Consuming the Campesino: Fairtrade Marketing between Recognition and Romantic Commodification

Matthias Zick Varul
Publication Date: 
This paper aims to reconstruct the everyday moral plausibility of fair trade consumerism by linking it back to an analysis of the moral grammar of capitalist consumer culture and understanding it as both an actualization and development of this moral grammar.
Fair trade movements re-moralize global markets by insisting on a just price for Third-World produce. The paradigm for fair exchange is the equitability implied in ordinary practices of commodity exchange while such equitability is constantly negated by the fact of capitalist accumulation. Fair trade is also an attempt to tap into the recognition function of market exchange in order to move away from charity and its paternalistic implications. As this proves not entirely possible on a voluntary basis, the price gap between conventionally traded and fair trade products needs to be justified by non-altruistic motives such as increased material and symbolic use values. These include romanticized images of commodified agricultural and artisanal producers. In this romanticization, fair trade conjures up the ghost of colonialism-failing to deliver full equity and recognition, but thereby also insisting on the need for final de-colonization.