Markets of the heart: Weighing economic and ethical values at ten thousand villages

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Purpose - This project explores tensions at the heart of the fair-trade organization Ten Thousand Villages. I investigate the ways in which this organization attempts to balance concerns of North American staff and volunteers, to care for artisans abroad, and to incorporate expansion plans in the face of challenges raised by the recession. Methodology/approach - This chapter draws on fieldwork with stores in Toronto (2011-2012) and ongoing fieldwork (summer 2014 and 2015) with the flagship store in Ephrata, Pennsylvania. Findings - Members express continuing tension between the organization's founding Mennonite values and the more recent orientation chosen by leadership, to compete successfully in "regular" retail space against non-fair-trade brands. Store staff and volunteers perceive Villages' buying practices, meant to provide "fairness" to producers in the developing world, as somewhat inconsistent with the treatment of North American store employees. Corporate leadership is mainly focused on ameliorating poverty abroad, rather than framing the organization's work in a broader social justice context, which store staff and volunteers expect. Originality/value - At a time of increasing dialogue about alternative value systems that expand notions of economic worth, the fair-trade movement offers a useful model for one attempt to work within the market system to ameliorate its damages. Understanding how one organization negotiates its own competing value systems can provide useful perspective on other revaluation projects.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)115-135
Number of pages21
JournalResearch in Economic Anthropology
StatePublished - 2017


  • Artisan
  • Ethnography
  • Fair trade
  • Mennonite
  • Social justice
  • Ten Thousand Villages


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