CFP; Navigating Commodities: Production, Markets, and Consumption in History

International Symposium: Navigating Commodities: Production, Markets, and Consumption in History

18~19 November 2023 – University of Tokyo (Hongo Campus)

We invite historical researchers of all approaches and disciplines to an international symposium that explores the history of commodities in different temporal and regional contexts. As a multifaceted topic, commodity history has been examined from a  variety of disciplinary angles, including economic and business history, social and cultural history, global and transnational history, anthropology, philosophy, and sociology. Recent works by Anna Tsing (2015) and Joshua Specht (2019) situate the production, distribution, and consumption of commodities as integral to capitalism, creating local and global networks of commercial and cultural exchange. Drawing on Arjun Appandurai’s (1986) influential work on the ‘social life of things’, Jane Bennett (2010) and Ian Hodder (2012) examine how commodities themselves possess a social existence, with the meanings attached to them shaped not only by knowledge of their intrinsic properties and market value but also by the politics of negotiation and contestation.

This two-day interdisciplinary event aims to identify these intersections and interrogate what they mean for our understanding of commodities, both tangible (food, natural resources, luxury goods) and intangible (labour, information, financial instruments), and their broader significance for questions of power, knowledge, and social change. We welcome a variety of papers on topics from all historical periods and regions, dealing with, but not necessarily limited to, the following themes.

  • Global capitalism and commodity production and distribution networks

  • Cultural interaction and exchange through commodities

  • Gender, race, empire, and the impact of commodities on marginalised groups

  • Commodities and science, technology, and medicine

  • The politics and ethics of commodity pricing and distribution

  • The Anthropocene and the environmental impacts of commodity chains

  • Critique and regulation of commodity consumption

  • Material culture and the social history of things

  • Interdisciplinary and comparative approaches to commodity history

The symposium will be hosted in person at the Center for International Research on the Japanese Economy (CIRJE) on 18-19 November 2023. Participation is free, and those joining from outside Tokyo will receive a bursary to cover part or all of their travel and accommodation expenses (adjusted according to where they will be travelling from). Applications are especially encouraged from graduate students and postdocs in the early stages of their academic careers.

Applicants are invited to submit proposals for individual papers of 20 minutes or panels of up to 90 minutes. Abstracts of ~300 words for individual speakers, or panel abstracts of ~400 words and individual abstracts for each speaker, should be submitted through the following online form by 28 August 2023: