Follow the Thing: Papaya

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In a recent round table about Antipode’s radical geographies, contributors argued that the journal needed more papers which stimulated debate, were accessible to academics and non- academics alike, didn’t ‘‘preach to the cognoscenti’’, were written to fit into radical teaching agendas, and were diverse and eclectic in style (Waterstone 2002:663; Hague 2002). This paper has been written to fit this bill. It outlines the findings of multi-locale ethnographic research into the globalization of food, focusing on a supply chain stretching from UK supermarket shelves to a Jamaican farm, and concluding in a North London flat. It addresses perspectives and critiques from the growing literature on the geographies of commodities, but presents these academic arguments ‘‘between the lines’’ of a series of overlapping vignettes about people who were (un)knowingly connected to each other through the international trade in fresh papaya, and an entangled range of economic, political, social, cultural, agri- cultural and other processes also shaping these connections in the early 1990s. The research on which it is based was initially energized by David Harvey’s (1990:422) call for radical geographers to ‘‘get behind the veil, the fetishism of the market’’, to make powerful, impor- tant, disturbing connections between Western consumers and the distant strangers whose contributions to their lives were invisible, unnoticed, and largely unappreciated. Harvey argued that radical geographers should attempt to de-fetishise commodities, re-connect consumers and producers, tell fuller stories of social reproduction, and thereby provoke moral and ethical questions for participants in this exploitation who might think they’re decent people. This paper has been written to provoke such questions, to provide mater- ials to think through and with, for geography’s ongoing debates about the politics of consumption.

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  • Ian Cook

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