Political Ecology, Food Regimes, and Food Sovereignty
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Political Ecology, Food Regimes, and Food Sovereignty

Crisis, Resistance, and Resilience

Mark Tilzey

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eBook - ePub

Political Ecology, Food Regimes, and Food Sovereignty

Crisis, Resistance, and Resilience

Mark Tilzey

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About This Book

This book asks how we are to understand the relationship between capitalism and the environment, capitalism and food, and capitalism and social resistance. These questions come together to form a study of food regimes and the means by which capitalism organises both the environment and people to provision its distinctive system of ever-expanding consumption with food. Political Ecology, Food Regimes, and Food Sovereignty explores whether there are environmental limits to capitalism and its economic growth by addressing the ongoing and inter-linked crises of food, fossil fuels, and finance. It also considers its political limits, as the globally burgeoning 'precariat', peasants and indigenous people resist the further commodification of their livelihoods. This book draws from the field of Political Ecology to approach new ways of analysing capitalism, the environment and resistance, and also to propose new solutions to the current agro-ecological-economiccrisis.

It will be of particular interest to students and academics of Environmental Sociology, Human Geography, and Environmental Geography.

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© The Author(s) 2018
Mark TilzeyPolitical Ecology, Food Regimes, and Food Sovereigntyhttps://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-64556-8_1
Begin Abstract

