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Immanence vs. provenance

IAFOR European Conference on the Social Sciences

‘Immanence vs. provenance’ was a spotlight presentation delivered at the 2013 ‘European Conference on the Social Sciences’ organised by the International Academic Forum (IAFOR). Oakley used the analytical tool of complexity – as defined by John Law and Anne-Marie Mol – to interrogate the Fairtrade and Fairmined gold campaign and explain the mounting problems it faced following its launch in 2011.

Oakley focused on the incommensurability of two fundamental aspects of Fairtrade and Fairmined gold: the ‘immanence’ of gold as an elemental substance, status symbol and store of wealth, and the ‘provenance’ inherent in Fairtrade certification. His paper explained how immanence is embedded in the practices of industrial gold refining, fine jewellery manufacturing and the international gold trading markets and how this feature threatens to compromise any system reliant on the history of individual masses of material.

The paper drew on four years of field research amongst jewellers and fair trade activists in the UK, during which time the Fairtrade and Fairmined gold programme was created and launched by the Fairtrade movement. Oakley was the only academic conducting ethnographic fieldwork on the material culture and social dynamics of the UK’s commercial jewellery trade during this period. This led to a unique opportunity to gather primary data from Fairtrade gold licensees before and after the public launch of the campaign and observe the initiative’s development from a participant-observer standpoint, including Fairtrade’s review of its licensing standard for gold in 2012.

The research and paper informed Oakley’s contribution to the 3rd ‘Sustainable Luxury Forum’ in Geneva in June 2013, where he chaired the ‘Sustainable luxury innovation’ panel, consisting of representatives from Swiss companies and institutions. The Forum was attended by senior staff from international banks, NGOs, major luxury maisons and their holding companies (including LVMH, Richemont and Kering).