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The geographical lives of commodities: problems of analysis and critique

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In two programmatic essays, Peter Jackson has reviewed new critical research on the geographical lives of commodities. This paper offers a constructive critique of his particular reading of this research. It is argued that three major issues require urgent attention if critical geographers and fellow-travellers are to take their commodity research forward. First, there is too much imprecision in the use of the related terms 'commodities', 'commodification' and 'commoditization'. This threatens to render all three terms meaningless or at the very least confusing. Secondly, this lack of conceptual clarity is linked to the problem of superficial engagements with normative issues. It is argued that the recent geographical research on commodities has thus far glossed over important questions of both academic and lay judgement. Finally, the paper suggests that the 'modest' role for critical academics envisaged by Jackson and other commodity researchers is only defensible if questions of voice, message and audience are addressed systematically. Overall, the paper presents a menu of explanatory and normative issues that require attention if critical commodity analysts like Jackson are to maximize the potential of their research agenda.

Keywords: academics; commodification; commodities; commoditization; conceptualization; critique

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: School of Geography Manchester University Manchester M13 9PL UK

Publication date: March 1, 2004

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