Fine Chocolate, Resistance, and Political Morality in the Marketplace


  • Maryann McCabe Cultural Connections LLC



Resistance, agency, producer-consumer relations, commodity chains


This article takes the case of fine chocolate to explore resistance in the consumer practice of buying branded products labeled fair trade. Ethnographic research conducted in the US, Europe and Japan at two different points in time indicates that moral satisfaction now joins sensual enjoyment in consumer appreciation of fine chocolate. The article examines social processes shaping fine chocolate into a morally compelling one based on use of fair labor in producing cocoa beans. Looking at the cocoa commodity chain reveals how the marketplace is a locus for challenging status quo. Fine chocolate was transformed from deterritorialized product perceived to come from chocolatiers in West European countries like Belgium and France to reterritorialized product connected to cocoa bean growers in tropical regions of the world. I argue that resistance is not equated with free will located within the individual as an autonomous actor but constitutes a form of agency distributed in an assemblage. Consumers are enmeshed in assemblages that have force or momentum. Examining movements in the fine chocolate assemblage (including chocolate lovers and their senses, chocolate products, producers along the commodity chain, and institutional discourse from media, government and industry) identifies a trajectory of change and correspondence between ethical concern and sensual enjoyment.

Author Biography

Maryann McCabe, Cultural Connections LLC

Maryann McCabe, Ph.D., is a cultural anthropologist who has been engaged in market research for over 20 years. She is founder and principal of Cultural Connections LLC, which helps corporations, advertising agencies and other organizations develop brand positioning and market segmentation. She is also Senior Lecturer at the University of Rochester, Department of Anthropology, where she has been teaching courses on business anthropology, entrepreneurship and sustainability for fifteen years. She has published many articles on US consumer culture in peer-reviewed journals including Human Organization, Journal of Consumer Culture, International Journal of Business Anthropology, and the Journal Business Anthropology. She may be reached at and