This essay explores the ways in which the materiality of rice is encountered by agents along the production-consumption chain, from farmers to processors to urban consumers. Each agent, whether it is a farmer, miller, trader, consumer, or agronomic research agency, defines what is material (i.e., both tangible and discursively relevant) with respect to his or her relationship to rice. Materiality of rice is informally constituted by each actor in ideological standards that guide and configure how different aspects of rice, such as cultivation, milling, and variety, equate with quality and desirability. Technical standards, which originate from ideological standards and discursive norms, crystallize certain combinations of quality characteristics in space and time. Although technical standards initially exist as points of reference within more comprehensive ideological standards, they can multiply and increasingly dominate the material encounter with rice. Local actors, however, can contest this process by trying to bring technical standards more into line with ideological intentions. More specifically, I explore how a technical organic standard is situated within an ideological standard for natural in Cambodia, a country with strong historical and contemporary sympathies for ecological agriculture. I find that organic/natural is an important platform for promoting popular control over standardization and, more generally, over commoditization of food.

You do not currently have access to this content.