IRSA- Mini-Conference Program Paper Abstracts


Mini-Conference Program Paper Abstracts

Session 1: Critiques of Resistance to Neoliberalism

Presider: Salete Cavalcanti, Brazil

Is Resistance Futile? How Global Agri-Food Attempts to Co-opt the Alternatives.”

Lawrence, Busch- Michigan State University, USA
Abstract: Most Alternative Agri-Food Networks (AAFNs) have been developed to counter the mainstream agri-food network dominated by huge multinational corporations. They have attempted to challenge the mainstream network on grounds of sustainability, nutritional value, local control, fair trade and the like. However, they have largely ignored the capacity of the mainstream to absorb, mimic, re-package and otherwise co-opt the goals of the various AAFNs. Without an understanding of those processes, AAFNs become merely marketing tests for the next wave of food products. In this paper I examine how the mainstream is maintained and co-opts approaches developed initially by AAFNs. One can distinguish five components to this approach to mainstream network management: First, the de facto Tripartite Standards Regime of standards, certifications and accreditations, designed by the major actors, governs the entire network. Conformity is enforced through systems of audit that extend from the behavior of CEOs to janitors, from farm supply companies to farmers to processors to retailers. Second, assembly line technologies initially developed in animal slaughtering but perfected by Ford a century ago have been extended to much of the agrifood chain. Hence, poultry processors and fast food restaurants now share the same technical approach to production. Third, the mainstream has created a New Taylorism, in which something akin to time and motion studies has been extended to all occupations. The professions are no longer excepted. Fourth, Big Data, made possible by advances in information technologies, now permits all of this to become real by making it possible to monitor everyone and everything in real time. Finally, the mainstream agri-food companies have developed a variety of tactics for co-opting, incorporating and subverting alternative agri-food movements. In conclusion, I argue that only by understanding these tactics can AAFNs transform the current food regime.


Best Practices: the Artificial Negativity of Agri-Food.”

Alessandro, Bonanno-Sam Houston State University, USA                    

Abstract: Employing instances from the agri-food sector and a Critical Theory approach, the concept and actions known as best practices are criticized. Developed in terms of the uses and ideological content of best practices, this critique is directed at probing the “alternative” dimension of this construct. The analysis is carried out though the review of texts that advocate best practices. It is argued that the concept of best practices promotes and legitimizes Neoliberalism by stressing its desirability, effectiveness and superiority in decision making. Best practices calls for actions that transform the functioning of the market to the level of the most desirable form of rationality. The superiority of the market is further employed to advocate the desirability of the neutralization of politics for market generated consensus is preferred to, and replaces, debates, contestation and political scrutiny. The rationale behind this posture rests on the neoliberal assumption that competitive advantage is the primary objective to be achieved. Accordingly, other forms of rationality are considered undesirable and, therefore, excluded. Downplaying structural issues, individual action is the preferred form of action for best practices and Neoliberalism alike. It is concluded that rather than representing a system that promotes alternative forms of action, best practices reproduces the dominant ideology of Neoliberalism.


“Rationality, Accountability, and Politics: Critical Analysis of Agri-environmental Policy in USA”

Steven Wolf- Cornell University, USA

Abstract: Beyond responsible consumption and atomized accounts of reform of agrifood by foodies of various stripes lies the potential for social movements (politics) and the potential for incumbent policy networks to transform themselves based on reflexive analysis and self-interest. These three pathways are, of course, not mutually exclusive and synergies are likely important. Applied to the ecological implications of contemporary agrifood, each of these vectors rests to some degree on knowledge about the effectiveness of conservation. Does conservation as practiced work and for whom’ Through theoretical and empirical engagement with the concept of accountability applied to nutrient pollution from US agriculture the paper identifies constraints to information flow and knowledge creation relevant for resistance and transformation


Market Civilization’ and Global Agri-Food: Understanding their Dynamics and (In)Coherence through Multiple Resistances.

