Geographies of Dissociation

In this research project we seek to analyse processes of social construction of economic value. The main idea is to combine two approaches that have focussed on value creation but which remain, by themselves, limited in explaining how value is actually created. In the cultural geographic discourse, contributors highlight that commodities achieve high prices on market if they are successfully associated with entities representing positive, extra-economic values, e.g. the association between sports gear and a basketball star. However, complementary processes, which mainly aim at hiding away problematic aspects of commodities (‘dissociation’), e.g. disconnecting the t-shirt from the working conditions in a sweat shop, so far have been glossed over. The global value chain and global production network approaches pay attention to how and under which conditions products are created, but does not focus on the social construction of value. The price of a good is regarded as a measure to assess the distribution of value capturing among producers, but prices themselves are largely taken for granted. The very process how value is constructed remains obscure. The project makes a conceptual contribution to this discourse by developing a framework encompassing associations and dissociations as equally important mechanisms working together in the social construction of economic value. Empirically, the project will analyse this interplay between associations and dissociations taking the example of the global fur industry. To this end, we combine the political-economic perspective on value creation as elaborated in the global production network approach with cultural geographic and sociological approaches of the social construction of value. For different types of fur commodities (the traditional fur coat, high end designer fashion, upgraded mass-produced fashion and ethical fur products) we will conduct a multi-layered network analysis, in which associations in symbolical networks are contrasted with functional relations in global production networks.

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