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The Narrative Economy of Western Australian Truffle Markets
Anthropologists have long studied the socially transformative processes of ritual in religious life. This thesis is a contribution to the emerging discipline of business anthropology as it relates to ritual symbolism in capitalist market culture. I explain how Western Australia’s farmers of cultivated truffles compete for social, economic, cultural and symbolic capital through elaborate narratives in trade ritual contexts. Truffle market narratives are not merely textual, verbal and pictorial, but performative and embodied. Narratives are used to add values, meanings and points-of-difference to truffles, grower-locales, and people associated with them through mediated trade rituals. These narratives are not delivered one way, from producer to consumer, but are negotiated through ritualised performances in which consumers, producers, marketing intermediaries and complimentary industries all contribute to the development of the narrative whole. There is always an element of risk in such discursive constructions of narrative, and the truffle industry manages this precariousness by maintaining an air of conviviality in trade rituals. Competition between growers and grower regions for strategic symbolic positions within ritualised narratives ensures the field and its narratives are kept rich in allure for consumers, even when the industry’s tensions and rivalries are running high. I ultimately argue that Western Australian truffle markets can be seen as a “narrative economy” where complex stories negotiated in symbolism, myth and ritual are integral to the industry’s strategic economic development.
The research aim is to understand how farmers negotiate the intersection of economic and social life in burgeoning neo-liberal markets - where 'food fashion' trends demand closer engagement between consumers and producers. The researcher also aims to test the develop of more holistic and constructive dialogues between anthropology and academic studies of business through what is, ostensibly, a study of symbolism, myth and ritual in capitalist market culture.