Mark, Tilzey- Coventry University, UK

Abstract: Gill (2014) has recently described neoliberalism as ‘market civilization’ – ‘market’ and ‘civilization’ capturing its twin material and legitimacy underpinnings. Many features of ‘market civilization’ are embodied in the neoliberal agri-food regime. This paper examines the (in)coherence of these underpinnings and asks by what means, and where, the ‘irresilience’ of market civilization/the neoliberal agri-food regime is being/may be engendered through resistances. Both ‘market civilization’ and the neoliberal agri-food regime are often conceptualized in terms that are perhaps too ‘structuralist’ or ‘monolithic’ in character, creating a somewhat simplistic binary between ‘systemic’ accumulation and ‘anti-systemic’ resistance. This ‘structuralist’ and ‘monolithic’ reading radically oversimplifies both the nature and coherence of market civilization and resistances to it. The relative ‘resilience’ of market civilization lies in its ability to reproduce through co-optation and compromise (Gramscian hegemony), leading to its polylithic and variegated character. This variegated character is structured around the intimate relation between capitalism and the state, and has the effect of blurring boundaries between capitalism and its ‘other’. Rather than a binary, the reality appears to be a spectrum of ‘class’-based positions extending from hegemonic, through, sub-hegemonic, to counter-hegemonic. How, then, to define, let alone achieve, more radical, counter-hegemonic resistances to global agri-food? The paper goes on to suggest that we require a more precise definition of capitalism and a better understanding of the capital-state nexus if we are to subvert it through a new frontier of resistance as counter-hegemony. Such resistance, the paper argues, will need to be focused on contesting market dependence through food and land sovereignty.


Session 2: Agency and Reflexivity as Forms of Resistance

Presider: Steven Wolf, USA

“Geographical Indication and Resistance in Global Agri-Food: The Case of Miso in Japan”

Kae Sekine- Aichi Gakuin University, Japan                                                                                                                                                                                   Alessandro Bonanno- Sam Houston State University, USA

Abstract: Geographical indication (GI) is one of the most debated themes in contemporary global agri-food. A group of countries headed by the EU supports GI and legitimizes it under the claim that it could revitalize local rural economies and small and medium producers. Another group of countries, headed by the U.S., opposes this posture. Following the EU system, in 2015, Japan enforced the Geographical Indication Law and introduced two GI systems. Given this background and employing the case of miso, this paper addresses three items. First, it illustrates the background that led to the establishment of the Japanese GI system. Second, it analyzes this system as a form of resistance. Finally, it explores the difficulties of establishing effective resistance under neoliberal agri-food. It is concluded that while the implementation of an effective GI legislation could be beneficial to the revitalization of family farming and agricultural regions, structural problems make this alternative to free market oriented policies problematic.


Women’s Labor and the Transformative Potential of Alternative Agrifood.”

Rebecca Som Castellano- Boise State University, USA

Abstract: Gender as a social category continues to play a key role in determining the allocation of power and privilege in society.  Despite this fact, gender has gone relatively unexamined in agrifood scholarship, including research examining resistance in the agrifood system and the transformative potential of alternative agrifood.  While some scholarship has focused on gender in the public sphere (i.e. women as farmers, women as farmworkers, women as restaurant workers), very little research has been attentive to gender dynamics in the private sphere as it relates to agrifood system resistance.  This is particularly problematic given recent concerns about the economization of the individual within alternative agrifood.

This paper draws from a research project which examined the ways in which traditional gender norms are perpetuated within and by households that engage in alternative agrifood practices, in order to examine the relationship between alternative agrifood engagement and the mental labor of food provisioning for women.  Qualitative methods are employed in the analysis using data gathered from Ohio residents.  Findings suggest that engaging in alternative agrifood is more mentally laborious for women, particularly women with lower incomes, women with children, women with partners, and women who are employed.  The paper concludes by considering how the failure to consider the legacy of patriarchy and contemporary practices related to gender inequality in the private sphere limits market based approaches to agrifood system change, but also the ways in which we must move beyond the focus on individuals when considering resistance to corporate agrifood.


Assembling New Subjectivities of Resilience: The Diverse Economy of Food Hubs.”

Lilian Brislen- University of Kentucky, USA

Abstract: In this paper I use diverse economies theory as a framework for asking better questions FOR food hubs to foster their emergence and fragile becomings. The first step is a query into the nature of the food hub as a diverse economic enterprise: who and what is assembled, and how are they set into economic relationships? The case studies presented in this paper demonstrate how two distinct models of food hubs emerged out of unique historical/environmental contexts. When seen through the lens of diverse economy, we are able to understand that it’s the WHY and the HOW of a food hub’s activity that are the essential dynamics of the economic assemblage, not the WHAT of the economic exchange (i.e. local food). In conclusion I argue that food hubs are a form of post-capitalist enterprises which contribute to the community agro-food economy through an ethical praxis of care.


