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Contested Commodities: Mapping the Moral Landscape of Exchange

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Type: Conference Paper
Author: Helgason, Agnar; Pálsson, Gísli
Conference: Voices from the Commons, the Sixth Biennial Conference of the International Association for the Study of Common Property
Location: Berkeley, CA
Conf. Date: June 5-8, 1996
Date: 1996
URI: https://hdl.handle.net/10535/1373
Sector: Fisheries
Region: Europe
Subject(s): IASC
Abstract: "This paper deals with the commoditisation and pricing of environmental goods, in particular the practice and social theory of individual transferable quotas (ITQs) in fisheries, emphasizing ethnographic material related to the management system introduced in Iceland in 1984. ITQs, we argue, focusing on discourses on the environment and economic efficiency, signify the apex of what some scholars have called the 'modernist production regime,' a regime based on the idea that the natural world can be organised and subjected to rational control. In Iceland and several other contexts, the allocation and exchange of ITQs are matters of an ongoing moral debate. Public discontent with the concentration of quotas and the ensuing social repercussions has been articulated in terms of feudal metaphors, including those of 'tenancy' and the 'lords of the sea.' Moreover, fishermen attempt to resist and contest the actuality of profit-oriented exchange with fishing rights through a vigorous discourse that erects and affirms close moral boundaries around permissable economic behavior with ITQs. To them, the social organization of production is emphatically not an amoral affair. Boat owners who transgress these boundaries are commonly branded as 'quota-profiteers' and 'lords of the sea.' Moral debates on ITQs, we suggest, reflect a deeper concern in Western society with the status of money and monetary exchange, a concern that has a number of parallels in other parts of the world."

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