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300052 The Social Life of Global Commodities (S) (SoSe 2018)

Inhalt, Kommentar

Have you ever wondered about the cup of coffee you are holding in your hands? Where does the coffee come from? Who grow it? Who process it? What part does coffee play in their lives? How does it connect their lives to yours? Is your consumption of coffee purely a matter of individual taste? What does it mean for the relationship between you and those in places through which the coffee travels on its way to the coffee shop?
This course considers such questions about a range of common commodities that are traded globally, such as coffee, tea, and banana. It aims to familiarize students with the economic, social and political mechanisms that regulate the production, distribution and consumption of such commodities. By considering these commodities as embedded in the social and political lives of producers, traders, consumers and other actors, you will be able to identify global forces and processes behind the common goods that you or people around you consume every day. This course is suited to undergraduate students who are interested in learning about issues of globalization via ethnographic studies that take familiar consumer goods as the central objects of investigation. The maximum number of students admitted is 40.

In terms of reading requirement, you are expected to read thoroughly the Introduction of Appadurai 1988 (which will be made available in advance of the course) and the monograph on your assigned commodity at a minimum, and are encouraged to read all the other core books on the reading list. The comprehensive reading of all topics will also help you to write your critical review. A copy of each core book on the list is available in the library and you are responsible for acquiring access to the books. It is highly important for students to attend all sessions in order to have a good grasp of the main issues that cut across the different commodities considered in the course.

Learning objectives:
- Introduce students to key issues of globalization and how they are embodied in the production, distribution and consumption of global commodities.
- Introduce students to theories that are applied to understand these issues
- Acquaint students with anthropological writings on global commodities and the ethnographic approach to studying them.

Key skills to develop:
• Discussion skills in the weekly workshops, including the ability to present ideas clearly, formulate a coherent argument, respond to other ideas constructively and develop confidence in one’s ability to engage with other people in a substantive discussion.
• Reading skills in the preparation of the weekly workshops, developing the ability to read significant amounts of literature in an effective and efficient manner, strengthening the capacity to develop one’s own stance towards the literature and writing that down in a concise and clear manner.
• Writing skills in the preparation of the critical reviews, including the thought processes behind the response, the assimilation of the reading, and the construction of an original and well-presented argument.
• Self-reliance, such as the ability to manage time efficiently, to meet deadlines, to be sufficiently reliable that others can depend on your inputs for group work, and to seek support from the teaching team where needed.
• Group working in the preparation of assessed presentations, the organization of meetings, task allocation, constructive collaboration and full participation.
• Presentation skills, involving the ability to synthesize information into a short presentation, to present information or ideas clearly, audibly and with the help of a poster, and to develop confidence in speaking to groups of people.


Appadurai, Arun 1996. Introduction. In The Social Life of Things: Commodities in Cultural Perspective. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History by Sidney Wilfred Mintz, Penguin, 1986

From Modern Production to Imagined Primitive: The Social World of Coffee from Papua New Guinea by Paige West, Duke University Press, 2012

The Darjeeling Distinction: Labor and Justice on Fair-Trade Tea Plantations in India by Sarah Besky, University of California Press 2014

The True History of Chocolate, Sophie D. Coe and Michael D. Coe, Thames & Hudson; 1996

Favored Flowers: Culture and Economy in a Global System by Catherine Ziegler, Duke University Press, 2007

Free Trade and Freedom: Neoliberalism, Place, and Nation in the Caribbean by Karla Slocum, University of Michigan Press, 2006

Tobacco Capitalism: Growers, Migrant Workers, and the Changing Face of a Global Industry by Peter Benson Princeton University Press, 2011

Forces of Habit: Drugs and the Making of the Modern World by David T. Courtwright, Cambridge, 2001

Clothing Poverty: The Hidden World of Fast Fashion and Second-Hand Clothes, by Andrew Brooks, Zed Books, 2015

Economies of Recycling: The global transformation of materials, values and social relations. Edited by Catherine Alexander and Joshua Reno

A World History of Rubber: Empire, Industry, and the Everyday, by Stephen L. Harp, Wiley 2016

Confronting the Blue Revolution: Industrial Aquaculture and Sustainability in the Global South, by Saidul Islam, University of Toronto Press, 2014


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Modul Veranstaltung Leistungen  
30-M25 Fachmodul Transnationalisierung, Migration und Entwicklung Seminar 1 Studienleistung
Seminar 2 Studienleistung
veranstaltungsübergreifend benotete Prüfungsleistung Studieninformation

Die verbindlichen Modulbeschreibungen enthalten weitere Informationen, auch zu den "Leistungen" und ihren Anforderungen. Sind mehrere "Leistungsformen" möglich, entscheiden die jeweiligen Lehrenden darüber.

Konkretisierung der Anforderungen

The course is structured around 12 global commodities, to each of which an ethnographic monograph is devoted (except for waste, to which an edited volume is assigned). Students are expected to work (individually or in group, depending on the number of students) on producing a poster presenting the most important issues you find out about one commodity and present it to the class for discussion. For the formal assessment, you will write a critical review of one the books indicated in the core list.

1) The poster should show (a) main groups of producers, traders, regulators and consumers and highlight (b) specific problems at various stages of the commodity’s lifecycle; c) the linkages, power relations and interdependences between the different actors involved in these stages. The poster should be concise, logical and gives a good overview of these contents, although you are encouraged to be creative in how you design the poster. If working in groups, you will take turns to present the poster to the class during your assigned session.
2) The critical review of the monograph should be between 4000-4500 words. It should contain a summary of the chapters, the main arguments, and your own evaluation of the arguments regarding their relevance and rigor, the research approach and the writing style of the book. The essay should be concisely written with a clear structure and arguments. It should also be well-formatted and properly referenced.

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