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Shifting Value-Added to the South: D.I.Y. Alternative Importers in Europe

 Shifting Value-Added to the South: D.I.Y. Alternative Importers in Europe
Sofa Gradin, PhD Candidate, School of Politics & IR
Primary Supervisor: Professor Ray Kiely
Second Supervisor: Dr Robbie Shilliam

Academically, Sofa was trained in Bristol, winning prizes for highest achievement both from Bristol University (MSc Intl Development) and Bristol UWE (BA Intl Relations). However, this PhD topic is to an equal measure shaped by ten years of radical feminist-, environmental- and anti-poverty activism, both in Britain and in Stockholm, Sweden. 

Sofa is funded by the ESRC’s Doctoral Training Centre.

Sofa's PhD research focuses on European organisations that import products from the developing world as a form of D.I.Y. ('Do It Yourself') political activism. In other words, people who have decided to take action against trade inequalities, not (only) through traditional means such as protesting or lobbying, but through 'prefiguring' the world they envisage, setting up alternatives to the system they are criticising.

The aim of the PhD is to explore how and to what extent the developed world's importing practices could prevent poverty at the root by shifting value-added tasks to the South (or 'promoting value chain upgrade' as Global Value Chains analysts would put it); by organising democratically; and by replacing private profit with collective long-term gain. Many development scholars are excited about the potential for New Social Movements, as an alternative to IMF/World Bank programmes and watered down mainstream development NGOs, to lift the global South out of poverty sustainably. Can radical social movements such as D.I.Y. alternative trading be a strong way forward?

The empirical research focuses on importers in Europe, typically small not-for-profit co-operatives motivated by explicitly politicised trade-related aims, who import products from so-called 'developing' regions of the world. Questions include: What are some strengths and weaknesses of prefigurative political action? How do these importers work, and what difference does that make for their suppliers in the global South? Is it possible to achieve an equal trading relationship across borders, across classes and colonial divisions?

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