Download Markets and Fields - Bogazici University | Department of Political

yes no Was this document useful for you?
   Thank you for your participation!

* Your assessment is very important for improving the workof artificial intelligence, which forms the content of this project

Document related concepts

Economic anthropology wikipedia , lookup

Markets and Fields:
The Ethnography of Cotton Exchange and Production in a Turkish Village
New Perspectives on Turkey, No: 37, Fall 2007, pp. 115-146.
Koray Çalışkan
For more than a quarter century, a worldwide experiment of forging free markets has been
underway, proving to be the single largest economic experiment of world history. Agriculture has
been the first target of this neoliberal transformation that radically altered the universe of
production and exchange in the global countryside. Despite their insistence on flexibility, these
reforms were applied with rigidity in order to change the conditions of production by reforming
conditions of exchange. Their spectacular collapse has been documented by many observers
including some of the World Bank reformers themselves.1 What has not been studied adequately
however is the target social geography these reforms addressed --the economic universe of
exchange and production relations. Any analysis or policy recommendation regarding the future
and present of countryside should draw on a detailed and dynamic account of the relations
between peasants, traders and workers. Aiming to contribute to the filling of this gap, the paper
aims at describing the universe of cotton production and exchange from the vantage point of a
Turkish village. Bringing together the anthropology of price making and commodity production,
the paper offers a descriptive account of the power relations whereby a cluster of agents such as
insects, traders, cotton bush, farmers, the state and experts interact in multiple ways as the plant
How to understand production and exchange processes of agricultural commodities in the
context of neoliberal reforms from the vantage point of farmers, still the single largest
working population on earth? Since the late 1970s, the dominant framework of
addressing this question was built around the neoclassical understanding of exchange
relations that informed the global market reform.
Assuming a universal logic of calculation developed and deployed collectively by
the global peasantry, the neoclassical approach to the relations of exchange and
production located the problem humanity faced in the impediments erected against
individual creativity and dexterity. Reversing the statist logic of Keynesian consensus,
the neoclassical return to policy and research circles located the state as the central
structural variable that prevented peasants from developing.2
Note: This article draws on field work I carried out for a total of eight months in 2001 and 2002 in Turkey.
The research was funded by American Research Institute in Turkey and Population Council Meawards. I
would like to thank Nükhet Sirman for her superb advice during research, and Tim Mitchell and Julia
Elyachar for their careful reading, extensive comments and suggestions and Jacquelyn Mourad for editing.
Jr. Richard H. Adams, "Interrogating Development - Evaluating the Process of Development in Egypt,
1980-97," International Journal of Middle East Studies 32, no. 2 (2000).
Bela A. Balassa, Toward Renewed Economic Growth in Latin America (Washington, D.C.: Institute for
International Economics, 1986), Hernando De Soto, The Other Path: The Invisible Revolution in the Third
World, 1st ed. (New York: Harper & Row, 1989), Friedrich A. von Hayek, "The Moral Imperative of the
Agricultural market reforms, aiming at restructuring the agriculture, the largest
sector of the developing world, were the first and the most uniform free-market policies,
yet the outcomes have been far from uniform. Although essentially identical free market
reform policies were implemented in agricultural sectors of the developing world, they
elicited dissimilar responses in different market settings. Contributing to the rise of
Global Neoliberalism, the neoclassical oriented market reforms entailed the deregulation
of crop and input prices, abolishing subsidies to farmers, and letting the market work
effectively. In reality, neoliberalism proposed to create a world by the deploying the
principles on which it drew to understand reality.
According Bates, the most important theorist of the Third World agricultural
reforms, these policy choices were derived from “common sense, the evidence of history,
and economic doctrine.”3 Once deregulation became the norm and private enterprise the
form, farmers and traders would move towards the market, which would in turn promise
an increase both in agricultural exports and economic growth.
Contrary to expectations, recent scholarship has shown that farmers tended to
move not towards the market but towards increased self-provisioning and protection from
the neo-liberal policies once their economies took successful steps towards free market
reforms.4 Furthermore, for the first time in human history, social researchers began to
discuss whether the process of “Disappearing Peasantries” has been globally underway.5
It seems as if the reforms aiming at improving the economic conditions of the global
countryside entailed getting rid of small farmers, falling short of releasing their
productive potential by rolling the state back.6
Market," in The Unfinished Agenda: Essays on the Political Economy of Government Policy in Honour of
Arthur Seldon, ed. Martin J. Anderson (London: The Institute of Economic Affairs, 1986).
Robert H. Bates, Markets and States in Tropical Africa: The Political Basis of Agricultural Policies,
California Series on Social Choice and Political Economy (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1981).
Mohamed Abdel-Aal and Saad Reem, New Egyptian Land Reform (Cairo: The American University in
Cairo., 1999), Ray Bush, Counter-Revolution in Egypt's Countryside: Land and Farmers in the Era of
Economic Reform (London; New York: Zed Books, 2002), Peter Gibbon, "The Africa Growth and
Opportunity Act and the Global Commodity Chain for Clothing," World Development 31, no. 11 (2003),
Timothy Mitchell, "The Market's Place," in Directions of Change in Rural Egypt, ed. Nicholas Hopkins
and Kristen Westergaard (Cairo: American University in Cairo Press, 1998).
Jos E. Mooij, Deborah Fahy Bryceson, and Cristâobal Kay, Disappearing Peasantries? Rural Labour in
Africa, Asia and Latin America (London: Intermediate Technology Publications, 2000).
The literature focusing on the negative effects of neoliberal reforms is vast. For an introduction to this line
of research see Zülküf Aydın, Underdevelopment and Rural Structures in Southeastern Turkey: The
Household Economy in Gisgis and Kalhana, Durham Middle East Monographs; V. 2 (London: Published
for the Centre for Middle Eastern & Islamic Studies, University of Durham by Ithaca Press, 1986),
Abdullah Aysu, Türkiye'de Tarım Politikaları (İstanbul: Özgün Yayınları, 2001), Neşecan Balkan and
Sungur Savran, eds., Neoliberalizmin Tahribatı: Türkiye'de Toplum, Ekonomi Ve Cinsiyet (İstanbul: Metis
Yayınları, 2003), A. Barry, T. Osborne, and N. Rose, "Liberalism, Neo-Liberalism and Governmentality Introduction," Economy and Society 22, no. 3 (1993), Ayşe Buğra and Çağlar Keyder, "New Poverty and
the Changing Welfare Regime of Turkey," (Ankara: UNDP, 2003), Ray Bush, Economic Crisis and the
Politics of Reform in Egypt (Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 1999), Mine Eder, "Political Economy of
Agricultural Liberalization in Turkey," in La Turquie Et Le Développement, ed. A. Insel (Paris:
L'Harmattan, 2003), Arturo Escobar and Sonia E. Alvarez, The Making of Social Movements in Latin
America: Identity, Strategy, and Democracy, Series in Political Economy and Economic Development in
Latin America (Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 1992), Kathy R. G. Glavanis and Pandeli M. Glavanis,
The Rural Middle East: Peasant Lives and Modes of Production (London: Zed Books, 1990), D. E.
Hojman, Neo-Liberalism with a Human Face? The Politics and Economics of the Chilean Model
The universal collapse of neoliberal experiment in realizing its stated objectives
calls for a radical rethinking of how the relations of exchange, production and
consumption are studied on the ground. Currently, there are two general approaches
aiming to make visible and fill in the space in contemporary approaches to the processes
of economization. First, economic sociology aims at showing how seemingly universal
logic of market encounter is locally embedded in specific social conditions.7
Second, simultaneously drawing on and critiquing this careful work in economic
sociology, new directions on the anthropology of the market chronicle the ways in which
the intertwined nature of exchange and production processes are constructed.8
(Liverpool: Institute of Latin American Studies, the University of Liverpool, 1995), D. E. Hojman, The
Political Economies of Pinochet and Thatcher: A Comparison of the Chilean and British Free-Market
Models (Liverpool: University of Liverpool, Institute of Latin American Studies, 1995), Mooij, Bryceson,
and Kay, Disappearing Peasantries? Rural Labour in Africa, Asia and Latin America, Oguz Oyan, Dışa
Açılma Ve Mali Politikalar: Türkiye, 1980-1989, 2. basım. ed. (Ankara: V Yayınları, 1989), Ziya Öniş,
"Varieties and Crises of Neoliberal Globalisation: Argentina, Turkey and the Imf," Third World Quarterly
27, no. 2 (2006), Şimsa Özar and Ercan Fuat, "Emek Piyasaları: Uyumsuzluk Mu, Bütünleşme Mi?" in
Neoliberalizmin Tahribatı, ed. Neşecan Balkan and Sungur Savran (İstanbul: Metis Yayınları, 2003),
Sevket Pamuk and Zafer Toprak, Türkiye'de Tarımsal Yapılar (Ankara: Yurt Yayınevi, 1988), Zafer Yenal,
"Türkiye'de Tarım Ve Gıda Üretiminin Yeniden Yapılandırılması Ve Uluslararasılaştırılması," Toplum ve
Bilim 88 (2001), Deniz Yükseker, "Trust and Gender in a Transnational Market: The Public Culture of
Laleli, Istanbul," Public culture 16, no. 1 (2004).
Fikret Adaman and Pat Devine, eds., Economy and Society (Montreal: Blackrose, 2001), Ayşe Buğra,
Devlet-Piyasa Karşıtlığının Ötesinde: İhtiyaçlar Ve Tüketim Üzerine Yazılar (İstanbul: İletişim, 2000), P.
DiMaggio and H. Louch, "Socially Embedded Consumer Transactions: For What Kinds of Purchases Do
People Most Often Use Networks," American Sociological Review 63, no. October (1998), Frank Dobbin,
ed., The Sociology of the Economy (New York: Russell Sage, 2004), Francesco Duina, "Regional Market
Building as a Social Process: An Analysis of Cognitive Strategies in Nafta, the European Union and
Mercosur," Economy and Society 33, no. 3 (2004), Neil Fligstein, "Markets as Politics: A Political-Cultural
Approach to Market Institutions," American Sociological Review 61, no. 4 (1996), M. Granovetter,
"Economic-Action and Social-Structure - the Problem of Embeddedness," American Journal of Sociology
91, no. 3 (1985), Costas Lapavitsas, "Commodities and Gifts: Why Commodities Represent More That
Market Relations," Science & Society 68, no. 1 (2004), Karl Polanyi, The Great Transformation (New
York, Toronto: Farrar & Rinehart, 1944), Brian Uzzi and Ryon Lancaster, "Embeddedness and Price
Formation in the Corporate Law Market," American Sociological Review 69, no. 3 (2004).
Theodore C. Bestor, "Supply-Side Sushi: Commodity, Market, and the Global City," American
anthropologist 103, no. 1 (2001), Karin Knorr Cetina and Urs Bruegger, "Global Microstructures: The
Interaction Practices of Financial Markets," in The Sociology of the Economy, ed. Frank Dobbin (New
York: Russell Sage, 2004), Koray Çalışkan, "Making a Global Commodity: The Production of Markets and
Cotton in Egypt, Turkey, and the United States" (New York University, 2005), Julia Elyachar, Markets of
Dispossession: Ngos, Economic Development, and the State in Cairo, Politics, History, and Culture
(Durham: Duke University Press, 2005), Vincent Lépinay and Ellen Hertz, "Deception and Its
Precondition: Issues Raised by Financial Markets," in Deception in Markets. An Economic Analysis, ed. C.
Gerschlager (Houndsmill & new York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005), Donald MacKenzie, "The Big, Bad
Wolf and the Rational Market: Portfolio Insurance, the 1987 Crash and the Performativity of Economics,"
Economy and Society 33, no. 3 August 2004 (2004), B. Maurer, "Uncanny Exchanges: The Possibilities
and Failures of `Making Change' with Alternative Monetary Forms," Environment and planning. D, Society
& space 21, no. Part 3 (2003), Yuval Millo et al., "Organised Detachment: Clearinghouse Mechanisms in
Financial Markets," Information and Organization (2005), Timothy Mitchell, Rule of Experts: Egypt,
Techno-Politics, Modernity (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002), Hiro Miyazaki, "The
Temporalities of the Markets," American Anthropologist 105, no. 2 (2003), Alex Preda, "In the Enchanted
Grove: Financial Conversation and the Marketplace in England and France in the 18th Century," Journal of
Historical Sociology 14, no. 3 (2001), Annelise Riles, "Time and Its (Ir)Relevance - Real Time: Unwinding
Technocratic and Anthropological Knowledge," American ethnologist 31, no. 3 (2004), Janet Roitman,
One of the most important preliminary conclusions of this line of research
suggests that the Neoliberal experiment aiming to forge a global market reform draws on
an erroneous understanding of the market. Calling for the need of a more rigorous line of
empirical research concerning the anthropology of exchange and production processes,
the second literature calls for a renewed interest in the study of the market.
