Kristen Shorette finished up her dissertation, entitled: “Institutional Foundations of Global Markets: The Emergence and Expansion of the Fair Trade Market across Nations and over Time”
The project looks at the emergence of “Fair Trade” in the international system. Fair trade refers to goods (coffee, handicrafts) that are produced and traded in a environmentally and socially responsible manner. Fair trade usually takes the form of a certification, done by an independent organization, that provides assurance that the goods are produced and traded in “fair” manner.
The project is mostly quantitative, analyzing the proliferation of Fair Trade certification organizations and fair trade producers, globally.
The dissertation is at an the intersection of institutional theory, globalization, and economic sociology, where lots of people are doing interesting work (e.g., Tim Bartley, Alwyn Lim, Kiyo Tsutsui, Wes Longhofer).
The dissertation shows how much economic sociology has to say about the formation of new markets. One simple hypothesis is that Fair Trade will simply grow up around existing market relations… but that isn’t the case at all.
Rather, fair trade emerges from a global web of personal ties, including Peace Corp volunteers and missionaries who begin to import fair trade goods to the US and Europe. Kristen actually went out and collected data on the destinations of Peace Corp volunteers, and finds that those connections predict the emergence of Fair Trade producers in later years.
After fair trade catches on, a more formal “fair trade regime” emerges — with large international organizations managing the certification process. In later years, personalistic ties (e.g., Peace Corp volunteers) cease to be important. Instead, conventional organizational ties (e.g., country-level INGO membership) are predictive of fair trade activity.
This just scratches the surface. The dissertation is a big, rich project with lots of interesting findings. But, it really shows how world society research can speak to economic sociology.
Nina Bandelj and I co-chaired the dissertation, and Ann Hironaka also served on the committee.