Theorizing Theory: Origins and Orientations of Commodity Chain Analysis

By Michael L. Dougherty.

Published by The Global Studies Journal

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

Commodity chain analysis, derived from world-systems theory, is a useful heuristic for organizing thought and shaping research on global political economy. Commodity chain analysis narrows in on individual commodities and analyzes the organizational processes of production, consumption and disposal of these commodities within the world economy. This approach is particularly appropriate for highlighting the roles of materiality and governance structures in shaping globalization. Nevertheless, commodity chain analysis, by positioning itself as oppositional to traditional economics, undertheorizes the price mechanism, misses issues of terms of trade, ignores the key role of state policy in influencing commodity trajectories, and fails to fully accommodate non-physical commodities such as services and knowledge. This review essay begins by tracing the theoretical origins and evolutions of commodity chain analysis and reviewing the key contributions to the literature. Secondly, this paper discusses weaknesses of the approach with a view towards broadening and enhancing this important body of research.

Keywords: Commodity Chain Analysis, World-systems Theory, Historical Capitalism, Terms of Trade, Price Mechanism

Global Studies Journal, Volume 1, Issue 3, pp.29-38. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 569.981KB).

Michael L. Dougherty

PhD Student, Development Studies Program, Department of Rural Sociology, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, Wisconsin, USA

Michael L. Dougherty is a PhD Candidate in the Development Studies Program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. His teaching and research interests include development sociology, rural sociology, and community development. His two current research projects focus on the political economy of mining in Central America and the organization of local food systems in Wisconsin.


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