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Quality and inequality: Taste, value, and power in the third wave coffee market


  • Fischer, Edward F.


Based on a case study of the burgeoning high-end ("Third Wave") coffee market in the United States, this discussion paper examines value creation and capital accumulation in an age of neoliberal globalization. Drawing on sociological and economic theories of value, as well as perspectives on world systems and late capitalist accumulation, this paper proposes a framework in which the importance Marx ascribed to control over the material means of production has become eclipsed by control over the means of symbolic production in extracting surplus value through global trade. It shows how roasters, baristas, and marketers have created a new lexicon of quality for coffee, one tied to narratives of provenance and exclusivity that creates much of the value added in the coffee trade. This disadvantages smallholding coffee farmers who are heavily invested in land and the material means of production but lack the social and cultural capital to benefit from the surplus value created through symbolic production. It also perpetuates classic dependency patterns of global capital accumulation.

Suggested Citation

  • Fischer, Edward F., 2017. "Quality and inequality: Taste, value, and power in the third wave coffee market," MPIfG Discussion Paper 17/4, Max Planck Institute for the Study of Societies.
  • Handle: RePEc:zbw:mpifgd:174

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Lucien Karpik, 2010. "Valuing the Unique: The Economics of Singularities," Economics Books, Princeton University Press, edition 1, number 9215, December.
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    coffee; Guatemala; values; inequality; means of production; Kaffee; Guatemala; Werte; Ungleicheit; Produktionsmittel;

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