This paper aims at contributing to the anthropology of exchange and production
by analyzing the processes of economization in the context of a cotton producing village I
call Pamukköy, located in the Aegean region of Turkey. The paper dissociates its
analyses from assuming an analytical distinction between exchange, production and
consumption.9 Instead it simultaneously analyzes these three processes under the general
rubric of economization, referring to the processes that various human and nonhuman
actors mobilize their resources to pursue their self-defined objectives.
Such a wide geography of economic encounter can only be made visible if
researchers impose a theoretical order on it with reference to a general object that
connects all agents of economization as they struggle to reach their ends from survival to
amassing more wealth. Cotton’s growth as the unifying theme and the village geography
as the geographical focus provide the article with a generous context of discussing the
universe of cotton production and exchange from the vantage point of Turkish
countryside. Bringing together the anthropology of price making and cotton production,
the paper presents an analytical discussion of producing cotton and markets
simultaneously as a cluster of agents from farmers to traders interact in multiple ways as
the plant grows.
Drawing on an ethnographical analysis of cotton exchange and production in
Pamukköy, the article presents a description of the entangled universe of exchange and
production. In the final analysis, I argue that understanding economic activities in the
countryside requires one to situate them on fields of power where a web of asymmetrical
relations are forged and maintained on the ground by a multiplicity of actors in a
cascading relationship of domination. The paper aims at presenting a preliminary account
of such a dynamic world by using cotton’s lifecycle and ends with two general
conclusions regarding policy making and research concerning relations of production and
Cotton in Pamukköy
Fatma Aydın woke up at 4:00 a.m. on June 8, 2001 in her two-bedroom house in
Pamukköy. After folding the mosquito net covering the bed she has been sharing with her
husband Mehmet for forty years, she went to the kitchen and prepared the breakfast. Half
an hour later Mehmet, Fatma and I sat around the sofra, a short-legged, round wood table
used for eating on the ground, and had our breakfast. Finishing her meal before us, Fatma
went to the make-shift barn located in the yard to attend to the cattle.
Fiscal Disobedience: An Anthropology of Economic Regulation in Central Africa (Princeton: Princeton
University Press, 2005), Caitlin Zaloom, Out of the Pits: Traders and Technology from Chicago to London
(Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006).
The argument draws on Koray Çalışkan and Michel Callon, "New and Old Directions in the
Anthropology of Markets" (paper presented at the Paper presented at New Directions in the Anthropology
of Markets Workshop, Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research, New York City, April 9,
We could hear her complaining about the eleven cows “shitting everyday like a
mountain.” Mehmet looked down upon her, a very frequent attitude of men towards
women’s work. Pouring more tea into my cup, he teasingly proposed that he and his wife
change hats. “I am ready to clean the shit, if you want to drive that motor10 to go sow the
cotton today.” Fatma’s reply was expectedly quick: “You think driving your motor is
really work? Let’s change jobs; you get the shit, I get the motor.”
In fifteen minutes, I was sitting next to Mehmet on the wheel-cover of his tractor
on our way to his twenty-two decares of land. The village was shining, full to twinkling
tractor and house lights. The road was congested with traffic, and the air was full of
voices of men greeting each other, women shouting to their kids, dogs barking to
strangers, donkeys braying, engines throbbing, and roosters late to wake up the workers
and farmers. We took the asphalt road dividing the crescent shape village into two parts
heading toward the exit. In the Turkish countryside the village entrance is that closest to
the closest city. One may enter the village from the other side, but it is always called the
We were carrying 250 kilos of cotton seed he had bought from a local merchant in
Sarı, the closest municipal center. It was going to be a late sowing, for he had grown
barley before cotton, and harvested it only a couple of days ago. Unlike more than half of
the households of Pamukköy, he had chosen not to start sowing cotton sometime between
late April and the end of May. Instead, he had taken the risk of growing barley to use it as
animal fodder.
Cotton reaches maturity in approximately five months when provided with a hot,
sunny and dry climate. The leaves of the plant, like sunflowers, follow the sun during the
day to accumulate as much energy as possible. The Aegean region’s climate gives
farmers and cotton a little more than six and a half months of good weather. Mehmet was
using the last five months of this good weather to grow his cotton.
Such a decision bore great risk. It delayed the cotton harvest at least four weeks,
making it more likely to rain during the harvest. Rain decreases the quality of fibers for
which cotton is grown, making them wet and dirty, creating rain spots on the lint.
Furthermore, it would be more costly to pick the cotton, because wet soil decreases the
speed of the workers on the one hand, and increases the weight of cotton on the other,
thus escalating the cost of daily wage workers. The daily wage farmers pay to workers is
a function of the weight of cotton the workers pick.
His land was approximately three kilometers (km) away from the village.
Compared to other cotton growers, he considered himself lucky for a number of reasons:
His land, located next to Büyük Menderes River (the Meander) was one piece, not
scattered around the village. Furthermore, it was close to the watering facilities,
decreasing his cost of irrigation. Finally, it was not far from the village, which made it
easier to go to the land to inspect the growing of cotton.
A bit more than ten percent of Turkey’s total production came from the fields of
farmers like Mehmet living in the Söke Plain, Turkey’s second largest cotton growing
plain. Located in the province of Aydın, the plain is in the administrative boundaries of
the town of Söke, an agro-industrial city 155 km west of Izmir.
Turkish farmers usually refer to a tractor as a motor.
Cotton is the single most important cash crop of the plain. Looking down in
August from the hills of the Samsun Mountains, the plain looks like a green sea of cotton,
encircled by Lake Bafa, the Beşparmak Mountains and the Aegean Sea.
Depending on the source one consults, 4,010 to 6,152 farmers grow cotton in the
Plain, living in villages and towns encircling this green sea of commodity, providing cash
revenue not only to cotton growers, but also thousands of migrant agricultural workers
who arrive in the plain every year to work in the cotton fields.
Söke Plain is located in one of the major three major cotton growing regions in
Turkey. All regions of the country display quite different social and economic
characteristics. Yet in terms of agricultural relations, one key piece of information is
crucial: the average land size per farmer increases as one moves from West to East and
from North to South. In the Southeastern Region the agricultural land size per capita is
around thirty-five decares whereas in the Aegean Region, the average goes down to a
little below ten decares.11
Sowing the Seeds
We reached Mehmet’s field after a fifteen-minute ride and found his thirty-one-year old
son Enver inspecting the land, walking up and down. Following a short greeting, we
unloaded cotton seed sacks, and emptied them into the four containers placed on the
upper side of the sowing machine marked the beginning of a long work period. That
period would end with the selling of the Aydın family’s cotton in October for a price only
slightly more than their cost of production.
Like the rest of the village, the Aydın family would follow six stages of growing
cotton to earn their cash, each following the steps of the plant’s bio-economic life cycle
of growth and marketing: 1) field preparation, 2) sowing, 3) hoeing and selection, 4)
watering, 5) harvesting, and finally 6) marketing. In each of these stages, new struggles
would be waged between growers, workers, traders, insects, the cotton plant and
environment in general.12
Field preparation goes on nearly all the time when the field is empty. The way
Pamukköy farmers attend to the conditions of their field directly affects their yield. That
is why the first stage of a growing year almost coincides with the last stage of the
previous cotton year. Before sowing starts, the soil has to be freshened up by aerating it
so that its productivity can be enhanced. However, this process should be done without
drying the soil too much, for otherwise it would make it difficult for the cotton plant to
suck the necessary nutrients from the field. After that, growers apply fertilizers and mix
the fertilizer, subsoil and the upper crust of the land by ploughing the field, mostly by
tractors. Finally, the land has to be rolled by driving a heavy roller over the field so that
the soil is sealed to prevent it from losing its nutrients and water.
Source: Devlet İstatistik Enstitütüsü 2001 Tarım Sayımı. For more information regarding cotton
production in Turkey see Tijen Özüdoğru, "Pamuk Durum Ve Tahmin 2006-2007," (Ankara: Tarımsal
Ekonomi Araştırma Enstitüsü, 2006).
The most detailed study of the cotton cultivation and rural households in Turkey was carried out by
Nükhet Sirman. Nükhet Ayşe Sirman, "Peasants and Family Farms: The Position of Households in Cotton
Production in a Village of Western Turkey" (Doctoral Dissertation, University College, 1988). My work
draws on Sirman’s analysis, and it is her study and advice that made it possible for me to carry out research
in Pamukköy.
The steps of preparation usually take a few days in a field like that of the Aydın
family. However, it takes years to learn how to carry them out. One needs a well-trained
eye to check whether the soil is freshened-up enough, fed enough fertilizers, ploughed
well and not flattened too much. Carrying out these activities a little excessively or too
moderately would have dire outcomes. Failing in even one of these stages of cultivation
would cost almost all of the cash revenue of farmers such as the Aydın family.
Most of the cotton-growing households in the village do not hire workers or
drivers to carry out the sowing. There are 287 households in Pamukköy. However, only
257 of them spend all of their time in the village. Thirty households divide their time
between the city and the village, creating a category which makes visible the problematic
nature of assuming a clear cut boundary between the city and the village. All but seven of
these full time households that reside in the village grow cotton and consider it their
major cash income.
Until twenty years ago, according to the village headman or muhtar, the
population of Pamukköy was around 1,700. The implementation of neo-liberal reforms in
the early 1980s increased migration from the village to cities, thus decreasing
Pamukköy’s population to 734 in November 2001.
The 250 households of Pamukköy own 2,495 decares of land, making average
land size per household almost ten decares. Seventy one percent of households own land
in the village. Half of the remaining households rent usually no more than five decares of
land for cotton production. The rest do not grow cotton, yet have members of their
household who have cotton related jobs like working in others’ fields and driving their
Those who do not reside in the village own fourteen percent of the village land.
Farmers who reside in Pamukköy use almost all of this land in exchange for either rent or
cotton. Land use patterns follow land distribution patterns in the village.
Land Ownership in Pamukköy
50 and more
40 to 50
30 to 40
20 to 30
10 to 20
5 to 10
0 to 5
number of
cumulative percentage of
Field preparation and sowing are not the most labor-intensive stages of cotton cultivation.
Using a tractor, two farmers can complete these two stages without much need for
external help. If they do not have a tractor, however, they need to rent one. Only three
percent of cotton growers in Pamukköy hire external labor for these two stages, the rest
use labor barter and unpaid household labor. Two men, usually relatives, come together,
work in each other’s land, and exchange their labor power. Alternatively, if there are two
mature men in the immediate family, like Mehmet and Enver of the Aydın family, field
preparation is carried out solely by the household labor. In large landowners’ fields,
either seasonal or full time workers do the pre-sowing preparations.
Hoeing the Field
Sowing Mehmet’s twenty two decares of land took about seven hours of work, yet like
many other jobs, whether in an office or a workshop, it could as well have been done in
five or nine hours. On our return back to the village, we passed by Huseyin’s Kahve
(Coffeehouse), slowing down the tractor, we briefly looked in at the small crowd there,
then proceeded home. The Kahve is a register of the daily routine of activities in the
As we drove the tractor toward the house, gray clouds passed over the village,
causing Mehmet to worry, this time about an early rain instead of a late one. If it rained in
the next seven to ten days before the first shoots of cotton pushed through the ground and
reached toward the sun, the upper crust of the land would be “as thick as iron for a fragile
cotton to penetrate,” he explained to me. If it rained, he would have to hoe the entire field
again, increasing the gas his tractor used, adding to his cost. He would also have to repeat
the sowing. This would increase the chance of rain during the harvest, for such a
possibility would delay the cotton picking for another week.
The successful germination of the plant signaled the beginning of a series of
activities to be carried out in the field. These activities would be the second most laborintensive stage of cotton cultivation after the harvesting and had to be finished by the
beginning of irrigation, roughly six weeks following the appearance of the first shoots
that greened the field.
