Commodity Studies Working Group

The IIPPE Commodity Studies Working Group (CSWG) aims to bring together researchers from both Marxist and heterodox economic traditions interested in developing and critically applying new methodologies and frameworks in the analysis of commodity production, exchange and consumption in the contemporary world economy.

Research into commodities has proliferated within heterodox economics over the last decade or so, as have associated conceptual frameworks which include the Global Commodity Chains, Global Value Chains, Global Production Networks, Filière, Systems of Provision (SOP) and other approaches. These approaches represent useful attempts to investigate forms of commodity production-consumption linkages in contemporary global capitalism and developmental and distributive outcomes. So far, however, there has been a paucity of analytical work that utilises the categories of Marxist political economy in ‘commodity studies’, except for the SOP approach. The IIPPE Commodity Studies Working Group (CSWG) aims to bring together researchers from both Marxist and heterodox economic traditions interested in developing and critically applying new methodologies and frameworks in the analysis of commodity production, exchange and consumption in the contemporary world economy.

In so doing, the CSWG will utilise the aims of IIPPE as its core guiding principles. The Group is particularly interested in bringing together a diverse range of researchers from different economic traditions to:

  • provide a forum for conversation and joint work to the mutual benefit of us all;
  • to develop a range of activities to advance the perspectives of political economy across this field of enquiry; and
  • to extend the work of the CSWG within the wider research community, including in relation to progressive development policy and social movements.

