Absorbing Uncertainty across the Global Apparel Value Chain

Alexander D. Hoppe

Cultural industries depend on both creative and organizational achievements. Because meaning is at the center of cultural consumption, product designers depend on the mysteries of inspiration. At the same time, support staff like product managers or industrial engineers are not mere “surplus baggage.” They can have a powerful impact on the final shape of goods. So where does inspiration come from and how, across a complex division of labor, do ideas become objects? With support from a Fulbright-Nehru Fellowship, the project includes data from 11 months of ethnographic observation in export-oriented Indian garment factories. It mobilizes global value chains, organizational theory, and social psychology to connect the demands of management with the actual workflow of staff. The analytical centerpiece is the progressive absorption of uncertainty. Diminishing parameters of time and attention become apparent as the workflow moves through design and product management to the technical core of assembly lines. These processes are transnational, including the unexpected outsourcing of services like fashion design. The expected outcome of the research is a book publication.

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