New Perspectives on Inclusive and Sustainable Development in Rural Haiti.

Jennifer Vansteenkiste- University of Guelph, Canada

Abstract: In recent years Haiti has experienced another wave of land conversions for large scale development. This study draws on mixed empirical field data to argue that state land converted for large scale agro-exportation is capable of meeting only short term temporary development goals and misses the more complex goals of decolonization and community development. Poststructuralist discourse analysis, the Theory of Desire, and the conceptual use of space and place are deployed in this examination to compare livelihood outcomes of two different models of land use. This study builds upon the work of feminist and indigenous scholars whose ideas have rarely been applied to the Haitian context, and gives scholars insight on what an appropriate and meaningful form of capitalism may be.


Session 3: Social Movements, Resistance and National and Local Initiatives

Presider: Kae Sekine, Japan

“The Politics of Land Grabbing in Columbia.”

Kyla Sankey-Autonomous University, Mexico, Zacatecas, Mexico

Abstract: In recent years, an extensive land grab has been underway in the Colombian countryside, as rural communities have been dislocated- often violently- from their lands in order to pave the way for the arrival of large-scale agro-commercial plantations. However, the political reactions of rural communities to land grabbing are often more complex and diverse than is typically presumed. Far from a straightforward example of “communities resisting landgrabbing”, in some cases communities respond with acquiescence or co-optation. Drawing on the notion of the ‘everyday politics of peasant societies’, this paper examines in closer detail the various responses “from below” to large-scale land deals. Through a comparative case study based on field research in two rural communities in Colombia, this paper argues that the pre-existing relations of class, gender and ethnicity, the history of struggle between various rural actors, as well as type of “exit strategy” are key factors in determining the type of response of rural communities in the face of dislocation by large-scale commercial agribusiness.


“Corruption and Elite Large-Scale Capture/Grab of Land: Impediments to Agricultural and Rural Development in Nigeria.”

Ani Anthony, Okorie; Nnadi Florentus, Nwabugi; Chikaire Jonadab, Ubichioma- Federal University of Technology, Owerri Nigeria

Abstract: Land is the most central of all resources on the basis of which people derive self-sustenance. It is always a fixed resource confined within politically defined territorial units containing people whose numbers are always on the increase. Therefore in any society, the manner in which land is divided, acquired and controlled is of central significance to the issue of social justice and sense of belonging on the basis of which any ethical or moral conduct ultimately rests. For the manner in which people relate to one another in the distribution of land resources has been one of the greatest sources of conflict in all human societies. In other words, immoral and ethically indefensible means by which members of ruling class acquire vast areas of land at the expenses of the majority of the population has constituted itself over the years as one of the central foundations of all revolutions. This they conduct under the Land Use Act. The country’s land laws have purposively aided and abated corruption by shifting the control over the means of production from a majority class of indigenous small producer, to a minority class of entreprenuers. This has created an increasing state of disequilibrium which must be addressed in order to ensure future progress in agricultural and rural development which brings about stability of the system.


“Agro-Extractivism and Variations of Resistance in Rural Paraguay.”

Arturo Ezquerro-Canete- Saint Mary’s University, Canada

Abstract: This paper challenges the recent hailing of agricultural biotechnology as a panacea for food security and poverty in countries of the global South. In particular, I demonstrate how the profound transformation of Paraguay’s agricultural mode of production over the past two decades, spurred by the neoliberal restructuring of agriculture and the biorevolution, has jeopardized rural livelihoods since it has contributed to a concentration of land holdings, growing dependence upon agrochemicals that compromise environmental quality and human health, compounded food insecurity, and rendered the majority of the Paraguayan peasantry surplus to the requirements of agribusiness capital without adequate livelihood alternatives. Thus, I argue, a development policy based on industrial monocropping of genetically modified (GM) soy is inappropriate, unsustainable and unethical.


“Can Grassroots Mobilization of the Poorest Reduce Corruption? A Tale of Governance Reforms and Struggle Against Rent-Seeking in India.”