1. Introduction

Mark Tilzey1
(1)
Coventry University, Coventry, UK
End Abstract
Over the last decade, capitalism has transmuted from its apparent embodiment of ‘Prometheus unbound’ to a veritable Pandora’s box of contradictions as it has encountered a series of mounting crises manifested variously as financial, austerity, unemployment, poverty, food, environment, energy, and climate. These manifold and increasingly all-pervasive crises potentially threaten, whether severally or collectively, the future of both humanity and non-human nature. As the twenty-first-century unfolds, we pass therefore into an increasingly uncertain future both economically and ecologically. Are these crises inter-linked, however, and, if so, how are we to understand the linkages? And do these crises presage the demise of capitalism , or can capitalism overcome them?
This book asks questions that lie at the heart of these crises: how we are to understand the relationship between capitalism and the environment, capitalism and food, and capitalism and social resistance? These questions coalesce particularly in the study of food regimes, the means by which capitalism organizes the environment and people, primarily through agriculture, to provision with food (and increasingly biofuels) its distinctive system of ever-expanding production and consumption. In addressing the recent, ongoing, and inter-linked crises of food, fossil fuel, and finance this book asks not only whether there are environmental limits to capitalism and economic growth, but also whether there are political limits, as peasants, indigenous people, and the globally burgeoning ‘precariat’ resist the further commodification of their livelihoods and the poverty which arise from capital’s necessarily uneven development. The book does this by means of Political Ecology, an approach that offers not just a new way of analysing capitalism, the environment, and resistance, but also new, normative responses to current agro-ecological-economic crisis (see Perreault et al. 2015 for discussion).
Political ecology , as developed and deployed in this book, attempts a synthesis of the social and natural sciences by retaining the social specificity of politico-economic systems whilst recognizing their inescapable biophysical constitution and dependencies. This book is distinctive, therefore, in its emphasis upon the need for an integrated, but differentiated, ontology of socio-natural relations , distinctive because it is an approach that, in a recent, and comprehensive assessment of the field, was not highlighted as one of the commonly defining commitments of political ecology (see Bridge et al. 2015). Stated succinctly, political ecology, as elaborated here, recognizes that social systems are, to a significant degree, constituted by, and dependent on, biophysical affordances and constraints, whilst insisting also that these affordances and constraints are always mediated, and in fact partly constructed, by human social relations and power structures that are specific in time and space. This means both that ‘nature’ is always mediated for humanity by social relations of production and meaning, and that significant elements of ‘nature’, although by no means all, are materially re-configured by those social relations. Significant elements of ‘nature’ and of ‘society’ may be described therefore as socio-natural hybrids . And here farming and food are perhaps classic examples of hybrid ensembles of the natural and the social. But significant elements of ‘nature’ continue to exist and function ‘beyond’ the influence of the social—thus basic physical and chemical processes, for example, continue to operate irrespective of human influence. And some elements of human society possess ‘emergent properties’, most particularly ‘meaning-making’ and the symbolic dimension underlying power dynamics, that are inexplicable in biophysical terms. This means that approaches which employ ‘flat ontologies’ of the natural and social, in other words where the natural and the social are taken to be ‘hybrid’ throughout, lose explanatory specificity and power. Approaches such as these, lacking ‘ontological stratification’, include Actor-Network Theory (see Lave 2015) and the ‘world ecology’ theory of Moore (2015).
The book therefore develops a distinctive approach to political ecology, based in critical realism, dialectics, and related strands of Marxian theory ,1 that helps us to understand the fundamental ecological underpinnings of society, but in a way that does not lose sight of the social agency, political reflexivity, and meaning that underpin the temporal and spatial specifics of power. The book therefore links the ‘ecological’ and the ‘political’, or the ‘material’ and the ‘discursive’, dimensions of capitalism and its food regimes. This helps us to appreciate that a key element of capitalism ’s dynamic is the relationship between power, both material and discursive, and resistance. This means that capitalism is not the agent-less juggernaut that is sometimes portrayed in food regime theory, but rather an ‘agent-full’ series of political projects that advances or retreats according to the relationship between material/discursive power of the hegemonic class fraction and resistances to it, both from other capitalist class fractions (sub-hegemonic fractions) and from non-capitalist fractions (potentially counter-hegemonic fractions). This relationship of intra-class and inter-class struggle takes the form variously of compromise and co-optation (hegemony) and of opposition and suppression (domination). And this relationship is seen to take place most importantly in and around the state as perhaps the crucial nexus for struggle. In this way, resistance does not just happen at the grassroots ‘without taking power’, as is often asserted in the food regime literature (and often counter-posed to a ‘stateless’ and ‘monolithic’ capitalism), but, more typically, takes place in and through the state in ways that deny common assertions regarding the latter’s demise and supersession during the course of the neoliberal era. But it is important to emphasize here that, in this book, the state is not considered to be the ‘impartial’ and wholly rational arbiter of competing interests beloved of orthodox liberal theory , or a ‘thing’ that exists in opposition to the ‘market’ as in neoclassical and Keynesian/Polanyian theory , but is rather, as in Neo-Gramscian and Regulation Theory, seen to be a capitalist state that is itself a social relation, the ‘condensation of the balance of class forces in society’ (Jessop 2016). The book is also distinctive, therefore, in ‘bringing the state back in’ in its discussion of resistance and food sovereignty.
