Academic journal article Capital & Class

Conspicuous Production: Wine, Capital and Status

Academic journal article Capital & Class

Conspicuous Production: Wine, Capital and Status

Article excerpt

'Creating art is important to me. Making wine is creating art. I get enormous pleasure watching grapes grow and mature.' Antonio Banderas, movie star and winemaker.

Wine and capital

Antonio Banderas, like his fellow movie stars Dan Aykroyd, Gerard Depardieu and Zhao Wei, the sportsmen Ernie Els and Wayne Gretzky, and musicians including Madonna, Bob Dylan and Cliff Richard, represents a novel, diverse, high-profile source of capital within the wine industry. The industry is marked by the dominance (in investment and production terms, at least) of huge multinational liquor conglomerates; and yet due to the complex nature of the products differentiation, the industry also has significant space for other, often much smaller, investors and producers. Celebrity wine makers (or more correctly 'investors', for in reality few actually make the wine) represent one, albeit novel, source of capital within the industry, and one that is typically not driven by purely economic concerns. In this sense, their involvement parallels others (individuals and institutions) whose interest in wine production transcends rational economic decisionmaking. Two other sources of such investment in the wine industry that can be identified are state-led forms of investment in the industry, and a brand of urban entrepreneurs who, in part, pursue involvement in the wine industry as an aspirational activity that reshapes their image and identity.

In this paper, we are interested in untangling the motivations and implications of such primarily non-economically-driven forms of investment. Following Polanyi (1960), we label such investment conspicuous production, and use this theory to provide a lens through which to examine the ways in which these varied sources of capital flow into the wine industry, reworking the existing patterns of production and industry structures and ownership in different parts of the world. These complex novel formations and articulations of capital, we argue, are playing a role in reshaping the geographies of wine, and with it, rurality in different parts of the world.

In conventional Marxist analyses, class formation is predicated on production and the ownership and control of the means of production. Surplus value is extracted and accumulated by the bourgeoisie, who amass individual wealth. For Veblen (1899), though, the expression of class for the bourgeoisie is then acted out through consumption. Consumption, in this sense, validates class and status, and consumption is an act that is 'performed' by the wealthy. We suggest in this paper that such consumption is sometimes paralleled by the construction of new production systems that serve a similar purpose: they are primarily about the display of status and the recreation of identity, rather than being for the prime purpose of surplus extraction. We outline how in the wine industry, there are forms of capital investment which construct these new, partially fictive production systems. Whilst there are implications for class formation within these forms of wine production (Overton & Murray 2013), the basis for the wealth and the class position of the owners/investors is derived from elsewhere, from more conventional capitalist production. The constructed wine production systems instead allow the investors to reconstruct their class identities through a form of conspicuous production (a performance of class that is similar to conspicuous consumption). In this way, they attach themselves to a production system that is putatively non-industrial and often pre-modern (in some cases, almost neo-feudal [Murray 2007])--a fiction that is promoted as artisanal, sustainable and land-based, rather than (the reality of their wealth) industrial, urban and exploitative.

Wine is a global industry that has experienced significant growth and restructuring in the past decade, particularly in the developing world outside its established base in Western Europe. …

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