Abstract

This article examines two distant workspaces of cocoa: plantations in São Tomé, a small Portuguese colonial island in the African Gulf of Guinea, and a British chocolate factory. In line with commodity-centered histories, it focuses on the diversity of labor systems, with different levels of coercion, working simultaneously to make cocoa and chocolate available to consumers in the industrial cities of Europe and North America. But this article adds to that literature by embracing the challenge of thinking with materials and the ways they produced specific social worlds. Cocoa and chocolate are understood as “thick things” whose physical attributes allowed or restricted different operations and uses and whose characteristics promoted or obstructed particular labor forms and allowed for the stabilization of different modes of rule. When we take the material properties of cocoa seriously, it is possible to see how mass chocolate production was a technological and scientific enterprise conceived to cope with the constraints of cocoa itself, with profound consequences for the labor forms on the plantation and the factory. Materials bound plantation laborers and chocolate scientists to specific technological, economic and political relations and demanded huge investments and much labor to create alternative ones.

You do not currently have access to this content.