The concept of food sovereignty is also central to this book. I will argue, however, that this important concept, perhaps understandably, has lost, or perhaps has never been accorded, the degree of precision that it deserves. While it was arguably, even at its foundation in Latin America, a contested concept, combining elements of national developmentalism with post-developmental agroecology, food sovereignty as a concept has become increasingly diffuse as it has been embraced by an expanding array of class and class fractional interests. This is particularly evident as it has diffused to the small and family farm sector in the global North. All these increasingly disparate groups, North and South, are apparently united in their opposition to neoliberal corporate power in the agri-food sector . What the conceptual imprecision of food sovereignty disguises, however, are the key differences between what Holt-Gimenez and Shattuck (2011) have termed the ‘progressives’ and the ‘radicals’. While the ‘progressives’, who comprise in the main small and family commercial farms located differentially in the global North, advocate the localization and ‘greening’ of food production and consumption networks, the ‘radicals’ by contrast, who comprise in the main the subsistence peasantry and wage labourers (the ‘classes of labour’ according to Bernstein (2010)) located differentially in the global South, advocate social relational change through land redistribution and the re-gaining of appropriate access to the means of production. Thus, while both groups contest the neoliberal erosion of local markets , it is only the latter that adopts the anti-capitalist stance of challenging ‘primitive accumulation’2 and market dependence. In this book, I will identify the ‘progressives’ as representing sub- or alter-hegemonic class interests, whilst equating the ‘radicals’ with counter-hegemonic class interests. I will argue, crucially, that while ‘localization’ and ‘greening’ are important elements of food sovereignty , this concept remains incomplete if it fails to confront the key social relational bases of capitalism—‘primitive accumulation’, the alienability of land, and market dependence. I will suggest, therefore, that if food sovereignty is to realize its full potential, by necessarily contesting the ecological and social contradictions of capitalism, it should embrace the counter-hegemony of the ‘radicals’.
The main themes and objectives of the book are as follows: (1) to propose political ecology as an approach that can coherently draw together social and natural science to understand the socio-environmental dynamics of capitalism and its relation to agriculture; (2) to apply the political ecology approach to understand the key ‘internal’ and ‘external’ dynamics surrounding capitalism’s food regimes and the current tripartite crisis of finance, food, and fossil fuel; (3) focusing on food sovereignty, to analyse responses and resistances to these dynamics and crisis, both ‘systemic’ and ‘anti-systemic’, and the zones of co-optation and compromise that lie between the two; (4) to examine the experiences of food sovereignty in a number of country case studies, and to draw from these lessons in the dynamics of capitalism, the state, resistance, co-optation, and sustainability; (5) through advocacy of counter-hegemony, to propose paths of transition to more sustainable and resilient futures by addressing the key contradictions of the ‘internal’ and ‘external’ dynamics of capitalism, especially as exemplified by the country case studies.
Chapter 2 develops a distinctively Marxian approach to political ecology , in particular by deploying a critical realist approach to the ‘social’ and the ‘natural’, and by articulating a critique of Moore’s ‘world ecology’ framework . The approach is termed ‘political ecology’ with good reason: it understands the constitution and dependence of social systems on biophysical affordances and constraints (‘ecology’) only through the specificities of the ‘political’. And this ‘political’ dimension is a reference to that term as deployed in the school of ‘Political Marxism’ —the explanation of social dynamics by reference to historically and spatially specific power, class, and property relations. While Moore’s work contributes valuably to our understanding of the essential biophysical and energetic prerequisites of capitalism, and the way in which these underpin surplus value generation and extraction, his ‘reductive’ dialectic and the notion of the ‘double internality’, as a ‘flat ontology’, mean that he cannot capture the key explanatory specificities of the ‘political’. While adept at identifying the broad sweep of biophysical affordances and constraints that define the parameters of the possible for capital accumulation, ‘world ecology’ is a very blunt instrument when it comes to explaining the specifics of class and social-property relations, and the vitally important relations between particular states and capitalism. Thus, England and France, for example, exhibited very different politico-economic trajectories between the late medieval period and the French Revolution, differences that can be explained, given the similar ‘ecologies’ of the two countries, only by reference to particularities of the ‘political’ in each. But Moore elides such differences by subsuming them within an assumed general shift in Western Europe towards capitalism from the fifteenth century. In this way, the chapter suggests that ‘internal’ political relations, while intimately conjoined to, and significantly enabled by, the ‘external’ ecological dimension, constitute the explanans and motive force underlying social system dynamics in general, and capitalism in particular.
Chapter 3 illustrates this ontology of political ecology by reference to the emergence of capitalism in the late medieval period, a phenomenon specific to England rather than to Western Europe in general. The chapter traces capitalism’s development and expansion, with particular reference to agrarian capitalism, through the specific politics of market dependence, the ‘internal’ relation between the modern state and capitalism (the ‘state–capital nexus’ as I term it), and the relationship between capitalism and imperialism . All these phenomena are enabled, but not determined or explained, by capital’s particular metabolism with the ‘external’ ecological domain. This chapter takes the analysis of political ecology and food regimes up to the emergence, from the 1840s, of what I choose to ...

Table of contents

  1. Cover
  2. Frontmatter
  3. 1. Introduction
  4. 1. Political Ecology, Food Regimes, and Food Sovereignty
  5. 2. Crisis and Resistance
  6. 3. Country Case Studies
  7. 4. Resilience as Counter-Hegemony
  8. Backmatter