This article addresses the political economy of standards. Based on the study of a historical experiment of standardization in agriculture in colonial Algeria, it shows the various meanings and implications of standardization. In a mere economic sense, standardization is about specifying the basic characteristics of a given product. In a more general sense, standardization consists in transforming and homogenizing various social spaces, in order to help the product circulate among them. Indeed, in the colonial case, standardization aims at turning a seasonal market into a year-long mass market, controlled by producers’ cooperatives. But standardization does not only fulfill economic goals: it also goes along with technicization of government, as colonial bureaucrats seek to relaunch European settlement in Algeria. Last, standardization shapes conducts of life. The raising of mass consumption can be considered as an attempt to pacify society. In that view, standardization can be seen as political, in the sense that it reduces politics to an economic issue.
The political economy of standardization in colonial agriculture (1930-1962)By Antoine Bernard de Raymond