From China Directly

In a video report titled “Toxic Toothpaste: A Consumer Alerts the World” (October 1 2007), reporters from the New York Times portray markets as strangely unmediated: toothpaste directly from (not producers, not distributors, not retailers but a whole distant supply apparatus called “a country”, here unsurprisingly) China to the hands of the sovereign consumer (a consumer-hero that happened to read the list of ingredients, spot diethylene glycol and debunk the faulty product). But China is not a manufacturer, nor a seller, nor a merchant. It is at best a country. It contains of course such things as manufacturers and merchants — who, by the way, are rather unable to do any business abroad without what specialists knowingly call a “counterpart” ( i.e. a collaborator in trade, a partner, a socio). Export markets are not things in which products just pop up from a box in a harbor and wait until a consumer bumps into them. The Mattel recallings seem to keep on haunting the media all over the world (see this opinion after France 2 scared its public with “fabriqué en Chine”), even after a quite telling press release in which the firm emphatically supports a rather acknowledged sociological fact: that markets are mediated, organized chains of shared responsibilities. Getting stuff into a country from free-market paradises such as the Zona Libre de Colón or having the Food and Drug Administration telling people to throw Chinese stuff away instead of having a proper ex-ante health control of all the products that enter the consumer market would be part of these.


  1. american suciologist

    In some ways this is reminiscent of the old-fashioned debates about “how American is an American car” (or, rather, how Japanese is a Japanese car), always an interesting case of coming up with national qualities for complex goods.

    With the possible difference that in those cases you have the ability to trace different parts and components to particular manufacturing plants (physical places in physical countries), and a well-established system of accounting to give an auditable form to that traceability. I wonder if you could do the same with the chemical components of toothpaste and quantify the percentage of chineseness in the tube (although it still begs the question of what it means to determine the “origin” of a chemical).

  2. american suciologist,

    You raise indeed the very crucial topic of the political economy of paste.

  3. american suciologist

    You mean, la economia politica de la pasta?

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    […] 19th, 2007 The latest ‘Chinese toothpaste’ panic and the way ‘China’ is constructed in the American public discourse reminded me of another episodes of economically driven or perhaps, […]

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