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Elizabeth Havice and John Pickles

The global value chain (GVC) has emerged as an important tool for describing the interactions among actors in a complex chain of production–consumption relations that extends across space. Scholars of GVCs have carefully elaborated what ‘global’ and ‘chain’ mean in these analyses, but how they understand ‘value’ and how it is produced, captured and distributed through interfirm chains and networks is less clear. Many GVC scholars see value creation as a process driven by differential abilities to create profits and/or capture rents from specific monopoly conditions. Others examining value as profits and rent-capture analyse firm-level or national-level processes of economic and social upgrading and/or downgrading. Yet, other GVC scholars are centrally concerned with the networked conditions of production through which value is produced and traded, or the centrality of exploitation and ‘more fundamental’ social and class struggles over value capture. Most recently, GVC scholars have returned to Marxian value theory to examine the relationship between value chains and the central dynamics of capital. Although each approach explains different aspects of the social and geographical consequences of locational shifts in production and the changing social and technical organizations of firms and firm networks, their varying assumptions about value have not been a strong focus of attention. In this chapter, we briefly review how these approaches to global value chains have defined and analyzed ‘value’. We conclude with some broader speculative questions about how more explicit attention to value in GVC scholarship might help to explain why GVCs have become so central a concept and organizational form in the contemporary global economy.