Global Markets vs. Local Realities
"What happens to commodities when they cross cultural borders?" Howes' recent edited volume, Cross-Cultural Consumption, sets out explicitly to answer this very question. Through a diverse and highly accessible set of collected papers, inspired and adapted from a special issue of Anthropogie et Sociitis on "Culture and Consumption," the reader finds an excellent introduction to the major themes in the anthropological approach to consumption. Situated squarely within the booming literature on the globalization of consumer society, the papers in this volume are expressly geared towards students of consumer studies from a range of disciplines. Howes makes his objectives clear - this book is actually intended as a teaching tool (p.8), which likely accounts for its notable clarity. Unlike many similar ventures, Howes et. al.'s pedagological approach allows him to openly pose a set of ethical questions by way of conclusion, challenging the reader to actively reflect on the issues raised in the various chapters.
That "cultures and goods stand in a relation of complex interdependence" (p.1), is by now a widely recognized feature of consumer studies in anthropology. Using this perspective as premise, the papers in this volume address the interface between the local and the global. Ulf Hannerz's popular "Creolization Paradigm" provides the appropriate framework for discussion. After rejecting the polar extremes of global homogenization and local fragmentation, Howes reifies another persistent dichotomy: that real and constructed distinction between the West and the rest'. Although the world of commodity flows presents multiple opportunities for various border crossings, it is this primary division which the book adopts as its central concern. The volume is thus divided into three sections, each tackling a separate dimension of this transformative boundary. "The Mirror of Consumption" addresses the popular anthropological theme wherein Western goods are incorporated into non-Western cultural contexts. The second and more intriguing section "Consuming the Other" takes a more novel approach by examining the ways in which non-Western goods move in the Western world. Finally, "Consumption and Identity"focuses on strategies for resisting capitalist penetration.
The chapters that follow cover a broad range of continents, countries and cultures. Given the complexity of the issues, it is odd that the authors describe their project in terms of such delineated boundaries. In constructing the concept of "cross-cultural consumption", Howes, et. al. begin from the premise that cultures indeed have borders and that consumer goods typically originate from within only one given set of "cultural borders.' By posing the question "what happens when the culture of production and the culture are not the same," they construct a model of commodity transmission which fails to recognize that consumer goods themselves are always...