GLOBAL CAPITALISM ORGANIZING KNOWLEDGE OF RACE, GENDER AND CLASS: THE CASE OF SOCIALLY RESPONSIBLE COFFEE

Author: 
Nicki Lisa Cole
Publication Date: 
2008
Summary: 
What knowledge travels along, and is injected into, the global commodity chain of coffee, on its path from tree to cup? In this paper the author examines the discourse and imagery employed by the socially responsible niche of the global coffee market to determine what the final product itself tells us about its roots, its travels, and the web of capitalist relations of production and consumption that surrounds it.
Abstract: 
I analyze the packaging, promotional and informational materials, and web text of coffee websites and find that the patterns of the discourse of socially responsible coffee suggest knowledge of coffee farmers, global capitalism, and the consumer self that pivot around axes and intersections of race, gender, and class. I argue that the contours of this discourse serve to rearticulate the dominant relations of global capitalist production and consumption in everyday life in the United States. Using racialized and culturally essentialized depictions of coffee farmers and their locales, I argue the discourse and its imagery rearticulates the established global division of labor between the global south and north. The discourse and imagery functions as an extension of colonial paternalist ideology that rests on the presumed need of coffee farmers, and is juxtaposed against benevolent consumers, who the discourse describes as socially responsible, ethical beings who do good by participating in the global system of capitalism.