At 5:30 a.m. on June 19 Mehmet and I arrived in his field, a little earlier than was
required. He was excited, like a lawyer getting ready for an important case. The
mechanical hoeing required constant attention as well as light for the driver to be able to
see the cotton lines better. We waited until 6:00, until the end of the dawn, then started to
work. The depth of the hoe had to be fine-tuned according to the field’s leveling and the
cotton’s height. The four sets of steel flat-spoons of the hoe had to aerate the soil, while
at the same time neither cutting nor burying the fragile plant.
The machine hoeing was completed at around 3:00 p.m., nine hours after we got
off the tractor under the mulberry tree to fine-tune the instrument. It took twenty minutes
to return to the village. We slowed down as we approached the Kahve, took a quick look
to see who was around, then went directly home. We took off our plastic shoes, then our
socks, so dirty that they could stand up by themselves on the cement floor of the avlu13,
and washed ourselves. Two hours passed as we slept. We took our place around the sofra
to enjoy our early dinner. My legs were sore. As I tried to cross them under the floor
table, I told Mehmet and Fatma that the day was too exhausting for me. “This is not real
Court yard located in front of the house, surrounded usually by walls or fences. The space is frequently
used in the summer as an open-air living and dining room at night.
work,” Mehmet said trying to clean a big drop of yogurt he let fall on the table cloth
covering his crossed legs. “We are amele, working just with our muscles. What we do
does not require mental work. It is routine, all the same. We don’t need to learn anything
nor use our brains.”14 I challenged him by reading him the notes I had taken, especially
the part on why I thought that it required expertise and years of training to carry out
planning the cultivation and all of its stages. Combing his long, gray mustache with his
fingers, he said “we’re accustomed to see it that way. Besides it is shameful for one to
present himself as someone important in a praiseful manner.” This was quite a contrast to
the way merchants and traders marketed their importance in the world of cotton.
Spending Hard Cash is Hard
Following machine-hoeing, the time had come in Pamukköy to begin spending cash,
especially for hiring the workers Mehmet needed for hand-hoeing the cotton. This
expenditure is the second most costly procedure after the harvest itself. It was exactly two
weeks after we sowed the cotton that Mehmet hired twelve women workers for carrying
out the delicate process of aerating the soil by a hand hoe, around each plant one by one.
This process selected out two thirds of the cotton, while at the same time cleaning the
weeds in and around the rows. Tractors helped both farmers and pests. The furrows these
machines would leave behind helped pests to reach the roots of the shoots more easily.
The hand-hoers therefore also had to disrupt the lines left behind by the tractors’ huge
Like many other forms of work, hoeing is shaped by gendered formation of the
village work force. This is similar to the acceptance that milking the cow was not a manly
work, whereas driving was. Yet, it is possible to see women driving tractors or minibuses
and men milking cows.
Hoeing for others’ fields is also considered a woman’s job. It is a sign of poverty
and weakness for Pamukköy’s men to cover their heads and go hoeing for money. For
those men of central Anatolia and Kurdish men of the Southeast who internally migrate
to the Söke Plain to work, hoeing is acceptable, for they are already accepted as poor, and
thus weak.
Two men worked as dayıbaşı in the village, organizing gangs of female and male
laborers for those who used money to exchange for labor in the village. Children of the
village do not work in the fields. The youngest child I saw working was a fifteen-year-old
girl from a very poor family. Yet Pamukköy farmers do not strong objections to put
Kurdish child laborers to work. “It is their business,” one cotton farmer told me as I asked
him the reason why he employed children.
Finding workers for others is done in secret, because gang leaders do not pay
taxes. In 1999 one gang leader was caught by a Ministry of Labor auditor and fined 750
million liras, not a small amount for a poor man. Neither of the two gang leaders owned
Amele, worker in Ottoman Turkish, was used until 1940s and increasingly replaced by “işçi,” worker in
Modern Turkish. Amele is usually used in derogatory manner in contemporary Turkish. For a short
discussion on how the meanings of the term have changed in labor history in Turkey see Koray Çalışkan,
"Organism and Triangle: A Short History of Labor Law in Turkey (1920-1950)," New Perspectives on
Turkey 15 (1996).
land in the village. Their power stems from the networking they forge among those who
rent labor and those who sell it. Since those who rent are men and those who lend are
women, wives of gang leaders play a role as central as that of their husbands. It is the
wives who know each of the workers one by one, who have access to their homes and
who can cut a deal with them. It is also they who receive gifts and favors from the
workers who would like to have an advantage in the way the work is distributed in the
The hoeing can be divided into two main stages. At the beginning and end of the
hoeing season, the number of fields that can be hoed is limited, so the work opportunities
are limited as well. It is critical for workers to find a job in the village during these days,
for they prefer to work as much as possible to earn cash to grow cotton in their own small
fields. They have to sustain a working relationship with the gang leaders, and the gang
leaders have to forge good networks with the employers so that they can get either money
or other favors from them when they needed. The poorest and the weakest female
workers are preferred by both the gang leaders and the farmers. The stated objective is
that the poorest workers need the work the most and thus richer farmers are helping their
village women to survive.
But the main reason for the preference to hire the neediest has nothing to do with
“benevolence.” The poorest cannot refuse work when needed. They are more “flexible”
about the duration and condition of work. They do not have anything to lose but time
during these rare days of work. Both the poorest and the better-off make fifty cents an
hour, yet the fifty cents of the poor is more valuable. When field owners ask the workers
to continue hoeing a couple of hours after 3:30, the accepted time to call the work off in
the afternoon, the poorer workers rarely decline. Paradoxically, the immediate reason for
their compliance is not their need for cash but their fear of losing the opportunity to work
in the future if they decline the longer hours. They are always willing to give up the
additional payment for being able to stop work on time, because there are numerous
things they have to carry out before going to sleep around 10:00 p.m.
The workers bring sacks with them to carry the grass and other weeds that they
often find around the fields they work. They feed their animals with these plants. They
need additional time for this. They have to go to their own fields, infrequently more than
three decares, to work their own land. They need time for that, too. They have to go home
and cook, serve food, do the dishes, look after the kids, take care of the animal(s), do
some hand work while keeping an eye on the television and then prepare the beds. These
engagements need more than six and a half hours, and the more time spent in others’
fields steals time away from their sleep, thus making the next day’s work more
The fifty cents earned after 3:30 is thus less valuable then those earned earlier.
Yet, they cannot refuse it, for this marginal loss they choose to make, may result in
punishment by the field owner or gang leader. They might not be hired the next time.
This is why the field owners who want to employ the best workers, the neediest and
weakest, treat the gang leader well, mostly in monetary terms. And they get the poorest
workers. And the poorest treat the gang leader’s wife well to make sure that they get a
place in the rows of women who hoe the fields. These treats mostly take the form of
bartering labor when workers cannot find employment in the winter, by giving the gang
leader’s wife a handmade gift that can be exchanged or bartered later.
Such a simultaneous relationship of exchange and production between the wife of
the gang leader who was fined and the workers she organized collapsed in 2002. Her
husband died suddenly while cleaning a water canal, thus taking with him the network
she had created over the years.
A year before he died, the year he was fined, he had teased Mehmet in the Kahve
for not hiring any workers from him. Referring to Mehmet’s Maoist revolutionary past,
he said, “Don’t be afraid, Mehmet Abi. I’ll not let you exploit the workers, I’ll do it for
you if you let me choose the gang.” This insulting joke was a good one, precisely because
it was more of a reality than a joke if the farmer accepted the offer. But he was
speechless, most likely wanting his laughter to quickly abate. Faces turned toward
awaiting his reply. He just smiled, performing, as if he knew what to say yet did not want
to spell it out, by a gentle nod. He confessed at night as we discussed the incident that he
did not have a reply.
We went to see the other gang leader the next day, a young man from quite a poor
family in the village. Mehmet discussed the matter with him in his courtyard as the labor
contractor listened rather anxiously, mainly because of my presence. Realizing his
uneasiness, I walked toward the small barn and kept myself busy looking at the cows.
The animals were nervous too, because, I was going to learn later, they thought I was
either a veterinarian or a cow trader, people who hurt them the most. Mehmet and the
dayıbaşı cut the deal fast. We returned home and slept early. The next day was going to
be a long one.
The day started at 4:00 a.m., again as Fatma woke up and folded the mosquito net
covering the couple’s bed. We had a quick breakfast underneath a fluorescent light. The
June morning was dark and cold. We put on our winter coats as we left the house. It was
still before dawn.
We drove first to the end of the village, then made a u-turn to collect the twelve
women workers from the minibus stops on the road. They each carried a bag with their
lunch, fastened either to the wood handle of their steel hoes or placed in wickerwork
baskets. We stopped by the house of Mehmet’s daughter who was going to work with the
gang. There were many other tractors around us, towing many other trailers, originally
built to carry commodities, full of workers now. Some of them migrated for a couple of
weeks from Söke back to the village to work in the fields.
It was a quarter to five when we reached the Kahve to meet the gang leader who
was going to work with the workers he found for Mehmet. We parked the tractor across
from the Kahve and went in. Ibrahim’s grocery shop next door was full of farmers having
their quick breakfast, a few crackers and a cup of tea. “Breakfast at home takes time, you
fix the tea, the bread, you wash the dishes. Who has time for that?” said Nejat, a farmer in
his thirties, as he offered me a cracker called Cheezy.
I watched seven tractors pass in front of us, all towing trailers full of workers.
Only one of them had men. Women’s heads were covered with orange and white turbans,
protecting them from the cold in the morning, shielding them from the sun during the
day. It was mainly an esthetic requirement. “You don’t want to have a worker’s tan, a
little bit here, a little bit there like patchwork,” Bashak, a young worker, later explained
me later in the field. The young ones cared more, covering their heads more vigilantly.
Those who worked in fields closer to the village were the last to leave.
The gang leader did not show up. Mehmet called his cell phone. There was no
answer. So we left. Looking at the workers looking at us, “there was a
misunderstanding,” he told me. He was not given the workers he wanted, they were all
from families who had land in the village, workers who did not need most to work. I
would better appreciate Mehmet’s concerned look by the end of the hoeing day, at around
3:30 p.m.
As we approached the harvest, misunderstandings in the village and in the plain
increased in frequency. The next day, we learned, after receiving a call from the city, that
the gang leader had left for a large landowner’s field, rearranging the entire gang who
worked for him, taking with him the poorest. The Beys pay one daily wage extra to the
gang leader for every fifteen workers he finds for them. However, he would be paid less
in the village, losing one extra pay for every twelve workers. Because, the large landlords
hire as many as 120 workers, his income increased ten fold.
We reached the field, and parked the tractor under the mulberry tree. The work
started at 5:30 a.m. sharp. The workers formed a row in the middle of the field, each
hoeing one cotton line quickly, as the sun rose slowly. They each hoed one row, until the
edge of the field and then walked slowly back to the middle and continued the other way.
Walking a little before each half-row helped their backs rest, for they would spend hours
hunched over their hoes.
At around 6:30, Zeynep, Mehmet’s daughter shouted at her father from one corner
of the field, telling him that one of the workers had found ‘çukur pamuk,’ a rare type of
shoot that is disfigured by irregular growth. In bey’s fields, the one who finds a çukur
pamuk is rewarded with a tip. This technology of making workers work faster and more
carefully was a frequent tool of exploitation in rich farmers’ lands. “My field is full of
çukur pamuk,” replied Mehmet, dismissing his daughter’s suggestion of giving money to
the girl who had found it. I approached Zeynep as she was hoeing. “You were going to
work, too. Yet you didn’t bring your hoe,” she jokingly said, handing me her own hoe as
she took off a men’s sock from her right hand used to protect her palm from the wood
that sands the skin. I took it, and bent over the green row between my legs.
The hoe is small, yet its weight increases as one uses it, cutting three to four
shoots, then digging gently three to four times around the fifth, chopping the weeds
surrounding it, mixing the weed and dead cotton with the soil, and taking a step forward
only to begin the same operation. As expected, I was too slow to catch up with the rest,
and also too weak and inexperienced to continue hoeing for more than twenty minutes.
She took the hoe back and mocked me, “How are you going to write on cotton? You
can’t even keep up the row, you hold the hoe like a kid!”
Other women, already a couple of meters ahead of us laughed politely,
straightening their backs and stretching while enjoying the joke about the American, as I
was called in the village. “They are all curious about you” whispered Zeynep into my ear.
“They came to me and asked about the American staying at my dad’s house.” She
returned to work as she saw Mehmet walking toward us. I began to help her, by spacing
the row with my hand ahead of her, decreasing at least the time she had to spend to cut
the weaker cotton plants. My fingers turned black within an hour, my back began to ache
unbearably. Enjoying the benefits of a more comfortable field work, I quit, and went back
to the cool shadow of the mulberry tree to join Mehmet.
