On the Commodity Trail : The Journey of a Bargain Store Product from East to West book cover
1st Edition

On the Commodity Trail
The Journey of a Bargain Store Product from East to West

ISBN 9781472572851
Published February 26, 2015 by Routledge
172 Pages

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Book Description

Following the journey of eight bargain store objects, Alison Hulme reveals the complex story behind society’s simplest and cheapest commodities. Inspired by Walter Benjamin’s Arcades Project, On the Commodity Trail explores the colourful and fascinating histories of everyday objects.Along the way, we observe raw materials on municipal rubbish dumps in China, newly re-made products in the world’s largest wholesale market, and take a journey across the seas, to bargain stores in Europe and North America, arriving finally in the homes of consumers. Weaving together narratives from the people we meet at different parts of the commodity chain – waste peddlers, wholesalers, store owners, and shoppers – the book examines the places and people at the heart of these localized yet immense global networks.Unlike other investigations of commodity chains, this study does not chart a straightforward trajectory from production to consumption. Instead, it demonstrates that the low-end commodity chain is one of constant rupture in which products are made and re-made, blurring the dividing line between producing and consuming.An ethnography of material culture as well as an examination of commodity culture at a time of economic downturn, this deeply-engrossing book makes a unique contribution to our understanding of commodity chains and consumer culture.

Table of Contents

PrefaceIntroduction: Eight Bargain Store Commodities and their Journeys1. The Dump: Shanghai and Tianjin as Graveyards and Birthplaces of Commodities2. The ‘Commodity City’: Yiwu, the World’s Factory of Bargains3. The Container Port: The Abundant Spaces of Felixstowe and Los Angeles4. The Bargain Store: Buying and Selling in the West’s Spaces of ‘Cheap’ Conclusion: … And Back to the Dump?BibliographyIndex

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Alison Hulme is a Teaching Fellow at Royal Holloway, University of London, UK; a Guest Lecturer at Goldsmiths, University of London, UK and University College Dublin, Ireland; and Visiting Fellow at University of Otago, New Zealand.


"This thin volume traces the origins of cheap plastic goods in UK bargain shops backward to their origins in China. Hulme begins the trail with waste scavengers in Shanghai, then moves through the ‘commodity city’ of Yiwu where low-end goods are made, container ports and terminals, British retail outlets, and, finally, a small sample of shoppers … the author’s real engagement is with social theorists and philosophers, from Appadurai to Žižek, with a generally Marxist approach to consumer society focused on the concept of ‘consumptive thrift.’ The book's most interesting part explores the social meaning of the ‘bargain.’ … the book would be very useful for graduate collections on globalization or theories of consumption. Summing Up: Recommended. Graduate students/faculty/professionals. - CHOICE - R. R. Wilk, Indiana Hulme has created a thorough and intriguing ethnography ... [She] is to be commended for the respect, objectivity, and passion she brings to the various conversations across the journey. Furthermore, her writing style, one that includes historical ironies, and parallels between concepts and lived experience, have created a text accessible to a broad, curious readership. - LSE Review of Books - Susan Marie Martin The book … belongs to a coetaneous class of research pushing the boundaries of ethnographic venturing … The book is erudite on the market economies of China and resplendent with careful empiricism. Close encounters with research subjects are a principal highlight. The book is easeful to read and evinces a mixture of empathy for, and inquisitive inquiry about, the fieldwork’s cast of characters. - Consumption Markets and Culture - Thomas Birtchnell, University of Wollongong, Australia On the Commodity Trail is interesting, thoughtful, even important … The topic of discount stores and their relation to and impact on modern society, the book profitably shows, is one that anthropologists should investigate seriously. - Anthropology Review Database - Jack David Eller"