “we need sandwiches not opinions” and “somewhere there’s a kitchen and it’s missing something”.  Whilst there are some who still rigidly live by this sexist mantra, there is lots of evidence that such marginalisation of women using sexist delineations of space is starting to be dispelled. Whilst Nigella Lawson’s heavily sexualised cookery programmes do women’s cause no favours, the proliferation of successful male chefs on The Great British Bake Off, in reputable restaurants, and as celebrity chefs, suggest that kitchen culture is changing. In a recent article in the Independent, French Chef Alain Ducasse, owner of 23 Michelin-star restaurants in seven countries, suggested that the changing ‘macho kitchen culture’ was displacing the old sexist stereotype. Ducasse even highlighted a lack of female chefs in France, leading him to establish the ‘Femmes en Avenir’ (Women of the Future) programme in association with the French government in 2011. The programme encourages women in the outskirts of Paris to gain culinary qualifications, in order to pursue a career in cooking.

Meah’s (2016) article provides the historical background that explains why women have long been associated with the kitchen. Historically, the kitchen was a space occupied by working class women, either as maids or cooks for the wealthy, or in their own kitchens. The kitchen was at the rear of the house, out of public view; gendered labour concealed from the rest of society. This is similar to Erving Goffman’s (1959) The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life, in which he explains how our identities are performed sometimes less explicitly, hidden from others, in what he calls the ‘back stage’. The kitchen became the symbolic heart of domesticity and the women that produced this sense of domesticity were often marginalised.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Meah (2016), however, argues that the kitchen was transformed from a space of production to a space of consumption, with the evolution of modern kitchen design in the twentieth century, the kitchen becoming an ideological battle ground. Mass housing projects during the inter-war period, she argues, favoured standardised, modernist kitchen spaces, designed to be efficient and functional. By scientifically arranging space within the kitchen to make it more productive, daily life and behaviour were also changed. Functionalist designers of the 1930s saw the repetitive and productive model of factory assembly lines as the ideal method for both easing the housewife’s work and making it more efficient. By reducing the housewife’s need to move around the kitchen, making everything within reaching distance, the routinisation of her work meant cooking was less of a pleasure and more of a practical task. Moving into the 1940s, Meah (2016) traces the emergence of the kitchen-living room arrangement, a space which enabled families to eat their meals in a separate space to the food preparation area, but a low-partition wall meant that the housewife was not isolated whilst at work in the kitchen. Open-plan living spaces, therefore, further redefined the kitchen, showing the resistance of both women and kitchen spaces.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Meah (2016) identifies another societal change, still seen today, which further changed the culture of kitchens. By the 1950s, she argues, women were engaged in paid employment outside the home, becoming increasingly independent and industrious. We see this today to an even greater extent, with the employment of women in some really prominent positions such as merchant bankers, lawyers, doctors, or business owners. The emergence of the career-orientated woman has further led to the separation of women from the kitchen, as they no longer have the time or the inclination to slave away in the kitchen for hours preparing food whilst their husbands work all day. Societal transformations in work, leisure, and gender roles have transformed the kitchen into, what Meah (2016), calls an ‘orchestrating concept’. Kitchens have become spaces where numerous practices and elements are structured and held together, making it both material and symbolic. They are arenas for the performance of everyday life; be it food preparation and eating, playing out relationships with family members and hosting parties, or many non-food activities such as watching TV, reading the paper, and caring for pets.

The personalisation, and sometimes feminisation, of the kitchen space has altered the ways in which kitchens are experienced and consumed. Most notably, the aesthetic of the kitchen is used as an expression of identity. Meah (2016) argues that the space of the kitchen has become a site of memory, a sort of private museum, in which personal objects are kept and displayed which tell personal stories. Collectible silverware, wedding china, and other gifts are often displayed in the kitchen, prized possessions that each have their own story to tell. Fridges and notice boards display collages of mementos and snapshots of lives; fridge-magnet souvenirs, postcards, children’s drawings, photographs, appointment cards, party invitations, and ticket stubs are just a few of the items that may make up such an eclectic archive of family history. This not only shows the portability of memory, but also transforms the kitchen from a space, used and lived in, to a meaningful place of personal importance.

The kitchen has therefore undergone many changes through history, becoming more than just a space for women to make food. Women have also been transformed; from passive consumers and oppressed labourers to active participants in a meaningful and constantly changing space.

books_iconMeah, A. (2016). “Extending the Contested Spaces of the Modern Kitchen”, Geography Compass, 10(2):41-55.

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Guardian Sport (2016) Lynsey Hipgrave hits out at sexist abuse after criticising Lionel Messi

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Casey, L. (2016) Alain Ducasse interview: The French chef on women in the kitchen, and life in Paris after the attacks The Independent

Gender Divisions of Labour

By Alanna Linn

The division of labour is often a topic of debate. For example, two recent commentary pieces in the Guardian discussing men, housework and the ability of women to ‘have it all’ have resulted in extensive comments and heated debate.

The recently released Family and Work Report from the Second European Quality of Life Survey finds that whilst there is significant diversity of household and family arrangements, there is a clear gender dimension. People aged 35-49, especially women, have the greatest share of unpaid work in the home, which does not differ greatly across countries, unlike for men.

The need to develop policies that support the democratic sharing of labour is discussed in the new book by Walter Von Dongen, reviewed by Jan Windebank in the March 2010 edition of The Geographical Journal.  Von Dongen argues that the ‘male breads winner’ model is being gradually replaced, albeit at different rates across Europe, by a new ‘Combination’ model, which results in greater symmetry between men and women’s participation in labour – both in the home and in the workforce. In looking forward, Von Dongen promotes the development of policy which will allow men and women to both have a high level of participation in professional work and a largely equal division of labour, whilst retaining the freedom for individuals to choose less equal divisions of labour if so desired – a right Von Dongen considers essential in any democratic society.

Read recent commentaries in The Guardian here and here

Read the Eurofound Second European Quality of Life Survey: Family life and work Report

Read the review of Walter Von Dongen’s book in The Geographical Journal

Migration for development

By Jenny Lunn

The UNDP’s Human Development Report 2009 focused on the role of mobility in increasing human development. The report identified that voluntary migration provides higher incomes and more opportunities to those who move and also has beneficial effects on the areas that send and those that receive the migrants.

Ben Rogaly’s article in Geography Compass examines one particular type of economic migrant: unorganised temporary migrant workers, defined as those who travel away from their usual place of residence for just a few weeks or months. His field research in eastern India looked at men who combined crop production on subsistence plots in their village with local wage work and temporary migration for agricultural work.

He found that the temporary migration did, indeed, bring some benefits. One labourer explained that by travelling to a neighbouring village to do agricultural work he was more likely to be paid promptly for his work, whereas in his own village complex relations of patronage often meant delayed payment. It also emerged that some engage in temporary migrant work as a strategy to raise resources to start a small trade or business. On the other hand, temporary migrants experience harsh work regimes and dangerous conditions. One person explained the physical pain he experienced when working in a potato cold storage where he was required to carry loads of fifty to sixty kilos for a stretch of three to four hours. Another described the risks he took to earn more money, such as sleeping at night on a travelling lorry to avoid losing a day’s trading.

Temporary migration for work has both positives and negatives, but the scales must weigh on the side of the advantages for all those who choose to do it. The overall impact on human development, though, is variable.

Read the article in Migration News about the 2009 Human Development Report on mobility

Read Ben Rogaly’s article in Geography Compass about unorganised temporary migrant workers