As Silver on Vines: Economies of Affect & Violence in Madagascar’s Vanilla Boom
In 2017, vanilla bean prices in Madagascar reached historic highs. While the resulting influx of wealth into rural communities brought welcomed changes, it also led to the dramatic increase of vanilla bean theft from fields, provoking escalating reactions of anxiety, fear, anger, and violence from farmers. Drawing from long-term ethnographic research, this project considers how the vanilla boom represents not only a spectacular economic event, but also a significant affective one for vanilla farmers and others participating in the global vanilla trade. More than merely background ambiance, these emotions perform distinct forms of material, political, and cultural work, and reveal how forms of economic violence – both fast and slow – become embedded in commodity relationships, and the environments and bodies that support them.
Sarah Osterhoudt is Associate Professor of Anthropology at IU Bloomington. Her research examines the relationships between people, the environment, and global trade systems, especially within agricultural and agroforestry landscapes. Working with smallholder vanilla and clove farmers in Northeastern Madagascar, she investigates the ways agrarian landscapes emerge as cultural landscapes. Her first book, Vanilla Landscapes: Meaning, Memory and the Cultivation of Place in Madagascar, was published by New York Botanical Garden Press in 2017.