Global Capitalism and Commodity Chains: Looking Back, Going Forward

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This paper assesses the achievements and limitations of commodity chain research as it has evolved over the last decade. The primary objectives are two-fold. First, I highlight an important but generally unacknowledged break between the original world-systemsinspired tradition of commodity chain research and two subsequent chain approaches, the global commodity chain (GCC) and global value chain (GVC) frameworks. Second, I argue that contra the macro and holistic perspective of the world-systems approach, much of the recent chains literature, and particularly the more economistic GVC variant, is increasingly oriented in its analytical approach towards the meso level of sectoral logics and the micro level objective of industrial upgrading. I conclude that closer attention to the larger institutional and structural environments in which commodity chains are embedded is needed in order to more fully inform our understanding of the uneven social and developmental dynamics of contemporary capitalism at the global-local nexus.