Lecture: “’Tate not State’: Refining Sugar, Capitalism and Corporate PR in the British Commonwealth”

The Centre for Latin American and Caribbean Studies, Institute of Modern Languages Research, and School of Advanced Study at the University of London presents “’Tate not State’: Refining Sugar, Capitalism and Corporate PR in the British Commonwealth in the 1940s and 1950s,” a keynote lecture by Erika Rappaport (University of California, Santa Barbara) at the 2021 Commodities of Empire Workshop: “The Raw and the Refined: Commodities, Processing, and Power in Global Perspective.” This presentation takes place on September 2, 2021, 16:30-17:30 BST.

Description: “Tate not State”: Refining Sugar, Capitalism and Corporate PR in the British Commonwealth in the 1940s and 1950s

After the close of the Second World War, the British Labour government threatened to nationalise sugar refining as part of its overall effort to build a social democratic economy. Industry’s reaction was swift and extensive.  The sugar industry quickly moved much refining to the empire, especially the sugar islands of Jamaica and Trinidad, and later to British colonies in Africa. It forged ties with other domestic industries such as trucking, cement, and steel and manufacturing groups such as the Federation of British Industries to lobby government, workers and consumers. Led by Tate and Lyle, a firm that wielded monopolistic power over the sugar industry, sugar also developed one of the most successful PR campaigns in Britain. Tate and Lyle’s campaign employed the phrase “Tate not State,” which it printed on sugar packets, packages, toys and advertising at home. In the Commonwealth, sugar’s PR explained how “private interests” rather than public bureaucrats would create health, happiness, and progress. It especially focused on how growing, refining and consuming sugar would lead to development, modernity and racial and social equality.  This story deliberately suppressed significant aspects of the colonial past and fought tooth and nail against state-centred forms of development throughout the Commonwealth and Great Britain.  This campaign became also became a model for other industries that sought to fight “socialism” in the colonies undergoing decolonisation and in postcolonial nations thereafter.  The sugar industry thus became a major voice of capitalism during decolonisation and the Cold War, a history that has gone unnoticed by business, economic or political historians. The shifting global geographies of sugar refining is thus part of the story of global capitalism but also reveals the connections between metropolitan, colonial and postcolonial political and cultural economies.

Erika Rappaport is professor of history at the University of California, Santa Barbara, where she teaches courses on Modern British and imperial history, global histories of food, capitalism and consumer culture and histories of gender and sexuality.  She received her PhD in history from Rutgers University in 1993 and worked as an assistant professor at Florida International University moving to the department of history at UCSB in 1997.  She is the author of the prize-winning, A Thirst for Empire: How Tea Shaped the Modern World (Princeton University Press, 2017); Shopping for Pleasure: Women in the Making of London’s West End (Princeton 2000), and is co-editor of Consuming Behaviours: Identities, Politics and Pleasure in Twentieth Century Britain (Bloomsbury 2015) and editor of A Cultural History of Shopping in the Age of Revolution and Empire (Bloomsbury, forthcoming 2022).  She has written many articles on the history of tea, empire and commodities, women, shopping, consumer culture and Victorian and Modern and Imperial Britain.  She is currently writing White Mischief: Public Relations at the End of Empire, a book that examines how the public relations industry managed the process, understanding, and memories of British colonial businesses and capitalism in general during the era of decolonisation.

All are welcome to attend this free online lecture, starting at 16:30 BST. You will need to register in advance to receive the online event joining this link https://modernlanguages.sas.ac.uk/events/event/24558.

For more information, see https://modernlanguages.sas.ac.uk/events/event/24558

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