Crystallizing Value: Quartz mining, crystal healing, and the energies of market making
This dissertation tracks the transformation of value as quartz crystals pass through a New Age commodity network spanning from rural Brazilian mines to crystal markets in the U.S. Southwest. The multi-sited research for this dissertation was guided by three primary goals: (1) to map the different ways that informal Brazilian miners, international wholesalers, and New Age crystal healers imagine “crystal energy;” (2) to trace how quartz crystals become spiritually, economically, and socially valuable; (3) to understand what people’s encounters with crystals might tell us about the world’s multibillion-dollar quartz crystal market and about New Age spirituality in the twenty-first century.
Drawing from classic follow-the-commodity studies, I conducted over 18 months of ethnographic research in Brazilian quartz mines, in wholesale warehouses, at the world’s largest gem and mineral shows, in U.S. retail spaces, and with crystal healers throughout California and Arizona. While value has long been theorized in terms of labor, exchange, and fetishization, this dissertation interrogates the phenomenal, performative, and semiotic processes that impact value transformation as crystals pass through each node of this commodity network.
Hedging against Marxian notions of use-value, this dissertation encourages scholars to think through how value and markets are distinctly shaped by performative, semiotic, and phenomenological processes. In doing so, it offers a way to understand other value circuits which don’t seems to fit within standard accounts, such as art markets and designer goods.