Valuing precarious commodities : an ethnography of trade in three charity shops in the Cape Metropolitan area

Watt, Kathryn Grace (2014-04)

Thesis (MA)--Stellenbosch University, 2014.

Thesis

ENGLISH ABSTRACT: In this study I investigate how the value of factory manufactured second-hand objects is determined within three charity shops in the Cape Metropolitan area. I argue that the value of the second-hand object sold in the charity shop cannot be determined solely from the quantifiable abstract labour of its 'initial production', or the perceived depreciation thereof. Nor can it be ascribed to the meanings produced in exchange. Instead I propose the histories of use and biographies of the objects in conjunction with the expectations of charity that emerge within the charity shop render them 'precarious commodities'. The value of the precarious charity shop commodity is informed by the socio-spatial conditions inside and outside the charity shops that, I suggest, propagate racial nostalgias from which notions of 'expensive respectability' and the middle class emerge as valuing. Within these conditions the charity shop acts as a point of production, in which staff labour to reconstitute value and transform donated objects into resalable commodities. These labours include the purging, sorting and distribution of objects in the 'back-space' of each shop and the commodity aesthetics of the 'front-spaces'. This labour is not limited to sellers; buyers also negotiate the dynamics of value within the 'front-space' of the charity shop, drawing upon similar notions of racialized respectability as they seek out 'quality' shopping experiences and engage in 'treasure hunting' and 'aspirational shopping'.

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING: In hierdie studie het ek ondersoek hoe waarde bepaal word binne drie liefdadigheid winkels in die Kaapse Metropool. Ek argumenteer dat die waarde van die tweedeHande liefdadigheid voorwerpe wat verkoop word in die liefdadigheid‘s winkel kan nie uitsluitlik bepaal word van die kwantifiseerbare abstrakte arbeid van die voorwerp se 'aanvanklike produksie', of die vermeende waardevermindering daarvan bepaal nie. Dit kan ook nie toegeskryf word aan die betekenis wat in ruil geproduseer is nie, omdat die voorwerpe wat op die spel is reeds onderhewig aan gebruik en die spesifieke verwagtinge van liefdadigheid wat na vore kom in die liefdadigheid‘s winkel. Verder illustreer ek dat waarde bepaal word deur die sosio-ruimtelike omstandighede binne en buite die winkels. Hierdie toestande, stel ek voor, propageer rasse nostalgie waaruit 'n bepaalde rasse tipe, 'n 'duur ordentlikheid' na vore kom as waardering. Ek argumenteer dat liefdadigheid winkels tree op as punte van produksie en transformeer geskenkde voorwerpe in haglike-kommoditeite deur arbeid wat nastreef om gebruik-waarde, die vervaardiging van die kommoditeit estetika en verkoop van die voorwerp te versterk. Hierdie arbeid is nie beperk tot verkopers nie, ek wys dat kopers maak gebruik van soortgelyke rasgedrewe opvattings van kwaliteit terwyl hulle die dinamika van waarde binne die liefdadigheid winkel onderhandel.

Please refer to this item in SUNScholar by using the following persistent URL: http://hdl.handle.net/10019.1/86760
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