I’m both happy and proud to announce that Camille Lardy’s dissertation ‘Cognac houses and bottlenecks: information networks in the international Cognac trade’ has won the 2015 Sue Benson Prize for best undergraduate dissertation in Social Anthropology at Cambridge. I will claim a tiny modicum of credit – mainly in being smart enough to let Camille do her own thing – for her success as I was her dissertation supervisor. (Also smart enough to also not let her change the brilliant chapter titles and sub-headings.) The dissertation was described by one of its readers as a ‘real page-turner,’ which, as any academic will tell you, is a very rare achievement.
Camille will hopefully be publishing a version of it in the near future, but for now, I quote part of the Introduction to give you an idea of the topic:
‘Few studies have examined the complex process whereby craft objects are culturally marked and endowed with social, aesthetic, and economic value as they are produced, exchanged, and consumed in postindustrial centers’ (Terrio 2005: 145): cognac, with its centuries of history and worldwide distribution, is very much endowed with cultural value; and its culture in turn endows those who produce and consume it. This dissertation is an exploration of the ‘scales’ of cognac: produced in a strictly limited area, it is sold internationally; subject to the volatility of global markets, it is nevertheless produced according to long-term business plans and aged for decades before being commercialised; manufactured by a network of individuals ranging from the countryside working class to the merchant bourgeoisie, it is both the means of culturally uniting its producers and the instrument of discrimination against all other inhabitants of Cognac. In a first part, focusing on the place of cognac in the world, I present the history of cognac production and its conquest of successive international markets, along with the anecdotes shared on these topics by present-day Cognaçais. I then return to a smaller scale and investigate cognac in Cognac itself: how it forges a discourse in which the ‘culture of cognac’, embodied in stories transmitted along the network of cognac producers, is the basis of distinction between the cultural authority of ‘those who know’, and the resulting submissiveness of ‘those who don’t’, the inhabitants of Cognac who do not share in the network of information. This second part continues with an analysis of the role, in the last decade, of stories featuring African-American rappers in establishing the first, quite tentative, contact between these two locally superimposed but culturally divided populations.
A huge Congratulations to Cam!
Terrio, S.J. 2005. ‘Crafting Grand Cru Chocolates in Contemporary France’. In Watson, J.L. & Caldwell, M.L. (eds.) The Cultural Politics of Food and Eating: A Reader. Blackwell.