From Farms To Tables: Producing and Debating Value in the Organic Market in China

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This dissertation studies how state actors and market actors compete for symbolic power in defining value and evaluation by examining the valuation of organics in China. I show that, while the state attempted to dictate the value order in the organic market through certification criteria, the certification does not address the link between qualification and the symbolic meaning of organics, that is, why organic quality should be measured this way. This inadequacy leaves space for alternative interpretations of organic consumption by different stakeholders, such as producers, retailers, and consumers. As a result, an uncertified organic market emerges where the service relationship becomes a competing judgment device used by consumers to infer the symbolic value of organics and the integrity of production. The organizers of the uncertified market argue that the value of organics is rooted in caring for the farmers, the consumers, and the environment as a community. So, they champion the qualification that focuses intensively on performing trustworthiness rather than giving plain technical explanations. I argue that the affective labor of marketers has become a powerful vehicle of valuation. This implies that the manipulation of consumers’ emotional selves may become a new source of symbolic power in the market, and the tie-making between producers and consumers may be increasingly outsourced to value matchmakers. Sales organization also perform transparency to prove the integrity of the production. But this performance does not eliminate uncertainty in quality, but rather becomes a tool to sustain trustworthiness in an extreme uncertain environment. This trend, however, may not benefit producers who lack cultural and economic capital to engage in affective labor.

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Friedman, Elias

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Garip, Filiz
Besky, Sarah
Zinda, John

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Ph. D., Sociology

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Doctor of Philosophy

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dissertation or thesis

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