Alexios Tsigkas is a Ph.D. candidate in Anthropology at The New School for Social Research. His research explores the relationship between aesthetics and commodities through an ethnography of taste-making in the Ceylon tea industry.
ALEXIOS TSIGKAS is a Ph.D. candidate in Anthropology at The New School for Social Research. His interest in aesthetics and commodities come together with his committed tea drinking habit in a project on taste-making in the Ceylon tea industry.
While studies have looked at the composition and social effects of taste in the context of the circulation and consumption of goods, Alexios’ dissertation, A Commodity of a Certain Taste: An Ethnography of the Ceylon Tea Industry, locate tastes within the production process. As Sri Lanka’s national commodity, Ceylon tea is a brand name of immense export value, and of historical, financial, and symbolic significance to the island. However, as tea enjoys growing global popularity, demand for the high-quality but costly Ceylon brew is in decline. While individual stakeholders stand divided on how to address this conundrum, the industry persists in its longstanding practice of carving and safeguarding a niche-like brand identity around the purity and superior taste of Ceylon tea, even as the latter remains a widely circulating, factory quality, mass-produced commodity. Alexios' project theorizes taste as a value-creating entity, the effects of which are central to the production of commodities, rather than solely to their consumption, and, in doing so, it rethinks the commodity form. Furthermore, it posits that the analytic of taste can enrich our knowledge and understanding of the Ceylon tea industry and contemporary capitalism in Sri Lanka. At the same time, it questions the nature of taste-making itself as a labor of collaboration and negotiation between different groups of actors.