Commodity Chains

THOMAS C. BURR

Illinois State University, USA

DOI: 10.1002/9781118989463.wbeccs047

Commodity chains constitute the underlying socioeconomic structures of economic globalization. Scholars use the metaphor of a chain to describe the complex series of steps in the production and distribution of a given product. Terms for these phenomena abound: sociologists examine “commodity chains”; marketers study “supply chains”; geographers analyze “production networks”; and French agricultural economists research filières (Gereffi 2005; Bair 2009). Increasingly scholars use the term “value chains” to emphasize the added value at each stage: usefulness for consumers and profit for producers. Despite this terminological proliferation, the term “commodity chain” is best known.

World system theorists originally argued that commodity chains constitute the individual strands of the capitalist world economy (Bair 2009). Gereffi and Korzeniewicz (1994) developed this concept further, originally defining three levels of analysis, then adding a fourth. For any particular chain, the first issue is analyzing the input-output structure – the series of steps taken to make that commodity. Minimally there are four stages: raw materials production, manufacturing, distribution, and consumption. In practice, each stage has many substages; for instance, manufacturing can involve parts production and assembly. The second issue is territoriality, the locations through which the chain moves. Transformations ...

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