Power and Fairtrade in Ireland

[Note: This is the first of a few 500-word guest posts written by some of the dept’s 3rd yr Single Hons / Major students – – they were invited to write about their thesis topic, in the hope that they might receive some helpful comments. If you have anything constructive to say, please feel free to comment!]

The 17th of September was a day of personal as well as national significance. That Saturday Ireland defeated Australia in the rugby world cup. While watching this momentous event an idea for a thesis finally came to me. I flicked through notes on old readings searching for inspiration while I kept one eye on the game. An article by Munro (2003) on Foucault and feminism caught my eye. What if I could apply Foucault’s ideas on power to a particular situation, to see if those theories worked in practice? However, I needed something relevant on which to examine his theories. Global injustices have been of interest to me ever since I took part in GY124 People and Places in first year. People and Places had forced us to confront the fact that this world is organised to benefit the few at the expense of others. This interest continued into second year with Geographies of Globalization where my understanding of global issues was developed. Based on such interests, I have decided to apply the theories of Foucault to Fairtrade in Ireland.

My research question is: Do the power structures that Fairtrade engage with resemble those of Foucault? Michel Foucault was one of the leading theorists on power. He elaborated on simplistic understandings of the concept, for example power as the means by which actor A can force actor B to do something which he would not otherwise do. Foucault said that if power only worked in this overt manner it would be extremely fragile. Power operates in numerous ways. It persuades, seduces and even claims common sense as its own so that subordination seems natural. Other theorists have critiqued and elaborated on this. I want to complement this rich body of work with theorists such as Harvey, Gramsci and Lefebvre. The objective will be to develop a nuanced conceptualization of power.

I will then apply this conceptualization as a framework to study the politics of trade justice in Ireland. To do this I will focus on Fairtrade. Their pursuit of global trade equality is fraught with difficulty. Fairtrade have to compete with larger and more powerful multinational corporations. The current economic and financial crisis has not helped, with the Kantar Worldpanel report on Irish consumerism this year showing that shoppers are often favouring cheaper ‘own brand’ products.

To answer my research question I’m hoping to carry out a series of interviews with people who are involved in different ways with Fairtrade. This organisation instigates strategies and initiatives to challenge dominant modes of consumerism in Ireland. An example of such an initiative is Fairtrade Towns. Cities and towns can claim this status if they meet certain criteria, for instance a certain amount of the shops in the town offering Fairtrade certified products. I would like to interview volunteer committee members from some of these towns to gain an insight into Fairtrade’s challenges, strategies and tactics. Interviews with some of the organisation’s professional staff could provide insight into the general strategies and challenges that are faced in Ireland.

Steven Lucas

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One comment

  1. […] [This is the first of a few follow-up posts written by our now-completed 3rd yr Single Honours / Major students. You can read the first post by Steven here.] […]

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