Current Members

  • Sam Ashman completed a PhD in International Political Economy at the University of Birmingham in 2006 (‘Globalisation as Uneven Development’) where she also taught political economy. She now teaches International Development at UEL. Her research interests lie in the area of global political economy and development, particularly uneven and combined development, Marxist value theory, accumulation and dispossession, and neo-liberalism and the state. She is a member of the editorial board of Historical Materialism.
  • Hannah Bargawi is a Phd student in the Economics department at SOAS and is in the third year of full-time study. She is working on the experience of commodity prices and price instability by Tanzanian cotton and coffee producers since liberalisation. She is part of a wider Swiss-funded project on Primary Commodities that is based at SOAS.
  • Elva Bova is a PhD candidate at SOAS. Her research is on the macroeconomic management of the copper price cycle in Zambia, with particular reference to exchange rate policy. Her main interests are on monetary and exchange rate policy in mineral-dependent low income countries. Also, she is interested in working more on the privatization of the mining sector and its implications for macroeconomic policy. Elva works on a research project on exchange rates funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation.
  • Liam Campling is currently a PhD candidate in Development Studies at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. His research examines two commodity chains in canned tuna (centred on the EU and US respectively) with a focus on their developmental relationships with Fiji and Seychelles. His empirical emphasis here is on relations between capital. He has published on development in small island states, the politics of international trade relations, and commodity studies in Journal of Developing Societies, Journal of Agrarian Change (with Henry Bernstein), Sustainable Development (with Michel Rosalie), Island Studies Journal (with Elizabeth Havice), and Development Policy Review (with Jesper Nielson and Stefano Ponte). He is on the Editorial Board of the journal Historical Materialism and edited a special issue of this journal on ‘Marxism and African Realities’, and is Reviews Editor of Journal of Agrarian Change.
  • Gavin Capps is a PhD candidate in the Development Studies Institute of the London School of Economics and a Research Associate of the Centre for Sociological Research of the University of Johannesburg. His current research, relevant to the CSWG, is on the South African platinum mining industry. He has also previously published on issues in international political economy, including: P. Panayiotopoulos and G. Capps (eds) ‘World Development: An Introduction’ (Pluto).
  • Gavin Fridell is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Politics at Trent University in Peteroborough, Ontario, Canada. He has recently published a book entitled Fair Trade Coffee (University of Toronto Press) and is currently working on a new project on international commodity agreements, with a focus on both the local and global dimensions of the coffee and banana industries.
  • Kate Macdonald is currently based in the Government Department at the London School of Economics and Political Science. She teaches Global Politics and Global Political Economy of Development, and her research is in the fields of global political economy and global governance, with a particular focus on supply chain governance. She has previously worked as a Research Fellow at the Centre for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics at the Australian National University, and as Research Officer at the Department of Politics and International Relations at the University of Oxford.
  • Alessandra Mezzadri is a PhD candidate in the department of Development Studies at SOAS, where she is teaching assistant for the courses of Political Economy of Development and Globalisation, governance and development. Her research interests focus on Globalisation, industrial development and labour, and the political economy of India. She has done short term consultancy work for DFID and UNIDO, and she has written about the impact of corporate social responsibility and the the nature of the feminisation of labour in the Indian garment sector.
  • Susan Newman is a PhD Candidate in the Department of Economics, SOAS. Her research looks at changes in the relationship between derivatives and physical markets for coffee that have taken place since 1973, and subsequently the collapse of the international coffee agreement in 1989, in terms of the processes of price realisation, price risk management and implications on character of accumulation along coffee chains. Susan works on a research project on primary commodities funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation.
  • Ben Selwyn is currently Lecturer in Global Politics and International Development at the University of Southampton. He received his PhD in 2007 from the School of Oriental and African Studies entitled ‘Export Grape Production and Development in North East Brazil.’ His main interests are on global commodity chains, labour in the international system, and the State’s role in development. He has recently published ‘Labour Process and Workers Bargaining Power in Export Grape Production, North East Brazil’ in the Journal of Agrarian Change, and is working on a number of articles on labour and upgrading aspects of the North East Brazilian Grape Branch.
  • John Smith, PhD candidate, Sheffield (Politics Department). Dramatic international wage differences provide capitalists in imperialist nations with two ways to boost profits: by moving production processes to where labour is cheaper (whether to a subsidiary or an independent supplier), or by forming a pool of super-exploitable migrant labour at home. My research investigates the first of these, and tests the capacity of Marxist value theory, value-chain analysis and the neo-classical mainstream to explain it.
  • Guido Starosta is a Hallsworth Research Fellow in Political Economy in the Department of Politics, University of Manchester (UK). He teaches on Latin American Politics and his research interests lie in the political economy of development with a regional focus in Latin America. He has also been working on the theoretical and methodological dimensions of Marx’s critique of political economy. His recent interest in commodity chains stems from an attempt to bring those two strands of research together, with the aim of comprehending that novel configuration of the world market on the basis of the Marxian ‘law of value’.
  • Julia Tijaja is a PhD student at the Department of Development Policy and Practice (the Open Univesity) under the supervision of Prof. Raphael Kaplinsky and Dr. Giles Mohan. Her research is on the distributional impact of gobal agro commodity demand and the rise of China on value chain actors, using a case study of cassava value chains in Thailand. Her main research interests are the distributional outcome of globalisation, power relations in commodity chains, and the role of the state and non-state institutions in development. She has done some research on investment policy and regional cooperation in Thailand and the greater Mekong subregion, and on emerging economies’ Foreign Direct Investment in Africa. She has worked as a Trade Policy Analyst for the Solomon Islands Government from 2005 to 2007 under the ODI Fellowship Scheme, and was a research assistant and visiting fellow at the Department of Economies of the Centre of Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Jakarta, Indonesia in 2003 and 2007.. She is currently part of the Asian Drivers research initiative at the Open University to look at the impact of dynamic Asian economies, especially China and India on other developing economies.
  • Jörg Wiegratz is a PhD candidate at the University of Sheffield, Department of Politics. His research focuses on the cultural political economy of relations between farmers and their buyers in Uganda in the neoliberal era. Prior to the PhD, he has worked for three years in Uganda, as a consultant, researcher and lecturer. He was the lead researcher in a couple of studies on value chains in the Ugandan context, specifically on governance of value chains between (i) Ugandan exporters and their European buyers, and (ii) farmers and processors. The summaries of the studies’ findings and related reflections on value chain research can be downloaded from his Sheffield website. There, you also find the journal article ‘Beyond harsh trade!? The relevance of soft competitiveness factors for Ugandan enterprises to endure in Global Value Chains’, and the presentation ‘Doing value chain research in the field’.

Past Events

The CSWG held a one-day workshop at SOAS on the 8th March 2008. Discussions were organised around the themes:

  • Studying labour and production systems
  • Methods of enquiry in international commodity markets
  • Theoretical foundations for commodity studies

Ongoing/future activities and initiatives

  • CSWG Working Paper Series
  • A Critique of the World Bank Global Value Chain Approach
  • Conference