Sweetness and Power:
The Place of Sugar in Modern History
. New York: Penguin, 1985.
A. Object of Study
Sweetness and Power
(1985) is an ethnography of a particularly significant commodity,
sugar. Mintz engages in an historical analysis of sugar as a commodity and traces its social relations of
production and consumption, as well as the shifts in cultural meaning that occur as production and con-
sumption patterns change.
B. How to Read this Text: A Guide to Today’s Lecture
This book makes for difficult reading due to the wealth of detail and the extremely fine-grained histori-
cal analysis. PLEASE NOTE: you won’t be tested on specifics. So, when you read, you should read for
the broadest outline, the biggest key points, the over-arching framework, etc. How do you do this? A
few tips on how to read thru this:
Read for broad ideas—don’t get bogged down in the wealth of details;
Read the introduction VERY closely—use it as a framework identifying the key argument;
TAKE EXCELLENT NOTES ON THIS LECTURE!—basically, what I present here will
give you a very thorough break down, not just for the exam but, more importantly, for your
paper. The TA’s will expect you to integrate the relevant ideas presented here into your
“commodity chain” paper.
I have designed much of this lecture with this end in sight!;
Define and master all the key terms in this lecture, which are highlighted in bold. At the end of
the lecture I have provided a key concepts bank (see Appendix 1). Go back to the text of this
lecture to help you define these terms.
Before delving into the underlying theoretical or interpretive framework of the text, it is helpful to place Mintz’s
Sweetness and Power
in the context of post-WWII developments that profoundly affected anthropology. (Given our
time constraints today, I’ll have to be a bit reductive). Mintz’s book is very much a part of and responds to 3 key
Post-WWII Geopolitics of the Cold War:
The US was strategically situated as a global hegemonic power at the end of WWII. However, the
USSR wielded an enormous degree of power internationally as well, leading to a long-standing political-
military standoff between two world “super-powers”—a Cold War that would profoundly shape inter-
national politics, so-called development policies, and, in the US academy, a newly created field called
. Area Studies Programs in the US received
large funding by the US government and
sought to provide detailed historical, sociological, economic, and political knowledge about different re-
gions across the globe—in particular, Latin America, Southeast Asia, and the Middle East—that were
of strategic importance to US imperial interests.
Many of the economic and policy programs associated with Area Studies were shaped by a develop-