Rajiv Verma- MKR Government Degreee College, Ghaziabad, Uttar Pradesh, India                                                                                                             Saurabh Gupta- University of Hohenheim, Germany

Abstract: In India, corruption, exclusion from welfare schemes, and the denial of rights to the rural poor have long been commonplace. Critical accounts of development policy and practice advocate the need for pro-poor governance reforms as well as effective mobilization of the poor for exercising their rights and entitlements. However, there is a dearth of empirical work which may enable us to address the following questions: What are the dynamics of such mobilization strategies in the environment of pro-poor governance reforms? How does it affect local power relations as well as rent-seeking by the state officials? And what are the challenges involved in the sustenance of civil society-led struggles for the poorest and ‘low castes’ (former ‘untouchables’) against corruption? This paper addresses these questions in the context of radical mobilisation by a grassroots organisation in Bihar, one of the poorest provinces, which has recently initiated pro-poor governance reforms. It explains what has or hasn’t worked (and why) for the poorest and outcastes in terms of their dealings with public officials. It is observed that working with a single caste-group in contrast to a range of ‘low-castes’ in a village has proven to be crucial. The paper argues that pro-poor governance reforms and welfare schemes on their own do not yield dividends in the absence of both civil society-led radical mobilization and political will of the ruling dispensation.


Session 4: Labor Based Movements and Resistance

Presider: Alessandro Bonanno, USA

“Forms of Exploitation in Global Agrifood Chains and the Resistance of Small Farmers and Workers.”

Josefa Salete Cavalcanti; Maria Luiza Pires; Alberto Dias Moraes- Federal University of Pernambuco, Brazil

Abstract: Based on research carried on in Northeast Brazil, this paper analyses changes in agricultural sector, taking into consideration the ways in which small producers and workers develop forms of resistance to the power of global food chains, and asks about the implication of these for rural environment and society. Theorethical review and case studies contributes to the analyses.


“Community Action, Government Support, and Historical Distance: Enabling and Constraining Food Justice in Kenya.”

Kristie O’Neill- University of Toronto, Canada

Abstract: This paper examines how food and farming groups are interfacing with different levels of government in three different counties in Kenya.  While studies of the global food system illustrate how states’ involvement in managing national agricultures and regulating food supplies is changing, and how food capitals influence states’ policies and practices, less attention is being paid to how majority world farmers actually engage with localized government initiatives.  Paying attention to how community groups work with locally found representatives on food and farming strategies reveals possibilities of action that are not well captured by themes of neoliberalism versus resistance.  At the same time, uncomfortable questions are raised about the threat of neoliberal (i.e. global) markets to parts of world marked by the absence of international trade, and not its presence, and the degree to which local food systems are able to challenge the power imbalances that characterize modern and historical legacies of marginalization in the international political economy of food.


“Peasant Resistance to the Transnationalization of Agriculture in Mexico’s Southern Border.”

Hector Fletes- State University of Chiapas, Mexico

Abstract: In the last three decades, the transformation of the Neoliberal State in Mexico has been extremely contradictory. It encourages deregulation and liberalization, but promotes a variety of norms in collaboration with private agents; it defends market freedom, but maintains subsidies that have boosted inequality, as they have been concentrated in the industrial agriculture. Mexico has specialized in fruits and vegetables exports, in a way that increases food vulnerability, as long as it is oriented mainly to the US market, it is located in some exclusive regions, a reduced number of firms, and it is also based in monocultures that displace food staples and degrade natural resources. We analyze these processes in the “frontier region” Chiapas-Guatemala, characterized by a wide sector of peasant population. While in the last decade maize surface has decreased, the region exhibits a tomato expansion and patterns of industrial agriculture (introduction of hybrids materials, new entrepreneurial actors, and a whole technological package). To this is added the presence of the transnational Monsanto. Local biodiversity erosion is expected, associated with the development of monocultures and the possibility of GM seeds to be authorized in the country. Peasant groups living in this environment are resisting in several ways this transnationalization that increases their food insecurity and vulnerability.


Session 5: The Rural-Urban Link, the Environment and Resistance to Neoliberal Domination

Presider: Steven Wolf, USA

“The Political Economy of Partnerships between Capitalist philanthropist and the Private sector in Agrarian Transition: The Gat.”

