Sunday, July 06, 2008

Dangerous Questions About Bananas

Intresting blog post at SocFinance. The author points to a New York Times op-ed piece which asks the question: why is the banana, grown waaay down in the tropics, cheaper than an apple grown on US soil? This spurs the author to further ask:

We do not doubt that objects can be valuated differently, but my question is about the calculative underpinnings that sustain inequalities between food producers (humans). It is one show that pricing and valuation of goods is socio-technically produced. It is quite another to pinpoint just how these prices have, in actual cases, participated in created economic inequalities capable of wiping out entire agricultural industries and shifting the geo-politics of production in favor of some populations over others.

And then this exchange on the blog comments yield yet more interesting questions:

alisonkemper1: "I see in this post some concerns about economic justice. Can SSF help to explain why economics that reinforces unequal distribution of value created has increasingly dominated the landscape?...Are we another form of dirty hippies guised as social scientists? Why do we care about the price of bananas?"

marthapoon: "Is interest in inequality necessarily about justice? SSF has a bad rap in sociolology for being about elites. I thought the post was about ‘bredth of question’ more than anything else…! "

alisonkemper1: "The range of discourse is itself a political decision, is it not? If you begin to speak of the inequality of distribution, you will begin to look for an answer to some difficult problems that others do not wish to open.

The only rightist response to the creation and buttressing of systems of unequal distribution of goods is willful obfuscation. If you ask why the low prices of bananas picked by black people in Jamaica are predicated upon the lower worth of the pickers’ labour, you are asking a dangerous question. BTW, isn’t almost all fruit in North America picked by Mexican and Caribbean people, whether as migrants or as workers in their homes and native lands?"

marthapoon: "A choice of discourse may be political but the question is, is this politics always necessarly defined on a classical spectrum of left and right? Aren’t there analytic questions that (are politically interesting precisely because they) defy these (rapidly shifting) classifications?

What you write about labour is interesting, becuase contrary to your reading, I actually thought this piece was about how the labour of the local Carribean worker is potentially higher in value than elsewhere since this fruit is actually more expensive that the one coming from abroad."

alisonkemper1: "I have no idea why North Americans needed bananas so cheap that it was worth having paramilitary forces aligned with fruit companies. It makes little sense to me.

But we must also explain why tropical fruit prices have fallen in real terms so radically. We don’t demand cheap bananas and pineapple, we demand them at a cost not much higher than zero.

We are willing to pay for mangoes, papayas, durian, pomelos and lichis. But we have to use masked goons all over Latin America to gain the prices we want for bananas.

We must explain both phenomena: the violence as part of the price, and the difference with other tropical fruit."

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