Counter-Cola: A Multinational History of the Global Corporation

Neoliberal India Through a Glass Bottle of Coke

In 1993, after sixteen years of exile from India imposed by the postcolonial socialist state, The Coca-Cola Company dramatically re-entered the country as it opened itself up to foreign corporations through economic reforms and deregulation.  The company was eager to expand into one of the largest markets of the “sweat belt,” as company executives called the stretch of hot, developing countries of the Middle East, Africa and Asia with large Muslim and/or Hindu populations that looked down on alcohol consumption and thus held vast potential profits for the soft drink industry; they were all the more eager as soft drink sales had begun to slow in their developed western markets like the U.S.[1]  To capture this Indian market, The Coca-Cola Company spent a billion dollars re-establishing its brands and bottling system in the country, and simultaneously appropriated the material and symbolic resources of rural India to produce its brands as localized global commodities. 

With Coca-Cola’s sudden, almost ubiquitous reappearance it became a powerful sign in the semiotics of neoliberal transformation.    It was both an aspirational sign of global consumer-citizenship for India’s urban middle class and, with its reassemblage by Indian peasant communities, one evocative of neoliberal exploitation for those dispossessed of resources to fuel this consumption.  As a result, Coca-Cola generated powerful responses.
[1] Quoting Mark Pendergrast in Sonia Shah, “Coke In Your Faucet?” The Progressive, August, 2001.

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