Behrooz, Morvaridi- University of Bradford, UK

Abstract: The Political Economy of Partnerships between Capitalist philanthropist and the Private sector in Agrarian Transition: The Gates Foundation
New form of philanthropy has emerged on the back of neoliberal economic globalisation which has invigorated wealth concentration in the hands of a few ‘super-rich’ individuals and families emanating from both the Global South and the Global North. Super-rich who have become globally known for active involvement in philanthropy through charities and their own charitable foundations, are denoted here as capitalist philanthropists. The political motivation for this kind of giving aspires to apply competitive principles to the world of civil society on the assumption that what works for the market should work for citizen action too. This type of capitalist philanthropy, Gramsci believed, is an instrument of hegemony by which the capitalist class maintains its control of the market, workers and peasants, and one which serves to avert attention away from the malevolence of the rich and the concentration of wealth in the hands of a few. Philanthropic donations appear to support the domination of politics by the powerful, demonstrating how hegemony is effectively reinforced through consensus rather than force within the sphere of civil society. To understand how the relationship between capitalist philanthropy and business partnerships works, I conducted fieldwork in Kenya. The research focuses on a partnership between the Coca Cola Company, TechniServe and the Gates Foundation, with the aim of integrating mango farmers into the market.


“Extending Roots: Building Alliances through Urban Agricultural Initiatives.” 

Sarah Beach- Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College, USA

Abstract: In order to resist it helps to be organized. The development of alliances between progressive and radical food movement activists and organizations is viewed as a way to build a stronger food movement that has the power to demand and realize a transformed global agrifood system that meets the tenets of the food sovereignty movement (Holt-Giménez and Wang 2011). Utilizing the civil society literature and the civic agriculture framework (Lyson 2004) provides ideas on actions that can be taken toward realizing change. Drawing on fieldwork completed in 2012 focused on civic agriculture and urban agriculture in Kansas City, this paper reveals how participants and supporters have been building diverse alliances as they work to reconfigure agrifood relations. I emphasize the experiences of growers at 26 different sites and 12 community members. The focus of the paper is on agrifood initiatives in the city and the potential ways in which others can learn from their activities. Whether the growers or the consumers are low-income, white, people of color, or middle class, in Kansas City there are diverse approaches and linkages being made across initiatives. While they are not impacting the global agrifood system in any noticeable way, arguably, they are building capacity for what could become a forceful social movement.


Reflecting on Counter-Hegemonic Strategies based on Food and Nutritional Security: Notes on the Brazilian Case.”

Márcio Reis- Universidade Federal de Sao Joao del-Rei

Abstract: The emergence of a New World Order (NWO) from the late 1970s imposed limits to public policies of the countries or countries’ blocs at the periphery of the capitalist system to promote their autonomous development. Internationally, we built a global food system that gradually has deepened the dependency and vulnerability of these countries in relation to the NWO, including the business strategies of international corporations. The study aims to reflect on counter-hegemonic strategies, particularly strategies based on Food and Nutrition Security (FNS). Strategies of this nature have the potential to support autonomous development processes in the periphery of the capitalist world? If so, where is it this potential and what are its limitations? To answer these questions the author proposes a model based on the “Map of the structure-action of capitalist societies in the global space added by spaces of individuals and social groups” for understanding the territorial development, considering the FNS as a development strategy. Then provides an analysis of hegemony and counter-hegemony in the NWO; the place of the global food system in this context; and an analysis of the Brazilian strategy of FNS in the 2000s. Final considerations systematize the potential and limitations of this strategy in terms of transformation of the NWO and also its replication possibilities – considering local and regional possibilities, including the need to strengthen the non-hegemonic countries’ blocs.


“Neoliberal Butterflies. Self-Surveillance of an Enclosed Territory.”

Columba Gonzalez- University of Toronto, Canada

Abstract: While overwintering in Mexico, monarch butterflies diapause their reproductive system and keep their bodies side by side, forming spectacular clusters to save energy and retain warmth. Diapausing is what allows monarchs to live without milkweed, their host plant, during the winter. In this paper, I explore my findings from one of my four fieldwork sites: the Mexican mountains where this diapause occurs. I use the metaphor of forming clusters and staying together to present the forms of communitarian organization that “emerged” to manage the monarch butterfly colonies so that they remain “open” to tourism and to protect and invigilate the butterfly’s protected forest. My ethnographic data reveals the neoliberal relations at play and challenges World Wide Foundations’s claim of achieving a total success in conserving the monarch overwinter habitat. I show that the outcomes of WWF’s conservation programs are controversial, especially given that tourist revenues are not equally distributed among the entire inhabitants of the reserve. Thus, WWF’s economic incentive program created a new form of consuming nature that has created a kind of no-man’s land and self-surveillance practices that confronts and, actually, promotes violence among the community.

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