Smiling at me, he said, “You don’t have to hoe or space the cotton to talk to them.
Wait until the break and then you can have lunch with Zeynep. She will have her friends
around her. You can also take this to give them water.” He handed me a plastic container
covered with a wet handmade shirt fit to surround and keep it cool. I took the water and
walked toward the workers. As I poured water into a plastic cup they shared, I met them
one by one. It then became easier to talk to them directly, for a male researcher cannot
observe the world of female farmers as easily as can his female colleagues.15
During the break, I sat next to Zeynep and her five friends. When three of them
finished their snacks, they came to sit beside us. “Write about the flies,” said a young
worker, Nalan, showing me her neck full of pink spots. A few dust-covered bites were
bleeding as she scratched them with the synthetic sock she wore on her right hand. They
were young and unmarried women between the ages of sixteen and twenty three. A few
of them wanted to convince me that they did not need to work in the fields. “We are
working only to raise some pocket money. One cannot just sit idle in the village while
everyone else is working in the fields, that’s why I came,” said Sezin.16 “I am only
working to have a better dowry,” added Fadime, her sister. It was not very convincing to
hear these young women talk about their reasons for working. As Zeynep would explain
later, they were trying not to be seen as needy and poor, a condition of suffering nearly
all Pamukköy farmers wish to cloak.
Their mothers were not as cheerful. Selime complained about how short twenty
four hours is for a work day. She and I were going to calculate next week that she had to
sell her labor for 140 days a year. “Cutting the grass, hoeing, picking cotton all take a
long time, then you have to look after the children, take care of the cows, work in your
own field, cook, wash the dishes, clean the house, do hand work like sewing and weaving
things for the kids.” “Don’t forget the olive tree work! We ruin our lives just to survive,
just to feed ourselves,” added another as she reached for the grapes in front of her. “You
are eating a lot, are you on a diet or not?” Zeynep mocked her. Loud laughter ended our
short conversation as she prepared to stand up, signaling the time to start the work. The
work continued until the lunch break at 12:00 p.m. The workers used the first half of the
break to have their lunch, and the rest for sleeping in the field under the burning sun.
Mehmet proposed that we go back to the village to buy fuel oil, in order to let them rest
alone, without a man walking around. We left. He would not leave, however, if his
daughter was not in the field overseeing the workers.
Two hours passed until we came back to the field after having lunch at home.
They were not done with even two thirds of the field. Mehmet was silent, and looked
anxious. “It is not going to be done,” he said and silently accused the workers for hoeing
slowly. He walked toward the row of working women. They stopped as we approached
them. “It is almost 2:30, let’s work a bit faster and finish our work” he said. Younger
ones did not speak. An older woman, gesturing the field with her hand, replied: “This is
not going to finish, there is much work. We have to leave anyway.” Others’ silence meant
Later, Mehmet asked me to quit giving water to girls. “You know how young girls are. They want to talk
to you, so they drink too much when you are around,” he explained. “You know, they take more breaks
when they drink a lot. When women take a break it is longer, they can’t just go underneath the tree.” he
Increasingly Turkish farmers name their children after popular urban names. Now there are many
children with names such as Tuğçe and Tuğba in the village.
approval. To my surprise, Zeynep did not support her father and instead toyed with her
hoe, implicitly supporting the workers. Mehmet then offered an additional eighty cents on
top of their daily wage if they finished the work. They declined and returned to the work,
then stopped at 3:30 sharp.
We left the field unfinished, giving a lift to the workers back to the village. He
had to hire six more workers to continue hoeing the following day. He was frustrated.
“They have animals, they are wage workers, they are land owners, and they are
everything. Nobody knows what they really are,” he said over dinner, referring to the
workers, his fellow village women. “Are they really workers? A worker is the one who
works whenever you pay! These say ‘no, we’ll work in our fields, cut our grass, and hoe
our cotton.’” He then accused the gang leader for not ‘giving’ him really ‘hungry
workers.’ “The ones you saw today,” he continued, “are the ones with full bellies.”
That is why he wasn’t happy to have workers who have the capacity to decide
when to work and where to work, those who were more or less in similar conditions as
him. Class relations and forms of domination have surprising twists in the countryside,
rarely following the logic of Marxism’s class trilogy: one that is going to disappear
(peasants), one that is going to lose (bourgeois) and one that is going to win (workers).
The time of hoeing passed quickly for everyone in the village. Those whose land did not
exceed five decares hoed their own fields and worked for others’ cotton. Those who
owned land greater than twenty decares hired labor and worked in their fields. However,
they all needed cash, because expenses would significantly increase especially after the
first hoeing. They all had different means of finding it. Mehmet’s neighbor, Ibrahim
borrowed money from a merchant who had a ginning factory in Söke. Although the terms
of the borrowing were similar, he chose not to borrow from the Agricultural Bank for a
couple of reasons. First, the bank required the farmer to have land under his name as
collateral. His land was not registered under his name; nor was fifty percent of the village
registered under a legal owner’s name. Second, banks use formal written means of
communication, visible to everyone. The letters are sent to the villages in expensive
envelopes and are seen by everyone who frequents the Kahve and is spoken about later in
the day.
Informal bankers, a product of neo-liberal reforms imposed by the World Bank
and IMF, generally apply quite high interest rates, at least five percent higher than the
actual bank rates. They then manage to buy their clients’ cotton for less money, thus
contributing to the temporary depression of prices during and immediately following the
harvest. Moreover, when it comes to buying the cotton from the indebted farmer, it is not
uncommon for them to overweigh the produce and to downgrade the ginning outturn of
the cotton. Farmers cannot resist selling their cotton to merchants, for they always sign a
contract with these cotton-money merchants to pay their debt back on October 31,
immediately following the harvest.
There are other reasons for the farmers’ urgency for fast cash. After the first
hoeing, most of the cotton growers of Pamukköy, even those who have less then ten
decares of land, need cash to ‘reserve’ the workers through Kurdish gang leaders, called
elchi. Most of the farmers need to send about twenty five percent of total wages in
advance to the agricultural laborers’ contractor, so that growers can be sure that they will
have enough workers to pick the cotton. This is especially important, because if it rains
before the harvest, the price of cotton decreases at least thirty percent, bringing down
with it all the prospects of earning cash. The advance is rarely passed on to the workers.
It is kept by the gang leaders who usually come from strong families of rural SouthEastern Turkey. They usually own a grocery shop in their village or town, and let their
future workers shop on credit during the winter. They also enjoy the position to lend cash
during the winter to workers, thus entangling them to themselves; very much the same
way Söke merchants and ginning factory owners entangle farmers’ fate to theirs. The
subjects of domination are different, yet the technologies remain the same. The
dominated of one relationship becomes the indirect dominator of the other by sending the
cash to Kurdish gang leaders.17
To be able to secure his workers and set the time for their entry into his field,
Ibrahim borrowed from a merchant who wanted to secure his cotton and fix the time of
feeding his roller-gins. Mehmet did not have to borrow; instead he sold a couple more
cows. Capital, land and labor connected social positions to power in heterogeneous ways,
yet to address these ways and how they relate to the making of world markets in settings
like Pamukköy, we have to analyze the harvest and its aftermath followed by irrigating
the fields.
A Field of Power
Since hoeing finished on June 23rd, Mehmet had spent thirty three days in the field
carrying out various tasks from spraying pesticides on the plants individually and killing
all the insects and living organisms trying to benefit from the cotton or the field, to
applying various fertilizers. He did not hire any worker, nor wanted help from others until
the time for the second hoeing came on August 3rd.
He hired seven woman workers, again from the village. His daughter did not
show up this time. He did not pay her a premium for overseeing the field, so she
protested. He spent the entire time overseeing the workers as they weaved the land row
by row. The workers aerated the soil around the fragile cotton plants, carefully protected
from small insects with big appetites and unruly weeds with no commercial value. Only
the cotton had the right to life in the farmer’s land. After the second hoeing, the field was
ready for irrigation, perhaps the most difficult part of the long months of work. Once the
watering starts, growers cannot take a break until it is completed. Irrigation can take as
long as two days of nearly continuous work.
We had left my house to pick up another farmer Mehmet had hired to work with
him in the field. Suleiman was twenty-nine years old, my age, yet looked older. He did
not own any land or olive trees. He rented “a corner”, as he called the tiny two decares,
and worked it with his wife. He did not pay rent in cash, but bartered his and his wife’s
labor with the man who leased him the corner.
Suleiman was born into poverty and a hard life of working. He would make sixty
cents an hour, and hope to save to be able to buy the corner, those two decares of land.
He had to labor 2500 hours, or more or less one full work year, to earn what was required
to buy a computer like the one I used in Pamukköy everyday to type my field notes. “I
With the arrival of mechanical harvesting in the Plain and the increase of production in the Southeast
Region that in 2006 produced 51% of cotton in Turkey, the number of migrant agricultural workers in the
West declined sharply, Özüdoğru, "Pamuk Durum Ve Tahmin 2006-2007."
sometimes have a dream. I wake up happier and want to work more. One day, God
willing, I’ll own that land (the two decares). We save whatever we make,” he said, as we
rode down the hill toward the field, “a huge twenty two decares” according to Suleiman,
and a tiny piece for Enver, Mehmet’s son. Mehmet would not be able to buy any land that
year or in the next five years. Instead, he would sell some land in order to pay his debts.
As we reached the field, Mehmet drove the tractor backwards toward the water.
Suleiman unwound a large, plastic hose into the field. He connected it to a water pump,
then connected the pump to the tractor with a drive belt. When they started up the engine,
the tractor supplied power to the pump and the pump supplied water to the field.
The field was divided into many smaller plots, creating one meter high gridlines,
creating a great matrix of growth. Each small pool would be filled with water so the plant
could grow quickly, producing more fibers. One imagines watering to be less challenging
than hoeing or hand-picking. After all, one fills the land with water and then waits, even
perhaps leaving for the village. This is hardly the case.
“Land is very fragile,” Suleiman explained as he worked. One needs to continue
leveling even on plots that are machine-leveled, a process carried out with huge tractors
and heavy equipment to flatten the land surface so that the soil’s upper crust has an even
height. “You have to carry a bit of soil from here to there, a bit of soil from there to
here,” he continued, resting his back by leaning against the wood handle of a tall shovel.
The work on Mehmet’s land was completed in twenty hours. He earned twelve
dollars. We barely slept that night. The field had to be overseen and one cannot oversee a
field when it is dark. One has to walk around in the field, listen to the sound of feet
sinking into the soft soil, sense whether the water is enough or not, touch the cotton, even
smell it.
Around 9:30 p.m. at night, more than fifteen hours after the farmers had begun to
pump water into the field, a break of silence woke Mehmet and me up from the nap we
were taking on the mats made from refrigerator boxes. The disturbingly high volume of
the tractor’s engine had become a normalcy after hours of operation, and its sudden
absence alarmed us. We stood and tried to spot Suleiman. He was walking around
something at the far corner of the field. “It exploded,” Mehmet said sadly. We rushed to
find an almost meter-wide hole in the field, emptying the water back into the river.
The soil was weaker in that corner of the field neighboring the river bank. The
land could not resist the heavy weight of the water and “exploded,” creating a mini-flood
carrying the soil with it. The hole had to be repaired, but not by filling it with more soil
for it had no base. Suleiman, Mehmet and I piled up soil from other parts of the field
around the hole, creating a wall around it. It would take three years for the field to
refurbish itself over the hole. Every stage of cotton’s growth is pregnant with instances as
this, most unforeseen like that just happen, underscoring the importance of one rule of
thumb for cotton cultivation: do not leave the field alone, for it is a battle ground of many
relentless struggles.
The field was not left alone until the next watering on September 6, 2001. The
work though is not limited to inspection. Each round of watering takes less and less time
as the soil absorbs more and more water. Two days were spent cutting wood from the
bushes around the river that would be used by the Kurdish workers arriving soon from
Northern Turkey, where they were hired to work in the hazelnut harvest in the Black Sea
region. If the farmers do not cut wood, they need to buy it in order to supply the workers
for heating water and cooking. Three days were spent inspecting the animals in the
upland pastures, then selling a few for raising cash. The water tanker had to be repaired to
be used by the workers around their tents. New weeds, an outcome of the fertilizers, had
to be killed and recycled back into the soil. The list is long. In short, without exception,
farmers have seven-day-long work weeks until the few weeks following the harvest, as
their anxiety is replaced by a short-lived period of joy.
