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Besky, Sarah

Grant Type
Hunt Postdoctoral Fellowship
Insitutional Affiliation
Brown U.
Active Grant
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Project Title
Besky, Dr. Sarah, Brown U., Providence, RI - To aid research and writing on 'Market Qualities: Indian Tea And The Composition Of Value' - Hunt Postdoctoral Fellowship

Preliminary abstract: What is the place of quality in capitalism? How is it produced, where does it circulate, and in what forms? This book project answers these questions through a study of one of the world's most recognized and popular products: mass-market black tea. In the Indian tea industry, the term 'quality' has two meanings. First, quality indexes taste. Second, quality refers to social relationships, including market transactions. This book traces how contemporary tea industry reformers have mobilized notions of quality in attempts to refit a colonially rooted product and industry for a 21st century global democracy. My analysis of the effort to make 'quality tea' at a time when India is trying to secure a place as a global economic leader shows how, together, the materiality of plants and aesthetic and technoscientific practices mediate--and perhaps impede--economic and political reform. The book examines how quality became a discrete category of knowledge from the final decades of British rule in India to the early years of Indian independence. This historical work is paired with ethnographic research both on plantations and among an array of Indian experts, from soil scientists and chemists to professional tea tasters and traders. I describe how these groups discuss and debate the quality of mass-market tea through an esoteric lexicon of descriptive terms, an ever-changing range of laboratory techniques, and a shifting set of philosophies regarding the regulation of the market. Bringing together theory from anthropological political economy, science and technology studies, and sensory ethnography, I suggest that traditional analyses of value 'chains' must be rethought. I argue for an approach to quality that sees it not as a final destination for economic, imperial, or post-imperial projects, but as a generative opening for those projects.