Further evidence for the creepy injustice of being yoked up to the cheap moralistic pomo project in today’s commercialized academia
Background: I have had to review for journals way too many would-be articles asserting theoretically (without the benefit of much connection to the research literature on the topic) that people get involved in food movements in order to create class distinction.
My colleagues have begun to analyze their data from an experiment where they tested the pomo Bowderlized Bourdieuian/Latte Liberals hypothesis that the food movement is all about middle class people distinguishing themselves, via their superior consumption capacity, from other working class people.
My colleagues conducted an experiment over the past several months to test whether different kinds of people buy fairtrade coffee or mainstream coffee when they know others can see their purchasing decisions v. when they purchase in private. Do people make their food decisions based on their desire to demonstrate cultural distinction?
The results? It’s not looking good for the Bourdieu Bowdlerizers. H1 disproved. That is, it makes no difference (to their consumption practices) whether consumers think others are watching their consumption decisions or not. (In other words, most everyday people who consume fair trade are nowhere near as narcissistic as, say, academics. Shocking.) People’s fair trade consumption decisions are not about lording it over each other with class differance display.
What does matter? Gender. Women will buy fair trade rather than pocket a little extra cash. Also, political beliefs. Conservatives and leftists do not buy fair trade. Liberals do. (Greater belief in the potential class-neutrality of the market? Less need to penny-pinch, when compared to Leftists?)
I have a suggestion for the pomoistas. Give it a break with the setting up of lame distinction hypotheses revolving around atavistic, unjustifiably-reified mid-20th century culturally-determined definitions of class. Crack open a newspaper. Do you notice anything happening to class in the West? Yeah. That’s right. Bifurcation. It’s been going on for over 30 years now, and it was going on the whole time prior to 1940. There’s a differance going on right now, alright. Learn about it and in good faith peruse the theory that can shed some light on it. Also, research the literature before you submit your article.
Casino capitalism blows for the working class.
Let the rich eat cake.
Let’s make an exit option for the rest of us.
Here are some examples of cooperative network movements:
Network of Bay Area Worker Co-ops
North American Network for the Solidarity Economy
Schoening, Joel. 2009. “Cooperative replication at WAGES.” Grassroots Economic Organizing 3(2).
Japan’s Consumers’ Co-operative Union
Swedish Cooperative Center
US Federation of Worker Cooperatives
U.S. Solidarity Economy Network
Workgroup on Solidarity Socio-economy (WSSE)
Matthai, Julie, Jenna Allard and Carl Davidson. 2008. Solidarity Economy: Building Alternatives for People and Planet: Papers & Reports from the 2007 US Social Forum.
Pencavel, John. 2002. Worker Participation: Lessons from the Co-ops of the Pacific Northwest. Russell Sage.
Williams, Richard C. 2007. The Cooperative Movement. Ashgate.
Today’s entry is an introduction to the relationship between social movements and corporations as targets and countermovement organizations. This relationship is undertheorized in sociology. That means that we haven’t really organized our thoughts about what to expect when a social movement organization, in its bid for social change, targets a corporation or an industry. This gap needs to be addressed, because corporations of course already have built up a lot of organizational resources for countering a people’s social movement.
Some sociologists have begun to offer explanations for why they see the corporation as a new social movement target, but their analyses tend to be shaky because social movement scholars are not always as familiar with sociological work on state-society relations as they need to be. The fair trade coffee movement will be the case study referred to in this essay.
The political-economic opportunity structure of the fair trade movement
Emerging from two parties that reliably make money off of a crisis-riddled, unregulated coffee industry, Northern state interests and corporate interests can coincide. This extreme exploitation and concentration of coffee wealth has been massively destructive to producing communities, repeatedly, since the development of coffee as a modern commodity crop in the 19th century; and the destruction continues today. The United Nations (UN) attempted to mitigate this destructive cycle by establishing an international organization, the International Coffee Organization (ICO), which coordinated a voluntary quota system. The quota system successfully dampened crises for over twenty years, in an era of intensifying elite organization, before it collapsed amidst charges of despoiling the free-market. In defense of the coffee bean producers, the fair trade movement has advanced, targeting the coffee roaster oligopoly. Stonewalled by captured and repressive state apparatuses, efforts to address distribution problems have been forced back into the politics of production.
While a comparative-historical review reveals that the U.S. state has always been a juggernaut against progressive social movement, social movements observers note that the superpower U.S. has been a world leader and enforcer of the post-1970s right-wing retrenchment. “Governments became increasingly hostile to demands for social and economic equality, workers’ rights, and environmental regulation and protection, while the rights and power of corporations grew,” reports Schurman. The fate of the International Coffee Organization (ICO) and the world’s coffee producers are examples of the effects of this conservative offensive.
As elite politics reformed state policies in an aggressively conservative direction, they also strove to cultivate a favorable culture for their primitive accumulation program. Christopher Martin (2004) observes that the monopolized media industry labors to promote consensus around the following elite stances: that the public are simply consumers; that production is none of the working public’s business but is instead the sole purview of owners; that the site of production is a black box of utopic meritocracy that must be safeguarded from the pollution of collective action; and that the economy is driven by great business leaders who make “tough choices”. In the US, news is fully colonized. Just as at least 20 government agencies have spent more than 245 million taxpayer dollars developing and distributing propaganda called Video News Releases (VNRs), through PR firms to television stations across the country, in spending “hundreds of millions of dollars promoting consumption,” U.S. coffee companies released a coffee promotion video for PBS to air. In pursuit of concentrated profits, industry colonizes and decimates popular cultural capital through the media and the cultivation of corporate culture in the workplace.
The suffering, disabilities, and conflict overflowing from the domineering market’s corset of happiness have been increasingly dealt with as abject deviance by a more and more severe capitalist state. Social movement studies suggest that the outcome of state belligerence is mediated by the population. Sidney Tarrow’s (1998) social movement comparison holds that as governments become more authoritarian and repressive, they spawn a latent subculture of dissent, and can radicalize challengers. We know that radicalization is not the only result of state repression. Dick Houtman’s (2003) reexamination of Lipset’s authoritarianism thesis demonstrates that when people have been dispossessed of cultural capital, they tend to embrace authoritarianism. Whether challengers are radicalized, or whether authoritarianism advances depends on the distribution of cultural capital in the population.
When the state becomes an overbuilt fortress arrayed against non-elites, the optimal result from an elite viewpoint is that great portions of population without cultural capital express authoritarianism. Popular authoritarianism cements the conservative, elitist political-economy. The Anglo-American colonial and slave-society models provide prominent examples of cultural impoverishment and authoritarianism’s devastating effects on progressive social movement outcomes, democratization, and substantive equality.
But where segments of the public retain cultural capital, an intransigent state can force social movement innovation. Resourceful challengers may be forced by state belligerence to pierce commodity fetishism and address the expropriating relations that facilitate elites to capture the state. Challengers such as fair trade movement actors can work to modify the expropriating relations of production by targeting elites’ institutions of accumulation. In the contemporary context of state repression and advancing authoritarianism, social movements scholars have begun to observe the rise of social activism addressing private capital anew. Facing private capital’s fortifications directly, the fair trade movement attempts to use the organizational political opportunity structure of the coffee industry, to attain credibility, and to achieve new advantages for its constituency.