Reading fair trade: political ecological imaginary and the moral economy of fair trade foods

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This paper begins to explore the changing political geographies of alternative development as practiced and envisioned in the global South. Looking specifically at the growing movement and market for fair trade foods, this form of alternative development has become the moral business of latte drinkers and other reflexive consumers in Europe and the US. Fair trade attempts to reconnect producers and consumers economically, politically, and psychologically through the creation of a transnational moral economy. This re-connection is accomplished through material and semiotic commoditization processes that produce fair trade commodities. The semiotic production of these commodities and their traffic in particular 'political ecological imaginaries' is essential to the formation of ethical production-consumption links, acting to also politicize consumption and fair trade eaters. Fair trade's moral economy rides the tension between the ethical relationships it fosters and the need for the wily characteristics of enterprise in the construction of transnational trade networks. Bringing recent work on moral geography to bear, constructing this moral economy is an attempt to facilitate a sense of 'solidarity in difference' in the experiences of global economic inequalities between North and South and growers and eaters. At the same time, fair trade networks look to produce an expansive 'spatial dynamics of concern' in the fashioning of ethical places of production and consumption. The paper concludes with a brief discussion of the continuing dilemmas critical for fair trade and suggestions for further empirical study of fair trade provisioning and alternative development networks. (C) 2004 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)891 - 915
Number of pages25
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2004

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