Cultural Capitalism

This talk is slightly unnerving for those of us who might like to think of themselves as “doing their bit”.  It’s a short animation entitled, “RSA Animate – First as Tragedy, Then as Farce” which appeared on the Andrew Sullivan blog (thanks for sending me the link Victoria)

 Basically the speaker (Philosopher Slavoj Zizek) investigates a new form of capitalism that he says has emerged.  “Cultural capitalism, today’s form of capitalism”.  It really is a thought provoking 10minutes touching on issues surrounding Fair-trade, ethical shopping (he used the example of Starbucks coffee and the complex notions the consumer is “buying into”)

photo by Karine Malgrand for CAS-IP

Rita Agboh-Noameshie from AfricaRice and Jonathan Rosenthal from Just Works Consulting at the NPI meeting 2010. Photo by Karine Malgrand for CAS-IP

 The discussion was not dissimilar to the roundtable we held at the last National Partner’s Initiative meeting in Washington entitled “Branding and Market Development” (visit link for handout from this session).  Jonathan Rosenthal from Just Works Consulting who was part of the panel said the following of Fair-trade today:

 “Fair-trade started up as how to do trade better and power was not talked about.  Now that huge companies are on board some think this is success but others view it as failure…  Now the producers do have some amount of power but it’s still largely concentrated in the north.  Some feel the objective is to work out new models of trade where others are simply looking at improving business. There is lot of turbulence…

 …meanwhile, at the producer end, certification, that used to be free, costs more and more money and has more and more complexity and, thus costs. In addition, they have surprise inspections now–at producers’ cost. And, fair trade prices haven’t kept up with inflation so fair trade is harder to comply with and delivers less benefits over time. The challenge for producers, also, is what’s next? Where do we go from here?”

 Indeed, where do we go from here?  I asked Peter Bloch what he thought given his interest in market development:

  “Zizek is compelling, but let’s remember that he IS a philosopher.  He is simply challenging us to develop better solutions.  How might this apply to agricultural development?  One of the threads of this blog – since it started – has been innovation.  We’ve provided dozen of examples of innovations in a variety of sectors.  The innovation itself is rarely the issue – what we are interested in looking at is how some people can “connect the dots”, and what the final picture looks like.  If we can do this as we design and implement interventions we will, inevitably, be more effective.”

One response to “Cultural Capitalism

  1. I totally agree with Zizak. And I think the Plumpy-nut case is a good illustration of this debate. Also don’t forget that in the FairTrade business, farmers do not automatically acquire that brand; their countries have to win it by deserving it, e.g. by complying with “democracy” and sets of values we believe they have to follow to “develop”.
    I loved the drawings by the way, very ironic! Whose hand is that?

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