Favored Flowers

Culture and Economy in a Global System

Favored Flowers

Book Pages: 320 Illustrations: 17 photos, 11 tables, 19 figures Published: July 2007

Anthropology > Cultural Anthropology, Geography, Globalization and Neoliberalism

Billions of fresh-cut flowers are flown into the United States every year, allowing Americans to choose from a broad array of blooms regardless of the season. Favored Flowers is a lively investigation of the worldwide production and distribution of fresh-cut flowers and their consumption in the New York metropolitan area. In an ethnography filled with roses, orchids, and gerberas, flower auctions, new hybrids, and new logistical systems, Catherine Ziegler unravels the economic and cultural strands of the global flower market. She provides an historical overview of the development of the cut flower industry in New York from the late nineteenth century to 1970, and on to its ultimate transformation from a domestic to a global industry. As she points out, cut flowers serve no utilitarian purpose; rather, they signal consumers’ social and cultural decisions about expressing love, mourning, status, and identity. Ziegler shows how consumer behavior and choices have changed over time and how they are shaped by the media, by the types of available flowers, and by flower retailing.

Ziegler interviewed more than 250 people as she followed flowers along the full length of the commodity chain, from cuttings in Europe and Latin America to vases in and around New York. She examines the daily experiences of flower growers in the Netherlands and Ecuador, two leading exporters of flowers to the United States. Primary focus, though, is on others in the commodity chain: exporters, importers, wholesalers, and retailers. She follows their activities as they respond to changing competition, supply, and consumer behavior in a market characterized by risk, volatility, and imperfect knowledge. By tracing changes in the wholesale and retail systems, she shows the recent development of two complementary commodity chains in New York and the United States generally. One leads to a high-end luxury market served by specialty florists and designers, and the other to a lower-priced mass market served by chain groceries, corner delis, and retail superstores.


Favored Flowers is a wonderful book, intermingling political economy, class analysis, gender, and culture in a fragrant bouquet. It would cheerfully adorn many a bookshelf or reading list.” — W. L. Goldfrank, Contemporary Sociology

“[A]s Ziegler persuasively argues . . . the decline of the traditional florist, who enjoyed a monopoly in his field for over a hundred years, is a reflection of the broader effects of globalization that have transformed retailing. . . . [C]ompelling reading for anyone interested in learning what makes globalization tick.” — Vicki Howard, Business History Review

“A rose is a rose is a rose—but to whom, how, when, where and why? These are among the questions explored in this beautifully conceived and finely crafted analysis, which deserves to become a classic. To call it a ‘commodity chain study’ risks over-simplifying this marvellously rich work, in a field that has long suffered from a degree of over-simplification and parochialism. . . . To all of us who work with commodities, Favored Flowers is a true benchmark. If any recent study deserves bouquets, this is it.” — Kaori O’Connor, Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute

“For readers interested in Latin America, Favored Flowers provides a valuable global context for the flower boom that has taken place there since the mid-1960s. . . . It presents a fluid and contingent view of global commodity chains that is strikingly different from more structuralist accounts of commodity exports from Latin America.” — Stuart McCook, Latin American Research Review

“I loved this book. Catherine Ziegler really brings the global economy alive by tracing a single small but diverse good through production, transportation and delivery. . . . I promise you, you will never look at a flower the same way again.” — Janine Peterson Wonnacott, Feminist Review

“Undergraduates in social sciences will appreciate Ziegler’s clear and engaging demonstration, among the most interesting titles I have read in years. This excellent research is one of these fundamental books which allow people to understand why and how social scientists work.” — Yves Laberge, The Latin Americanist

“Ziegler offers a marvelous investigation of the worldwide production and distribution of fresh-cut flowers. . . . [T]his book provides a very interesting read. . . . Eight chapters and additional features offer information that is invaluable to the industry and anyone contemplating employment or considering an entrepreneurial venture in the industry. Highly recommended.” — L. C. Ewart, Choice

Favored Flowers is an excellent book, an extremely impressive and important piece of original research. A case study of the contemporary commodity chain has been the ‘next big thing’ in anthropology, geography, and sociology for some time now, but this is one of the first studies that I have read that really lives up to the promise, including all the neglected middle sections of the chain. Here the wholesalers, the buyers, the packing, developing, storing, transporting, selecting, and distributing finally get the respect they deserve.” — Daniel Miller, editor of Materiality

“Catherine Ziegler has made an important contribution to our understanding of the intricate networks that make the global flower industry tick. Her history of the role that flowers have played in our culture is fascinating, and her analysis of supply chains, communication networks, and worldwide trends makes Favored Flowers an invaluable read for people inside the flower industry and for anyone who has ever picked up a bouquet and wondered about the story it had to tell.” — Amy Stewart, author of Flower Confidential: The Good, the Bad, and the Beautiful in the Business of Flowers

“What might it mean to offer a biography of an everyday commodity, at once attentive to its conditions of production and distribution and yet never losing sight, as Marx asserted, of its magic, mystery, and fetishistic qualities under capitalism? Catherine Ziegler’s marvelous book Favored Flowers tackles the extraordinary world of the global flower industry, tracing the complex sinews linking growers in the Netherlands and Ecuador to retailers and consumers in New York. She takes the reader for an exhilarating ride along the cut-flower commodity chain, dirtying her hands in the greenhouses, interviewing middlemen and retail florists, and charting the floral contours of love and pleasure among the Upper East Side bourgeoisie. This is political and cultural economy of the highest order.” — Michael Watts, University of California, Berkeley


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Price: $27.95

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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Catherine Ziegler received her Ph.D. in social and cultural anthropology from The New School for Social Research. She teaches history and anthropology at Parsons: The New School for Design. She is the author of The Harmonious Garden.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments vii

Introduction 1

1. Tastes, Traditions, and Trade, 1870-1970 15

2. Favored Flowers: Growers and Traders, 1870-1970 33

3. Fresh Flows: Global Flower Growing, 1970-2005 55

4. State and Structure: Floriculture in a Global System 74

5. Cultivating the Global Garden: Local Growers in a Global System 97

6. Specialty and Abundance: Middlemen in a Changing System 130

7. Risk and Relationships: Middlemen Strategies 163

8. Self and Signs: Flower Consumers 192

Conclusion 227

Notes 235

Bibliography 277

Index 291
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-4026-3 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-4007-2
Publicity material