The Production and Economization of Quality in Turkish Olive Oil


Fri, 09/16/2022 - 3:00pm


Part of the Fall 2022 Middle Eastern and North African Studies Colloquium Series

Brian Silverstein, Associate Professor of Anthropology, University of Arizona


Silverstein headshot



Turkey is in the midst of a ‘quality turn’ in its olive oil sector, as producers seek ways to capture value through what I describe here as processes of qualification. Based on fieldwork with olive oil producers and others in the sector in Ayvalık, Turkey, I show how the qualities of ‘high-quality’ olive oil are made through human labor, technique and technology. These attempts to stabilize and standardize the experience of taste and smell to align with international norms involve harvesters, producers, chemical compounds, laboratories, international organizations, standards, terminologies, infrastructures, cargo companies, equipment manufacturers, consultants, and consumers. Such oil is relatively unfamiliar to many in Turkey, necessitating the formation of a market for it through the economization of its qualities.


Brian Silverstein is an associate professor in the School of Anthropology and director of the Arizona Center for Turkish Studies at the University of Arizona. His current research is on how human experimentation and design alters the world we live in, specifically in the case of foods and food systems, olives and olive oil in Turkey in particular. This project uses ethnographic and historical methods to explore the labor of qualification and value-making, the economy of qualities, and socio-technical innovation in the Turkish olive oil industry. His work has appeared in journals including American Ethnologist, Cultural Anthropology, and Comparative Studies in Society and History, and he is the author of two monographs: The Social Lives of Numbers: Statistics, Reform and the Remaking of Rural Life in Turkey (2020); and Islam and Modernity in Turkey (2011).

Co-sponsored by Arizona Center for Turkish Studies and Center for Regional Food Studies

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