Kurds, Turks and Arabs of the Harvest:
After months of hard work, networking, cash raising, money borrowing, insect killing,
weed spraying, wood cutting, cow selling, gift giving, shit cleaning, motor driving, and
the time had come in Pamukköy to get ready for the harvest between late September and
mid-November. The selling of the cotton following the harvest would secure the only
major cash revenue of Pamukköy farmers.
The harvest is the most labor intensive part of the entire cotton-growing process.
The main ways of economizing harvest work follow the same logic already employed
during the hoeing. Three different groups of farmers deploy three distinct ways of
concluding their individual growing season.
First, those who had enough supply of labor in their households and relatively less
land to work on, by and large drew on non-monetary forms of labor exchange during the
harvest. It is safe to assume that a family can rely on household labor if it has less than
two decares of land per working household member. Even in these situations, one can
expect these families to borrow labor from others, for logics of safe assumptions do not
always follow the logics of survival in Pamukköy. However any land/household member
ratio above that would require some sort of monetary or non-monetary labor exchange in
the village.
Second, those families who own more than the first group, yet do not have enough
money to hire laborers from either the village or abroad, tend to seek labor pooling. A
few families come together to work in each other’s land. Farmers use quite complex
methods of labor control in arrangements of labor pooling.
Kasım, a thirty-year-old farmer who has six decares of land and one small kid,
organizes with three other families a labor pooling program:
You know no one works in others’ field as if it’s his own. They won’t work the
same way as you just let the villagers work, with no control. Because what we
do is difficult work. Under a burning sun we pick cotton. One is dirty all the
time, covered with dust and earth. Your back hurts a lot. Spending hours bent
over the land doing small things is difficult. And if these small things do not
belong to you, you don’t want to do them. So we control each other. If my wife
and I work for our cousins’ land and pick one hundred and seventy kilos of
cotton a day, and if our cousins pick only hundred fifty in our field, it is a
problem. So we sort out the difference with money in the end. The more you
pick, the more you earn.
Ödek is the local name given to these arrangements. Families with different numbers of
members come together to pool their resources. Because all have different capacities to
contribute to the pool, the surplus or shortage is accounted for usually by drawing on
wages charged for the same kind of work performed for money. These complex
cooperatives are the most frequent form of harvesting technologies in the Third World
where the majority of farmers rely on unpaid domestic labor for survival. Their flexibility
is striking in the sense that these small cooperatives can form a workshop in a couple of
hours and can dissolve it even quicker. This is also in part the reason for their success in
high yields, making the Aegean small farmers among the most productive in the world in
terms of yield.
The final group of farmers depends solely on hired labor. Compared to the first
and second groups, these farmers use less complex means of labor control in the field.
Workers are paid according to the weight of cotton they pick. The poverty of workers and
their lack of union power do a good job of labor control for those who have enough
means to hire them. If a worker loses her job, she cannot make it to the next harvest
without borrowing money.
The speed of picking cotton depends on dexterity, determination and wealth.
Those who work on their own fields can work a bit slower, without exhausting
themselves too much. Those who work for friends and relatives can choose not to enter a
field when it rains, for the mud makes it very difficult to move in the field. Those who are
the neediest and the most impoverished are the ones who find themselves working no
matter what happens. And they are mostly Kurdish seasonal migrant workers.
A family of four working members can finish hand-picking their cotton in two
months or less if their field does not exceed twenty decares. For four seasonal workers
the same amount of land can be hand-picked in twelve to fifteen working days. However
since there has to be a waiting period between each hand,18 these workers are employed
in different fields. It is safe to assume that on average workers can pick eighty five
kilograms of seed cotton per day. In two months time this equals more than five tons of
Workers have to borrow in order to survive, whether they find enough work or not, much
like the farmers who can and cannot hire them. Just before the harvest, worker gang
leaders, called either elchi or dayıbaşı, bring thousands of agricultural workers from
mostly the Central and Southeastern Anatolia to the Plain.
Larger cotton growers in the Plain who live in the town usually prefer Turkish
workers. Dayıbaşıs, Turkish labor contractors, prefer larger landlords for they have more
financial resources so the contractors can form larger and more loyal worker gangs.
In villages like Pamukköy, however, Turkish workers are rarely hired. They are
more expensive and difficult to hire for smaller farmers. Kurdish workers and Turkish
small farmers live in a shared world of poverty that brings their lives together around
cotton. The population of the village doubles as Kurdish workers arrive in the village,
either by illegal transportation vehicles like trucks or legal ones such as buses.
Turkish-citizen Arab workers also come to Söke for work, yet do not account for
more than one percent of total migrant workers in the region. Among the eight hundred
and fifty or so workers who came to Pamukköy and the surrounding fields, only twenty
of them were Arabic speaking.
Cotton is picked a few times, and each round of cotton picking is called “hand”, or el in Turkish.
Although illegal, trucks are used to transport laborers from Eastern Turkey to the West.
Ali, a fourteen-year-old worker from a village approximately 1,000 km away from
Pamukköy, came to the cotton fields in a truck bed. As he picked cotton in a field twenty
km away from Pamukköy, he said, “The state makes us take a bus. But bus tickets cost
five days of work.” Like all Kurdish agricultural workers, he had applied a thick layer of
kına19 over his hands to protect them from the spikes of the carpel. Playing with some
cotton he picked with his small red, fingers, he continued:
Am I gonna first pick the ticket and then the cotton? No way. I came with the
truck because it is almost free. They prepare truck beds for us. They are all
covered. Nobody can see us from the outside. Police have checkpoints on the
road. They caught us two years ago because we couldn’t see what was outside
either. So we talked, chatted as the police checked the driver’s papers. It is boring
there, you know. Dark. The police heard us, and fined the truck driver. We had to
take the bus. It is comfortable, but who wants it? This year the driver put a lamp
in the bed. He would turn it on when he saw a police car on the road, then we
would shut up.
Traveling in a truck bed for a day, Ali arrived in Pamukköy in late September. White
tents covered the area between the village cemetery and the fields. The Kurds’ make-shift
neighborhood extended the whiteness of the fields into the heart of Pamukköy. Next to
each tent, there was a big water tank and a large pile of wood at the workers’ disposal,
supplied by the owners of the cotton they would pick in the next two months.
One of Ali’s elder brothers, Ilker, also came in the same truck. Only five years
ago, he was a guerilla fighting against the government forces in the mountainous regions
of the Southeast. The war was almost over now. He gave up his weapons and moved back
to the city from a camp in Turkey. Now he was twenty-four-years old and married with
two children. His wife also moved with him to Pamukköy for two months to pick cotton
while their kids stayed at home with their grandmother.
Ilker was sent to the village with a gang of twenty other workers, half of them
men, half women, half children, half adults. But his status was different. As the
representative of his uncle, the elchi of this particular worker gang, he oversaw the work
of his extended family members. His uncle had made a deal with the three Pamukköy
farmers who hired his workers, wiring him an advance a few of months ago. The three
farmers pooled their financial resources in order to subcontract the picking to the elçi.
One of the farmers, Osman, was Ilker’s age. He had also fought in the Southeast,
yet on the state’s side. Perhaps they had taken aim at one other. This day, however, they
were bound in another kind of struggle. Under Ilker’s supervision, the workers would
start picking Osman’s cotton from a field he had been hiring from a landlord for five
years. The land, approximately thirty decares, was located twenty km from Pamukköy.
Hand-picking is usually carried out three times in fields like this one. The third
picking becomes very costly for large farms that employ paid labor. Compared to those
closer to the upper parts of the plant, the cotton balls closer to the root of the tree mature
faster, for their lint dries earlier and is ready to be picked. The first picking is referred to
as the first hand. Farmers tend to wait a week or more after the first hand, depending on
the weather conditions, before starting the second. Only those who do not hire labor
perform the third, for the amount that can be picked progressively decreases as one
reaches the last hand.20
The organization of work during the harvest is very similar in Kurdish and
Turkish worker gangs. The work starts early, directly following dusk and continues until
before dawn. Workers quickly pick the cotton as they bend over the cotton tree and fill
the sacks that are fastened around their waists. Husbands and wives usually fill the same
sack and get paid collectively. Their children, not older than fifteen, are usually included
in these small cooperatives. Turkish women, however, refuse to throw their cotton into
their husbands’ sack, for, as one of them explained during the harvest, “men tend to be
lazy and hide behind the joint sack.” Kurdish, Arab and Turkish workers hardly ever
work together in the same field. If they do rarely, they always work in ethnically
homogenous gangs.
For many of the workers, the beginning of the harvest is the most difficult.
Working in the field becomes progressively less unbearable as the end of the harvest
comes to a close. According to Ali, the child with the red fingers:
“The first two weeks are terrible. I feel like my muscles and blood vessels shrink.
During the break, I sit down, and I don’t want to start again. It becomes so
difficult to stand on one’s feet. We all work bent over the plant, you straighten
your back for while, your body begins to tremble. The cotton has poison
[pesticide]. We swallow it, we inhale it, and we touch it all the time. I always
have a sore throat. It doesn’t happen in Kurdistan. My voice becomes thicker.
Like the voice of an old man. We make fun of our voices. Occasionally our noses
bleed, too.”
As he explained the hardships he endured, one of his close friends asked whether I would
also write his words in my little black notebook:
“We do not clip our fingernails. We are not allowed, though they look dirty.
When we clip them, the spikes of the carpel stick into the finger tips more easily.
Then the blood coming out of these wounds stains the cotton. They [farmers]
don’t like it, they say.”
Workers like Ali and his friend Abdulkerim continued picking the cotton. When the sacks
were full, they were brought to a corner of the field, where either the farmer who owns
the cotton or someone older, who cannot pick cotton, weighs and registers them under the
worker’s name. After unloading the sack, the worker returns to his row for they cannot
leave a row of cotton until it is all picked. The cotton is mixed with the other workers’
harvests, pooled and then pressed into giant jute sacks. These bales of seed cotton are
then brought to either TARİŞ’s buying centers or private traders to exchange them for
They get our cotton by doing things
Machine-picking is also carried out in the plain and may completely replace hand picking in less than a
The end of harvest marks the last stage of the cotton’s life cycle in villages like
Pamukköy. Farmers sell their entire crop before the last day of October. There are two
main buyers of cotton in the Plain: the agricultural sales cooperative TARİŞ and private
merchants who also own ginning factories.
Since cotton has to be ginned before it can be sold in the institutionalized market
settings such as the cotton-trading pit of the Izmir Mercantile Exchange, a vast majority
of farmers, (except a few large landowners) are excluded from lint markets. For farmers
like those of Pamukköy, the exchange of their cotton takes place outside of the exchange
building. It is still possible to keep their seed cotton and sell it to a trader later, but this is
a theoretical possibility realized only in a few marginal instances.
There are many reasons for the immediate selling of the crop. The primary reason
is that growing cotton requires farmers to borrow heavily, thus creating an urgent need
for cash following the harvest. Without financial backing, it is not possible for growers to
keep their crop until the time comes to sell it for relatively better terms. The abundance of
cotton and the immediacy of the cash need depress the prices between late September and
early November.
An analysis of monthly cotton prices makes visible the large price differential
between October prices and those prices of other months. In the last ten years between
September 1993 and August 2004, the Cotlook A Index average was 66.78 c/lb. The
average of October prices was 63.78 c/lb. This is exactly a 300 point deviation, a
difference vast enough for the New York Board of Trade to immediately stop cotton
trading, if it happened in futures in one trading day, for it would signal market crisis.
The Cotlook A Index, a price index commonly referred to as the world spot price
of cotton, represents the price deviation only to a limited extent, possibly underrepresenting the variance, for it incorporates the traders’ perceptions of the price. The
prices as they take shape in the Izmir Mercantile Exchange reveal a more alarming
difference. The average for October prices between 1993 and 2004, including the prices
realized in 2001 in the very offices of traders like Huseyin, is a mere 65.23 c/lb. The
average price for all the other months was 73.19 c/lb. The difference is a vast 796 points.
This is approximately 8 cents for each pound of cotton, an amount more than twice the
difference, enough to locate a crisis in the market.21
Farmers are also excluded from lint markets because they do not have warehouses
to store their cotton, financial means to insure it, means to follow prosthetic, rehearsal
and actual prices on a daily basis, nor the political power to participate in their production
and performance. These prices belong to the world of traders, merchants, brokers, and a
few large landowners.
