Serve and certify: Paradoxes of service work in organic-coffee certification

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59 Scopus citations


In this paper I argue that certified-organic inspection agents play a key role in reworking transnational organic-product certification standards to the unique conditions found within Mexican (Oaxacan) organic-coffee producer villages. First, I document the steps through which transnational product-certification norms, under the International Organization for Standardization guide 65 rubric, are codified as practical standards by organic-product certifying agencies. These standards are found to embed contradictions between inclusiveness and transparency that lead to difficulties in field-level implementation: in essence, practices required to make organic production legible to transnational certifiers often have the opposite effect of making certification unintelligible at the village level. Second, I show how field-level certification inspectors, working under contract to certifying agencies, cooperate with village organic extension agents to make certification legible both to villagers and to transnational certifiers (thereby helping to ensure its success). A corollary methodological argument is made to the effect that the importance of field-level work becomes evident when inspectors are viewed-through the optic of labor-process ethnography-as 'interactive service employees'. This work thus points to a need to understand with greater clarity how standards are enacted in local contexts and support the efforts of field-level workers with the often-difficult task of making standards legible.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)533-552
Number of pages20
JournalEnvironment and Planning D: Society and Space
Issue number4
StatePublished - Aug 2004

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Environmental Science (miscellaneous)


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