Private Governance, Hegemonic Struggles, and Institutional Outcomes in the Transnational Cotton Commodity Chain


  • Amy Quark College of William and Mary



Commodity chain, hegemony, hegemonic rivalry, private governance, China


Transnational firms have rolled out new forms of private governance at the same time as the rise of new economic powerhouses like China has fomented growing inter-state tensions. This points to critical questions: how does inter-state competition shape private governance of transnational commodity chains and how does private governance shape inter-state rivalries? I explore these questions by tracing the construction and dissolution of sectoral hegemonic coalitions that govern commodity chains. Drawing on the case of cotton quality governance from 2000-2012, I argue that a coalition of the U.S. state and transnational merchants has reconstituted its sectoral hegemony to allow expanded accumulation and accommodate their main rival~China. The U.S. state created standards with Chinese characteristics, while transnational merchants made the authority structure of their institutions more inclusive. However, this reconstituted hegemony remains unstable. Facing continued regulatory competition from China, the U.S. state has constructed new forms of meta-governance that could facilitate a shift to Chinese-led sectoral hegemony but under U.S. oversight. Moreover, these sectoral hegemonic struggles compelled Western transnational merchants to fracture their long-standing relationship with the U.S. state in the hegemonic coalition in order to position their private institutions as geopolitically neutral and thus compatible with the hegemonic leadership of either the U.S. or Chinese states in the sector. By tracing struggles among coalitions of leading firms and states for hegemony over the institutions governing particular commodity chain sectors, we can shed light on possible trajectories within broader world-system level hegemonic struggles that at once constitute and are constituted by these sectoral dynamics.




How to Cite

Quark, A. (2014). Private Governance, Hegemonic Struggles, and Institutional Outcomes in the Transnational Cotton Commodity Chain. Journal of World-Systems Research, 20(1), 38–63.



The Politcal Economy of Commodity Chains