The cotton price for a farmer is never the posted price. “The price is what I carry
in my pocket after I sell my crop,” said Numan, a cotton grower who has to sell his cotton
to a private merchant. He borrowed cash to be able to continue producing cotton. He did
not use formal means to raise the money as explained earlier. He instead approached a
ginning factory owner, got his money in less than an hour and made a deal to “give” his
cotton to this private trader, settling the difference after the debt had been deducted.
The price statistics are from Cotlook Ltd. and IME. I’d like to thank Mrs. Berrin Taşkaya of the
Agricultural Economics Research Institute in Ankara for providing me with price data adjusted to U.S.
He invited me to his house for dinner. As usual I was offered meat, a sign of
respect to the guest. As he gently shook his head toward the door for his sons to leave, he
lowered his voice as if to reveal a secret, a frequent way of talking about technologies of
power in Pamukköy. He explained how the price farmers get is always lower than the
price they are offered.
Even if a farmer sells to the cooperative, the price he ends up getting is lower
than what he accepted. They deduct this, they deduct that. The government used
to announce the minimum prices. No more. We have only the market. But even
then, the price we used to get was lower than the announced price. If one sells the
cotton to traders, the price will be even lower. They get our cotton by doing
The things “they” do begin with illegally lending money, yet creating a legal context for
it. When Numan went to the ginning factory owner Huseyin to borrow money, the trader
had told him that he had some bank credit he did not then need, and “since he liked him a
lot” Numan could use that money. The interest rate he applied was even one point less
than the private banks’ rate. Huseyin presented himself as one doing a favor for Numan
by using his network of “friends” in the bank. He sold his money, but pretended that he
served as an intermediary between the bank and the farmer. “They usually never give
money directly to us. We go and get it from the bank. It looks as if the bank gives us the
money,” continued Numan, again in a hushed tone. He would stop talking when his wife
entered the room.
- I know that it doesn’t come from the bank. He [money lender] sends a note to
his friends in the bank, authorizes me to withdraw money from his account, and it
is his money that I get. Other villagers don’t know. They think it is the bank that
gives them the money and that the factoryman [trader/ginning factory owner] is
the intermediary. When there is a bank, there is paperwork, the state is involved,
courts, etc. They send letters and stuff. Everybody knows that you borrow money
in the village, so other villagers don’t want to work with you. You cannot even
treat someone to a cup of tea if they know. They make fun of you in the Kahve.
- What else happens before you get his money from the bank?
- You know, the first thing he [factoryman] asks is not the amount of money we
need, but the amount of field we have. Because he will not get the cash back, he
will ask for my cotton instead. He says, ‘I’ll also help you sell your cotton’. I
know how to sell my cotton. How exactly is he going to help me other than
buying it?
- When did you give your cotton to him?
- Last week. I’ll give the rest this week after the second hand.
- What is the price he gave you?
- It is always whatever TARİŞ announces. This is usually the deal. You cannot
have a farmer sell his crop in advance without having TARİŞ’s price. The
factoryman also offers the TARİŞ price. But the amount he pays is always lower.
For example, when you bring your cotton, he never likes it. His face becomes
sour as he looks at it. I feel bad, a bit ashamed. He makes us feel that way. It
happens all the time.
- Can you explain a bit more?
- I go to his factory with the cotton, he looks at me like this [he shows a face that
is simultaneously angry and sad] I feel bad. After all, this is my months of work.
You feel bad when one looks down upon it. Then he gins a few samples. The
randıman [ginning outturn] is everything in cotton. If the cotton has more seeds,
it has less lint. So the money I get goes down if the randıman decreases.
Factorymen always mess with these roller-gins. They fix their scissors so that
they pick a little bit less lint. So they pay less. They also play with their scales.
Farmers’ cottons always weigh less. They make money by this way too.
An ex-factoryman confirmed Numan’s depiction of how the cotton is sold in the
market. We had dinner in Izmir three months after I had talked to Numan. He
contradicted Numan by saying that the factoryman usually offers less than the price
TARİŞ would announce during the harvest.
This business of debt is making the rich richer, the poor poorer. But what can
farmers really do? The Agricultural Bank does not give credit anymore. TARİŞ’s
bank is taken away. Farmers are left alone. Their lives are full of unexpected
turns. They need money, and usually very rapidly. Who has money? The ginners.
They don’t like the poorest farmers. They don’t like the richest farmers. The poor
have nothing to lose, the rich have power to resist. They want the middle farmers
who produce enough, yet don’t have money to finance themselves. These farmers
also need them, because they want to borrow fast, and they want to borrow it
secretly. Ginners keep it secret, and sometimes the farmers lose their land
secretly if they cannot pay the debt.
Not all farmers are indebted, yet they still work with private traders. Scales and sampling
roller-gins usually are more balanced when it comes to working with farmers who are not
indebted. Trading performances, however, still weigh heavily against the farmers.
Selami, who with his wife owned fifteen decares and hired five, wanted to sell his
cotton to a private trader. TARİŞ can extend indirect credits, such as supplying farmers
with fertilizer, seed or pesticide, during the growth season and deduce their price as the
farmers sell their produce back to the cooperative. Selami had inherited money the
previous year, and had better financial resources.
He talked to a few ginners before the harvest about his intention to sell. “Initially
all of them thought that I wanted to borrow money. They were nice to me, wanting to
help me like a father. One of them even told me that I should consider him as a father,
although it was the first time in his life that he met me.” We were sitting in a Kahve in
Söke. I asked him whether their manners had changed once they learned that he did not
want to borrow money.
- No, not much. They were still nice. But they changed after I brought them
samples from my cotton after the harvest. They looked at it, didn’t like it, yet still
wanted to buy it. They are real actors. Like those on TV. They are real Ceyars
- What do they do?
He is referring to J.R. of the famous U.S. television series of the eighties, Dallas. Although the series has
not been shown on TV for more than a decade, the fame of J.R., a foxy oil trader, the nemesis of Bobby, his
good and benevolent younger brother, is well remembered in Pamukköy.
- Difficult to tell. The one I gave my cotton to was a short fellow. But he used to
look at me as though he was taller. You see, compared to him, I am a bigger,
stronger and taller guy, but I feel small when I am in his office. He has a large
desk, a picture of Atatürk, awards he got. I can’t quite express myself. Something
happens when I am there.
- What happens?
- I don’t know. They know how to bargain, to sell and buy things. We sell only
once every year. In one day he does it more than I do in my entire life.
- … You don’t have to sell to him, no? You can sell your cotton to someone else
until you get the price you want.
- No, it doesn’t work that way. You can’t sell it to others, not always. They don’t
like smart ones like me. They call each other, they make sure that they don’t pay
more than TARİŞ. They stick together. Even if they don’t stand together, they do
it the same way. They are all J.R.s knowing how to bargain. They look like they
don’t like your cotton, they don’t want it, so that you feel happy if they buy your
cotton in the end.
The it he is referring to is the market experience. When a rich trader and a poor farmer
come together within an exchange context, like any other context where the powerful and
the subaltern meet, the impoverished finds himself in a field of power that works against
him. A trader tends to speak the language better, can articulate his position better, using a
lingo farmers are accustomed to seeing on TV.
Traders are experienced in buying and selling. This is their life. They perform
better, not only because they are more skilled, but also because their financial power
backs them with a cushion in case they do not win in the bargaining. This is hardly the
case for farmers like Selami. He cannot continue driving his tractor around the Plain to
find a buyer, then show his samples and expect to gain a good bargaining position. The
amount he hoped to sell is little compared to the amount the traders buy everyday. Selami
knew that he was less experienced. He was aware of the power field the bargaining. Like
many other farmers, he knew that the trader performs in a certain way, much like an
- But Selami, you seem to know that they are only acting, like J.R.
- Yes, we know that, but it doesn’t help.
Knowing does not help the Pamukköy farmers. They have to sell their cotton quickly, for
they do not have many options. They cannot get their cotton ginned and wait until the
best opportunity to sell their commodity. Even if they could, they could not contribute to
the making of various price devices in mercantile contexts, for the processing of price
realization takes much time and energy.
Concluding Analysis: The Politics of the Market Field
The level of anxiety in Pamukköy increases as cotton prices began to appear around the
village. It is difficult to encounter a conversation in the countryside without at least some
comment about cotton’s worth. Farmers and traders have different understanding of the
price. Contrary to the merchants’ universe of trading, farmers recognize and use only one
price, the actual one. Without mapping the world of prices in the city and countryside one
cannot understand exchange.
Despite the economists’ insistence on the universality of price and the
mechanisms that set it, the price has now been recognized as a device used and mostly
produced by traders to facilitate pursing of their mercantile interests.
Most of the economists, despite the critique of institutionalists like North and his
followers, explained prices as things that are set in markets (North 1977; Robinson 1980).
Sociologists revisited this circularity by making visible the social and cultural context of
prices.23 The critical literature on prices showed that prices are culturally constructed
amid relations of power in socially embedded markets.24
Surprisingly however, economists did not object. For them, the context was not
that important, for regardless of the circumstances, the price was set in the end.
Following the emergence of such a dead end in economic sociology, researchers began to
focus on markets as socio-technical universes from the vantage point of price making.25
Jennifer Alexander and Paul Alexander, "What Is in a Fair Price? Price Setting and Trading Partnership
in Javanese Markets," Man 26, no. 3 (1991), Haidy. Geismar, "What's in a Price? An Ethnography of Tribal
Art at Auction," Journal of material culture 6, no. 1 (2001), Joan Robinson, Collected Economic Papers,
1st MIT Press edition. ed., 5 vols. (Cambridge, Ma.: MIT Press, 1980), Olav Velthuis, "Symbolic Meanings
of Prices: Constructing the Value of Contemporary Art in Amsterdam and New York Galleries," Theory
and Society 32, no. 2 (2003), Olav Velthuis, Talking Prices: Symbolic Meanings of Prices on the Market
for Contemporary Art, Princeton Studies in Cultural Sociology (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press,
2005), Milan Z. Zafirovski, "An Alternative Sociological Perspective on Economic Value: Price Formation
as a Social Process," International Journal of Politics, Culture, and Society 14, no. 2 (2000), Edward J
Zajac and James D Westphal, "The Social Construction of Market Value: Institutionalization and Learning
Perspectives on Stock Market Reactions," American Sociological Review 69, no. 3 (2004), Viviana A.
Zelizer, "The Price and Value of Children: The Case of Children's Insurance," American Journal of
Sociology 86, no. 5 (1981).
DiMaggio and Louch, "Socially Embedded Consumer Transactions: For What Kinds of Purchases Do
People Most Often Use Networks.", Duina, "Regional Market Building as a Social Process: An Analysis of
Cognitive Strategies in Nafta, the European Union and Mercosur.", Fligstein, "Markets as Politics: A
Political-Cultural Approach to Market Institutions.", Granovetter, "Economic-Action and Social-Structure the Problem of Embeddedness.", Lapavitsas, "Commodities and Gifts: Why Commodities Represent More
That Market Relations.", Harrison White, "Where Do Markets Come From?" American Journal of
Sociology 87 (1981).
Sandrine Barrey, "Formation Et Calcul Des Prix: Le Travail De Tarification Dans La Grande
Distribution," Sociologie du Travail 46, no. 2 (2006), Daniel Beunza, Iain Hardie, and Donald MacKenzie,
"A Price Is a Social Thing: Towards a Material Sociology of Arbitrage," Organization Studies 27, no. 5
(2006), Michel Callon, ed., The Laws of the Markets (London: Blackwell, 1998), Yuna Chiffoleau and
Catherine Laporte, "La Formation Des Prix: Le Marché Des Vins En Bourgogne," Revue Française de
Sociologie 45, no. 4 (2004), Franck Cochoy, ed., La Captation Des Publics: C'est Pour Mieux Te Séduire
Mon Client… (Toulouse: Presses Universitaires du Mirail, 2004), Koray Çalışkan, "Neoliberal Piyasa Nasıl
İşler? Pamuk, İktidar Ve Ticaret Siyaseti (How Does a Neoliberal Market Work? Cotton, Power and the
Politics of Trade)," Toplum ve Billim 108 (2007), Koray Çalışkan, "Price Realization in World Markets:
The Prosthetic and Actual Worth of a Bale of Cotton" (paper presented at the Paper presented at
"Economies at Large" Conference, November 14-15, 2003, New York University, 2003), Catherine
Grandclément, "Bundles of Prices: Marketing and Pricing in French Supermarkets," in 4S-EASST
Conference (Paris: 2004), Peter Levin, "Economic Sociology: State, Market, and Society in Modern
Capitalism (Review)," Social Forces 82, no. 1 (2003), B. Maurer, "Repressed Futures: Financial
Derivatives' Theological Unconscious," Economy and society 31, no. Part 1 (2002), Fabian Muniesa,
"Performing Prices: The Case of Price Discovery Automation in the Financial Markets," in Oekonomie and
Gesellschaft, ed. H. Kalthoff, R. Rottenburg, and H.-J. Wagener (Marburg: Metropolis, 2000), Thomas
Seeing the price as a prosthetic form produced, deployed, resisted, and at times, abused
by traders made visible the asymmetrical relations where price as device was produced.
