The Economy of the Rose and Rose Oil

Since the end of the 19th century, the region of Isparta in Turkey has been associated with rose cultivation and rose oil production. Like other natural, essential, and aromatic oils, rose oil is an important raw material for the perfume and cosmetic industries. It has long been associated with luxury consumption among Muslims, exemplifying for Max Weber (1922)  the feudal, status-bound antithesis of the Puritan economic ethic.

Rose field, rose picker and rose oil factory.
Photo: Lale Yalçın-Heckmann, Isparta, May 2018.

Taking pleasure in expensive clothes and perfume has become an integral part of global consumer culture, and Turkey is no exception. But how does an emphatically conservative Muslim region that grows roses for the global perfume industry harmonize Muslim identity with seemingly hedonistic patterns of consumption and capitalist relations of production? How is this production and trade organised locally? Yalçın-Heckmann’s  project, in close cooperation with the local Süleyman Demirel University, investigates these questions through ethnographic fieldwork. The quality and quantity of roses harvested determine the market for rose oil and other rose products. Hence rose oil producers struggle to secure their sources of roses, which they do via binding rose producers using advanced payments. This practice is shaped by relations of trust and loyalty and disguises exploitation, inequality, and any hint of unfair prices. Yalçın-Heckmann examines the price cycles and changes in the cultivated area and asks whether it is possible to identify losers and winners in these processes.
At another level, she addresses rose and rose oil production and consumption in the longue durée in the manner of Jack Goody (1993), considering these products as luxury goods used to express social distinction and connoisseurship. The project is to serve as the basis for a book-length study that will combine the two levels, exploring the story of the oil-bearing fragrant rose, Rosa damascena, over the centuries with a focus on contemporary globalized markets and the links between cultural meaning and economic value for the people of Isparta.

 

Sources:

Goody, Jack 1993. The Culture of Flowers, Cambridge University Press.

Weber, Max [1922] 2004. “The religions of civilizations and their attitude to the world”, (translated by Sam Whimster) in: Whimster, Sam (ed.) The Essential Weber, pp. 91-92.

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