Subprojects | Project Area A | Knowledge of Space

Knowledge and Goods: Consumers’ and Producers’ Spatial Knowledge

Using the example of fresh produce trade, the research project investigates: (1) the specific spatial knowledge of consumers (from various social milieus) and producers (as actors in the supply chain); (2) how both draw on this knowledge when buying and selling fresh vegetables; (3) how actors refer to different spatial arrangements while interacting (i.e. act polycontexturally); (4) the role of the traded goods as objectifications of communicative action in these interactions; and (5) current changes in this specific spatial knowledge due to the re-figuration of spaces.

We start from the assumption that consumers’ and producers’ knowledge (including spatial knowledge) plays a key role in coordinating value chains. During coordination processes, goods (as objectifications of communicative action) are symbolically charged to become carriers of social meaning. This knowledge is necessarily polycontextural, since the value chain interlinks different contexts of production, selling/buying and consumption, and these contexts have different spatial extensions and references. Moreover, consumers increasingly have to handle the polycontexturality of value chains as a result of mediatisation. It may even be that consumers do not have any spatial knowledge of food (‘Nichtwissen’). Spatial knowledge (of the value chain) may thus be explicit, implicit or non-existing – and hence relevant or irrelevant for interaction.

As knowledge varies between social milieus, we systematically investigate how different milieus interact with producers. We particularly focus on four urban districts in Berlin, each of which is predominated by a distinct (and contrasting) social milieu. In each of these districts, we theoretically sample consumers and producers. Using a mixed methodology design combining qualitative and quantitative geographical and sociological methods, we ask: who has which spatial knowledge, how do subjects act upon it, how has this knowledge changed, and how is it used for maintaining and changing value chains and their spatial organisation.

We will focus on the market for fresh produce, because (1) the value chains are especially complex there, linking a multitude of actors from different locations, and because value chains of different spatial extensions (local, national, global) exist in parallel. (2) Food is, on a symbolic and social level, exceptionally important and plays a crucial role in all cultures in constituting local identities. We therefore assume that consumers’ food-related knowledge strongly varies between locations. (3) The specific material properties of fresh produce compel us to also analyse the tensions between material and symbolic aspects of space.

© Patrik Budenz