To give an example, cotton prices in İzmir are produced in three main forms in
four different market places. Each of these price forms are produced in specific market
geographies almost all of which was designed to keep farmers outside of the exchange.26
These price forms disappear as the traders approach the countryside. Price as a prosthetic
device does not play any role in the ways farmers attend to the conditions of exchanging
their produce. Very few, those who cultivate cotton in large lands, less than one percent
of Söke Plain cotton farmers and none of Pamukköy growers, follow the prices of the
Izmir Mercantile Exchange and other prosthetic prices. For a vast majority of farmers
market prostheses or prices as device do not mean a lot, for a number of reasons:
First, the words “merchant” or “trader” are used only in the singular form and in a
pejorative only, very much the way urban neo-liberal economists use the word “peasant”
pejoratively in the singular. Traders are not trusted in the countryside. They are
considered to be money lenders. They are frequently thought to protect yarn producers’
and their own interests only. Therefore, any price that is associated with merchant houses
or their organizations is regarded suspiciously, just another tool of the merchants to get
the farmer’s produce. The price is accepted to be a mercantile tool in the countryside.
Second, whatever the price happens to be (price always “happens” in the
countryside), a great majority of the cotton farmers are either locked into relations of debt
with the merchants or pledged into selling their cotton to their cooperative TARİŞ (the
Unions of Agricultural Co-Operatives for the Sales of Figs, Raisin, Cotton, Olive and
Olive Oil), for this is the only way they can get the credit they need to continue
production. The price is not “taken;” it is accepted as long as it remains above the cost of
growing cotton.
This does not mean, however, that cotton growers have no effect on the making of
prices in their multiple forms. The organized power of farmers under TARİŞ, the only
cotton sales cooperative in the Plain, provides a force to counter the merchant interests
that run against those of the farmers.
If the merchants depress the prices, they can buy more cotton and sell for less.
Not only does the mark-up make the difference, but the fact that when the cotton price is
depressed, more and more yarn factories switch from cheap, oil-based polyester inputs to
cotton --they buy more cotton and thus contribute more to the merchants’ income.
Finally, as the price decreases in the countryside, merchants need less capital to purchase
the commodity so their carry-over increases in real terms.
Paradoxically, the reason of the increase in merchants’ income can be the very
reason for their eventual loss of all profit. The more they depress prices, the more
difficult it becomes for small farmers to grow cotton -- not only because of the decreasing
power of cotton to contribute to their income, but also because the farmers are selling
their land to pay off their debt, thus losing the chance to grow cotton altogether. If the
process of being indebted continues for two more decades, the land will be consolidated
Reverdy, "Can We Trust the Market? Incomplete Institutionalisation of the New Energy Markets," Paper
presented in EGOS 2007 Conference, Vienna, July 4-6, (2007).
Koray Çalışkan, "Price as a Market Device: Cotton Trading in Izmir Mercantile Exchange," in Market
Devices, ed. M Callon, Millo Y., and Muniesa, F., Sociological Review Monographs (Blackwell
Publishing, forthcoming).
in fewer hands, whose invisible interests will be more in line with those of the merchants,
and prosthetic prices may become more relevant in the countryside -- not because the
farmers have understood how to use derivative markets, but because there won’t be any
small farmers left. A cooperative, the foe and friend of any mercantile order, then, is
paradoxically the institution that protects long-term mercantile interests by creating a
buffer zone between the merchant and the farmer.
How can we account for the co-existence and mutuality of these two worlds of
trade and growth? One way is to appreciate the fact that the relations of exchange and
production are simultaneous instances of the same relation of survival and power. The
market does not just happen after the cotton is produced. Nor is the production over once
the cotton is sold. These two moments of the same process continuously inform each
other. One cannot identify the relations of exchange and production analytically as
separate fields of life. Farmers grow the market, as they grow the cotton.
In the moments when farmers like Numan or Selami meet with traders like
Huseyin in order to exchange cotton, it becomes possible to observe how global, regional
and local markets are made in places like that of Huseyin’s trading office. These trading
places are intersections of the relations of cotton exchange-production in the world. On
the one hand, they contribute to the making of world market prices of cotton such as the
A index, NYBOT futures price or Izmir Mercantile Exchange price. The outcome of
months of struggle to grow cotton in Pamukköy and minutes of bargaining in traders’
offices that bring the last phase of cotton’s growth to an end, inform the making of prices
as devices in all the locations of the world cotton market.
On the other hand, instances of bargaining in the traders’ offices are also
prefigured by the worlds of markets that traders such as Huseyin always check before the
making of any decision. These prostheses inform traders everyday decisions, thus
prefiguring what the farmers receive in the end. One side of these transactions, then, is
the registrar of all the price realization processes around the globe. As soon as the trader
buys cotton, the price he pays becomes either prosthesis or an input of it for those who
will continue to buy and sell cotton.
The coming together of producers and traders takes a different form from the
vantage point of the farmers. Cotton growers see only one price, that which covers the
expenses, and if possible, helps them earn some cash. They cannot hedge themselves, nor
protect their income from the ups and downs of prices to which they cannot relate. This is
not because farmers do not know how to use futures or options, but because knowing
how to use them is a daily activity of research and maintenance. Those “farmers” who
use them are the U.S. firms who do not at all touch cotton as it is grown.
For farmers who do not use these mercantile platforms in futures and options
markets --more than ninety nine percent of the world’s cotton growers like those in
Pamukköy, selling he cotton is the last moment of their year, while for traders it is a
beginning. Farmers cannot quite understand why these things called prices go up and
down, neither do traders nor economists. If it were possible to know, prices would not
move unexpectedly any way.27
Market exchange takes place in locations like that of Huseyin’s office, sites where
the farmers feel uncomfortable. “Things” happen there. It is a field of power where even
This insecurity is a source of loss for the farmers and an opportunity to make money for the traders.
“knowing what happens” does not help. Years of experience coupled with a selfexpressive performance of power meet indebted farmers with no comparable level of
experience in the locations of the J.R.s’ exchange theaters.
Furthermore, the farmers enter into these locations coming from a geography
where they must spend all available time growing cotton, killing insects and cows in
order to continue growing cotton, to hire or pool labor in cooperatives, to hoe their fields
or pick their cotton. Farmers do not have the time to do these two simultaneous forms of
production in order to survive. They cannot maintain market platforms and grow cotton at
the same time, for market exchange draws on concrete forms of production, performance
and maintenance. If every farmer could participate in the lint cotton market the way the
cotton traders and merchants trade each day, there would not be farmers to grow cotton in
the world.
Yet, it would be misleading to assume that cotton farmers are marginalized
victims of a cruel world of market maintenance. The cotton growers who own land are
locked into relations of exclusion, also as those who exclude, for the workers who pick
their harvest, like little Ali with the red fingers who cannot afford to ride a bus, are
excluded from enjoying the benefits of their hard work. Ali works only to survive, to pay
off his family’s debt to the grocery owner who brought him to work in Pamukköy.
Landless farmers and Kurdish workers are categorically, like the Pamukköy farmers
themselves, locked in a negotiation they cannot win. Much like the Kurdish immigrant
workers of Pamukköy, Pamukköy farmers just survive. If they are able to keep their land
without losing it to a trader to whom they are indebted, they are lucky.
Producing cotton and selling it to survive takes place in such a context of market
field. All phases of cotton’s growth are the product of myriad struggles that defy
neoclassical understanding of economization in the context of exchange. The agents of
cotton production, including the cotton bush itself, configure each others’ spectrum of
actions in order to pursue specific objectives. The winners of these struggles are large
farmers and traders. Cotton and cows die as humans struggle to survive. Insects are
produced and exterminated for cotton to grow and disappear. Women are exploited more
as they are not included in monetary forms of exchange, like the way farmers are not
included in prosthetic price deployment in spot, futures and options.
The relations of power mobilized to grow cotton draw on such a dynamic cascade
of domination and control among human and non-human agents of economization.
Understanding this world requires attending to the conditions of producing and
maintaining these relations of power. The article showed that carrying this task can only
be possible if one brings the totality of this market field into analysis. This is carried out
by imposing a methodological order on the way these relations are shaped around the
growth of a small plant with huge power: the cotton.
I argued that it is the politics of cotton’s market field that researchers and policy
makers have to focus in order to understand the dynamic world of economization.
Imposing a static logic of neoclassical calculation on this world does not only lead to
mere scientific misunderstandings. If deployed and imposed by institutions such as IMF
and WB, these assumptions become a part of the reality they aim at capturing, thus
become performative of the asymmetries created on the market field.28
For performativity of economic sciences see Donald MacKenzie, An Engine, Not a Camera: Financial
Models Shape Markets (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2006), Donald Mackenzie, Fabian Muniesa, and Lucia Siu,
The ways to understand production and exchange processes of agricultural
commodities from the vantage point of farmers, still the single largest working
population on earth, then requires one to situate these processes on a field of power where
a web of asymmetrical relations are forged and maintained. Such a political geography
can only be understood and manipulated if one attends to its making with theoretical tools
as dynamic as the reality it aims at grasping. Carrying this task requires an ethnographical
attention to the specific predicaments of each actor that make the world of commodity
To sum up, the ethnography of economization in cotton fields and markets of
Pamukköy suggest two main conclusions for policy makers and researchers. First, policy
makers should be extremely cautious as they use the rhetorical devices of neoclassical
economics in shaping market reforms. Without regarding the price as a market device or
prosthesis, it would be ideological and misleading to offer policy recommendations. Each
policy recommendation should be informed by the specific vantage point of all actors
who make the universe of reform, not only that of the traders.
Second, researchers should realize that treating markets and their prices as things
that are set in the market is itself a political investment in shaping markets. Prices are not
set; they are produced as prostheses to be used only by a selective group of market
participants. Thus, any research concerning markets and their making has to include those
who make the exchange object and market devices possible. This is why one cannot
understand a real market with formal models or static conceptions, for such tools are
investments in mercantile productions.
The ways in which farmers, traders, workers, women, children, insects, and even
bushes interact take place in a cascade of domination relations, end result of which is the
universe of cotton production and exchange. Market as a field has to be studied in its
completeness. Despite the preliminary contribution of this article and the emergent
literature it draws on researchers still lack a language to comparatively study relations of
economization on the ground.
Do Economists Make Markets? On the Performativity of Economics (Princeton: Princeton University Press,
Abdel-Aal, Mohamed, and Saad Reem. New Egyptian Land Reform. Cairo: The
American University in Cairo., 1999.
Adaman, Fikret, and Pat Devine, eds. Economy and Society. Montreal: Blackrose, 2001.
Adams, Jr. Richard H. "Interrogating Development - Evaluating the Process of
Development in Egypt, 1980-97." International Journal of Middle East Studies
32, no. 2 (2000): 255 - 75.
Alexander, Jennifer, and Paul Alexander. "What Is in a Fair Price? Price Setting and
Trading Partnership in Javanese Markets." Man 26, no. 3 (1991): 493 - 512.
Aydın, Zülküf. Underdevelopment and Rural Structures in Southeastern Turkey: The
Household Economy in Gisgis and Kalhana, Durham Middle East Monographs;
V. 2. London: Published for the Centre for Middle Eastern & Islamic Studies,
University of Durham by Ithaca Press, 1986.
Aysu, Abdullah. Türkiye'de Tarım Politikaları. İstanbul: Özgün Yayınları, 2001.
Balassa, Bela A. Toward Renewed Economic Growth in Latin America. Washington,
D.C.: Institute for International Economics, 1986.
Balkan, Neşecan, and Sungur Savran, eds. Neoliberalizmin Tahribatı: Türkiye'de Toplum,
Ekonomi Ve Cinsiyet. İstanbul: Metis Yayınları, 2003.
