Date Available


Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation


Arts and Sciences



First Advisor

Dr. Anna Secor

Second Advisor

Dr. Tad Mutersbaugh


This dissertation project examines how value is changed and created through organic certification and the universalizing ideas of capacity building within the olive oil industry in Jordan and how these shifts affect the social and material processes of production. I approach organic olive oil production in Jordan as one method that producers use in accessing markets and capacity building. By shifting from looking strictly at organic certified farms to examining the larger context of capacity building and international standards, I identify how organic is just one strategy in a larger effort to diversify Jordanian agricultural production and to access global markets. However, more work needs to be done to elucidate how development shapes organic and other ‘alternative’ initiatives differently than in European and North American contexts. In order to do this, I incorporate postcolonial critiques of GPN and critical development studies to further our understanding how of these certifications and standards are taken up, challenged, and sometimes abandoned in favor of other production methods in local spaces of the Global South.

The local embeddedness of olive oil production and the relative recent history of export provide a unique opportunity for examining how producers, organizations, governments, and universities create new export industries. In order to trace how these capacities are built, this dissertation examines the following questions: how is value redefined as producers try to access distant consumers? What are the material and social strategies? In answering these questions, I examine three types of value: taste/sensory, organic/environmental, and gendered tradition. Through the examination of these values, I found that they were each built through a mechanism: re-asetheticizing local taste, creating a new commodity network, and pushing domestic labor into the public sphere. Each mechanism has intended and unintended consequences for the social relations of production.

In summary, this dissertation explores the use (and abandonment) of organic certification within the larger context of development and capacity building in Jordan. In order to explore how value is being created in new ways, the three empirical chapters examine extra virginity, organic certification, and women’s rural organizations. By looking beyond a singular commodity chain, this dissertation examines the processes through which institutional assemblages are formed and destabilized. Therefore, each of the three empirical chapters covers a different aspect of the institutions that are defining value within the larger network of the olive industry. This approach will further our understanding of how quality and conventions function in systems under transition. (Higgins, Dibden, and Cocklin 2008a).

Together these findings provide a broad picture of efforts in Jordan to improve and expand the Jordanian olive oil industry. A large aspect of this effort is to produce exportable olive oil. While only a small percentage of producers are exporting, governmental and development networks want to build the capacity of the olive industry so that more farmers are producing to international standards. Through this broad initiative, traditional ideas of quality and the best practices of production are being challenged. These shifts create new networks and products through which rural producers try to capture value. While the overall ramifications of this shift for the average farmer are small now, with further government standardizing, production and its associated social relations could be significantly changed. The traditional farmers who were able to sell within their personal networks may lose their ability to sell flexibly, and simultaneously larger irrigated producers may flourish, having larger environmental impacts.

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