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The Paradox of Protection: National Identity, Global Commodity Chains, and the Tequila Industry

Sarah Bowen, Marie Sarita Gaytán
DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1525/sp.2012.59.1.70 70-93 First published online: 1 February 2012


Nations and nationalism remain relevant even in the context of increased global integration. At the same time, as commodity chains become longer, more transnational, and increasingly complex, the linkages between national identity, global capitalism, and political and economic elites are evolving. In this article, we show how culture—expressed in terms of national attachment and collective heritage—is a key means by which elites assert their power along global commodity chains. Specifically, we use the tequila commodity chain as a lens for analyzing how notions of patrimony, and the attendant reliance on the language of shared collective experience, are mobilized to forward corporate agendas in the global marketplace. Focusing on the interplay between global processes and local responses, we argue that the Mexican state and tequila companies promote notions of nationalness at the expense of the agave farmers, small-scale distillers, and communities where tequila is produced. We show how three central themes are part of this process: the protection of place, the maintenance of quality, and the defense of national interests. This article illustrates how new forms of national attachments are emerging under globalization by integrating an analysis of culture into commodity chain research.

  • Tequila
  • Mexico
  • national identity
  • global commodity chains
  • culture

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