Barrey, Sandrine. "Formation Et Calcul Des Prix: Le Travail De Tarification Dans La
Grande Distribution." Sociologie du Travail 46, no. 2 (2006).
Barry, A., T. Osborne, and N. Rose. "Liberalism, Neo-Liberalism and Governmentality Introduction." Economy and Society 22, no. 3 (1993): 265-66.
Bates, Robert H. Markets and States in Tropical Africa: The Political Basis of
Agricultural Policies, California Series on Social Choice and Political Economy.
Berkeley: University of California Press, 1981.
Bestor, Theodore C. "Supply-Side Sushi: Commodity, Market, and the Global City."
American anthropologist 103, no. 1 (2001): 20.
Beunza, Daniel, Iain Hardie, and Donald MacKenzie. "A Price Is a Social Thing:
Towards a Material Sociology of Arbitrage." Organization Studies 27, no. 5
(2006): 721-45.
Buğra, Ayşe. Devlet-Piyasa Karşıtlığının Ötesinde: İhtiyaçlar Ve Tüketim Üzerine
Yazılar. İstanbul: İletişim, 2000.
Buğra, Ayşe, and Çağlar Keyder. "New Poverty and the Changing Welfare Regime of
Turkey." Ankara: UNDP, 2003.
Bush, Ray. Counter-Revolution in Egypt's Countryside: Land and Farmers in the Era of
Economic Reform. London; New York: Zed Books, 2002.
———. Economic Crisis and the Politics of Reform in Egypt. Boulder, Colo.: Westview
Press, 1999.
Callon, Michel, ed. The Laws of the Markets. London: Blackwell, 1998.
Cetina, Karin Knorr, and Urs Bruegger. "Global Microstructures: The Interaction
Practices of Financial Markets." In The Sociology of the Economy, edited by
Frank Dobbin, 157-89. New York: Russell Sage, 2004.
Chiffoleau, Yuna, and Catherine Laporte. "La Formation Des Prix: Le Marché Des Vins
En Bourgogne." Revue Française de Sociologie 45, no. 4 (2004): 653-80.
Cochoy, Franck, ed. La Captation Des Publics: C'est Pour Mieux Te Séduire Mon
Client…. Toulouse: Presses Universitaires du Mirail, 2004.
Çalışkan, Koray. "Making a Global Commodity: The Production of Markets and Cotton
in Egypt, Turkey, and the United States." New York University, 2005.
———. "Neoliberal Piyasa Nasıl İşler? Pamuk, İktidar Ve Ticaret Siyaseti (How Does a
Neoliberal Market Work? Cotton, Power and the Politics of Trade)." Toplum ve Billim
108 (2007): 52-81.
———. "Organism and Triangle: A Short History of Labor Law in Turkey (1920-1950)."
New Perspectives on Turkey 15 (1996): 95 - 118.
———. "Price as a Market Device: Cotton Trading in Izmir Mercantile Exchange." In Market
Devices, edited by M. Callon, Millo Y., and Muniesa, F. Blackwell Publishing,
———. "Price Realization in World Markets: The Prosthetic and Actual Worth of a Bale
of Cotton." Paper presented at the Paper presented at "Economies at Large"
Conference, November 14-15, 2003, New York University 2003.
Çalışkan, Koray, and Michel Callon. "New and Old Directions in the Anthropology of
Markets." Paper presented at the Paper presented at New Directions in the
Anthropology of Markets Workshop, Wenner-Gren Foundation for
Anthropological Research, New York City, April 9, 2005.
De Soto, Hernando. The Other Path: The Invisible Revolution in the Third World. 1st ed.
New York: Harper & Row, 1989.
DiMaggio, P., and H. Louch. "Socially Embedded Consumer Transactions: For What
Kinds of Purchases Do People Most Often Use Networks." American Sociological
Review 63, no. October (1998): 619-37.
Dobbin, Frank, ed. The Sociology of the Economy. New York: Russell Sage, 2004.
Duina, Francesco. "Regional Market Building as a Social Process: An Analysis of
Cognitive Strategies in Nafta, the European Union and Mercosur." Economy and
Society 33, no. 3 (2004): 359-89.
Eder, Mine. "Political Economy of Agricultural Liberalization in Turkey." In La Turquie
Et Le Développement, edited by A. Insel, 211-45. Paris: L'Harmattan, 2003.
Elyachar, Julia. Markets of Dispossession: Ngos, Economic Development, and the State
in Cairo, Politics, History, and Culture. Durham: Duke University Press, 2005.
Escobar, Arturo, and Sonia E. Alvarez. The Making of Social Movements in Latin
America: Identity, Strategy, and Democracy, Series in Political Economy and
Economic Development in Latin America. Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 1992.
Fligstein, Neil. "Markets as Politics: A Political-Cultural Approach to Market
Institutions." American Sociological Review 61, no. 4 (1996): 18.
Geismar, Haidy. "What's in a Price? An Ethnography of Tribal Art at Auction." Journal
of material culture 6, no. 1 (2001): 25-47.
Gibbon, Peter. "The Africa Growth and Opportunity Act and the Global Commodity
Chain for Clothing." World Development 31, no. 11 (2003): 1809-28.
Glavanis, Kathy R. G., and Pandeli M. Glavanis. The Rural Middle East: Peasant Lives
and Modes of Production. London: Zed Books, 1990.
Grandclément, Catherine. "Bundles of Prices: Marketing and Pricing in French
Supermarkets." In 4S-EASST Conference. Paris, 2004.
Granovetter, M. "Economic-Action and Social-Structure - the Problem of
Embeddedness." American Journal of Sociology 91, no. 3 (1985): 481-510.
Hayek, Friedrich A. von. "The Moral Imperative of the Market." In The Unfinished
Agenda: Essays on the Political Economy of Government Policy in Honour of
Arthur Seldon, edited by Martin J. Anderson, 143-49. London: The Institute of
Economic Affairs, 1986.
Hojman, D. E. Neo-Liberalism with a Human Face? The Politics and Economics of the
Chilean Model. Liverpool: Institute of Latin American Studies, the University of
Liverpool, 1995.
———. The Political Economies of Pinochet and Thatcher: A Comparison of the
Chilean and British Free-Market Models. Liverpool: University of Liverpool,
Institute of Latin American Studies, 1995.
Lapavitsas, Costas. "Commodities and Gifts: Why Commodities Represent More That
Market Relations." Science & Society 68, no. 1 (2004): 33-56.
Lépinay, Vincent, and Ellen Hertz. "Deception and Its Precondition: Issues Raised by
Financial Markets." In Deception in Markets. An Economic Analysis, edited by C.
Gerschlager. Houndsmill & new York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005.
Levin, Peter. "Economic Sociology: State, Market, and Society in Modern Capitalism
(Review)." Social Forces 82, no. 1 (2003): 406-08.
MacKenzie, Donald. "The Big, Bad Wolf and the Rational Market: Portfolio Insurance,
the 1987 Crash and the Performativity of Economics." Economy and Society 33,
no. 3 August 2004 (2004): 303-34.
———. An Engine, Not a Camera: Financial Models Shape Markets. Cambridge: MIT
Press, 2006.
MacKenzie, Donald, Fabian Muniesa, and Lucia Siu. Do Economists Make Markets? On
the Performativity of Economics. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2007.
Maurer, B. "Repressed Futures: Financial Derivatives' Theological Unconscious."
Economy and society 31, no. Part 1 (2002): 15-36.
———. "Uncanny Exchanges: The Possibilities and Failures of `Making Change' with
Alternative Monetary Forms." Environment and planning. D, Society & space 21,
no. Part 3 (2003): 317-40.
Millo, Yuval, Fabian Muniesa, Nikifiros S. Panourgias, and Susan V. Scott. "Organised
Detachment: Clearinghouse Mechanisms in Financial Markets." Information and
Organization (2005).
Mitchell, Timothy. "The Market's Place." In Directions of Change in Rural Egypt, edited
by Nicholas Hopkins and Kristen Westergaard. Cairo: American University in
Cairo Press, 1998.
———. Rule of Experts: Egypt, Techno-Politics, Modernity. Berkeley: University of
California Press, 2002.
Miyazaki, Hiro. "The Temporalities of the Markets." American Anthropologist 105, no. 2
(2003): 11-?
Mooij, Jos E., Deborah Fahy Bryceson, and Cristâobal Kay. Disappearing Peasantries?
Rural Labour in Africa, Asia and Latin America. London: Intermediate
Technology Publications, 2000.
Muniesa, Fabian. "Performing Prices: The Case of Price Discovery Automation in the
Financial Markets." In Oekonomie and Gesellschaft, edited by H. Kalthoff, R.
Rottenburg and H.-J. Wagener. Marburg: Metropolis, 2000.
Oyan, Oguz. Dışa Açılma Ve Mali Politikalar: Türkiye, 1980-1989. 2. basım. ed. Ankara:
V Yayınları, 1989.
Öniş, Ziya. State and Market: Political Economy of Turkey. Istanbul: Bogazici University
Press, 1998.
———. "Varieties and Crises of Neoliberal Globalisation: Argentina, Turkey and the
Imf." Third World Quarterly 27, no. 2 (2006): 25.
Özar, Şimsa, and Ercan Fuat. "Emek Piyasaları: Uyumsuzluk Mu, Bütünleşme Mi?" In
Neoliberalizmin Tahribatı, edited by Neşecan Balkan and Sungur Savran, 191210. İstanbul: Metis Yayınları, 2003.
Özüdoğru, Tijen. "Pamuk Durum Ve Tahmin 2006-2007." Ankara: Tarımsal Ekonomi
Araştırma Enstitüsü, 2006.
Pamuk, Şevket, and Zafer Toprak. Türkiye'de Tarımsal Yapılar. Ankara: Yurt Yayınevi,
Polanyi, Karl. The Great Transformation. New York, Toronto: Farrar & Rinehart, 1944.
Preda, Alex. "In the Enchanted Grove: Financial Conversation and the Marketplace in
England and France in the 18th Century." Journal of Historical Sociology 14, no.
3 (2001): 276-307.
Reverdy, Thomas. "Can We Trust the Market? Incomplete Institutionalisation of the New
Energy Markets." Paper presented in EGOS 2007 Conference, Vienna, July 4-6,
2007 (2007).
Riles, Annelise. "Time and Its (Ir)Relevance - Real Time: Unwinding Technocratic and
Anthropological Knowledge." American ethnologist 31, no. 3 (2004): 14.
Robinson, Joan. Collected Economic Papers. 1st MIT Press edition. ed. 5 vols.
Cambridge, Ma.: MIT Press, 1980.
Roitman, Janet. Fiscal Disobedience: An Anthropology of Economic Regulation in
Central Africa. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2005.
Sirman, Nükhet Ayşe. "Peasants and Family Farms: The Position of Households in
Cotton Production in a Village of Western Turkey." Doctoral Dissertation,
University College, 1988.
Uzzi, Brian, and Ryon Lancaster. "Embeddedness and Price Formation in the Corporate
Law Market." American Sociological Review 69, no. 3 (2004): 26.
Velthuis, Olav. "Symbolic Meanings of Prices: Constructing the Value of Contemporary
Art in Amsterdam and New York Galleries." Theory and Society 32, no. 2 (2003):
———. Talking Prices: Symbolic Meanings of Prices on the Market for Contemporary
Art, Princeton Studies in Cultural Sociology. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University
Press, 2005.
White, Harrison. "Where Do Markets Come From?" American Journal of Sociology 87
(1981): 517-47.
Yenal, Zafer. "Türkiye'de Tarım Ve Gıda Üretiminin Yeniden Yapılandırılması Ve
Uluslararasılaştırılması." Toplum ve Bilim 88 (2001): 32-54.
Yükseker, Deniz. "Trust and Gender in a Transnational Market: The Public Culture of
Laleli, Istanbul." Public culture 16, no. 1 (2004): 47-65.
Zafirovski, Milan Z. "An Alternative Sociological Perspective on Economic Value: Price
Formation as a Social Process." International Journal of Politics, Culture, and
Society 14, no. 2 (2000): 31.
Zajac, Edward J, and James D Westphal. "The Social Construction of Market Value:
Institutionalization and Learning Perspectives on Stock Market Reactions."
American Sociological Review 69, no. 3 (2004): 433-57.
Zaloom, Caitlin. Out of the Pits: Traders and Technology from Chicago to London.
Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006.
Zelizer, Viviana A. "The Price and Value of Children: The Case of Children's Insurance."
American Journal of Sociology 86, no. 5 (1981): 1036-56.