Successfull Workshop on 'Critical Agrarian Studies'

On 12 May 2017 GLOCON held a workshop on Critical Agrarian Studies with researchers from Canada, Great Britain, Argentina, Mexico, the Philippines, Belgium and Germany. Haroon Akram-Lodhi (Trent University, Canada), Ray Bush (University of Leeds, UK), Deborah Johnston (School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, UK), Robin Thiers (Ghent University, Belgien) and Henry Veltmeyer (Saint Mary’s University, Halifax, Canada) provided exciting contributions on the relevance of Critical Agrarian Studies for current conflicts over land and mining.  

News from May 24, 2017

Land grabbing and related conflicts are currently the subject of an intense scientific and political debate. In the context of recent changes in the global political economy, investments in land have dramatically increased over the past ten years. Yet, as the field of Critical Agrarian Studies widely explored for two decades, unequal access to and control over land is not a new phenomenon. This field of study has been tackling the transformation of rural areas, with emphasis on the change of land use and the politics of peasant resistance, from the perspective of critical political economy.

During the one-day workshop with participants from Argentina, Columbia, Mexico, Canada, The Philippines, Great Britain, Belgium and Germany, the GLOCON team discussed the use but also the limits of Critical Agrarian Studies for the analysis of current conflicts over the expansion of the agricultural industry and mining.

Lead discussants and participants were asked to reflect on three key questions:

  • How can we analyze conflicts over land through the lens of Critical Agrarian Studies?
  • Which approaches of Critical Agrarian Studies can we transfer to the analysis of conflicts over mining?
  • How do Critical Agrarian Studies contribute to the understanding of the relation between the “global” and the “local”?

 

In his introduction, Haroon Akram-Lodhi illustrated that Critical Agrarian Studies focus on the change of production and accumulation regimes in the agricultural sector. That is to say, scholars are interested as regards how capitalist conditions permeate agricultural production. Connected with this is the question of how changing political economic conditions drive further changes in labor regimes, class relations and livelihood security of the rural population. This, in turn, constitutes transformative political changes often associated with peasant mobilization. Meanwhile, Ray Bush identified in his presentation the causes of conflicts related to the transformation of rural areas through the lens of Critical Agrarian Studies. These include social inequalities, changes in class relations, structural poverty, and dispossession.

In his contribution on artisanal mining in the Philippines, Robin Thiers pointed out the inter-connectedness between agriculture and mining and the need to consider their linkages in better understanding the transformation of rural areas. In analyzing the consequences of and conflicts over mining, Thiers suggest examining various aspects of rural politics, such as working conditions, patterns of production, poverty, and more generally, the intensification of capitalist production in local sites of accumulation. Henry Veltmeyer, in his intervention, emphasized the analytical purchase of thinking about the connection of global and local processes as they are embedded in rural transformations. As a starting point, the heyday of neoliberalism has brought forth a wave of dispossessions while simultaneously enabling the articulation of local resistance discourses and practices as a counter-hegemonic movement against these dispossessions. Social movements, thus, offer a discursive link between their protests and the global neoliberal project while formulating alternatives based on their experiences. In her commentary, Deborah Johnston focused on the potential of global value chains and the question in what way it could be feasible to improve working and social conditions through fair trade certification. Crucial questions concerning this matter were who decides on the shape of fair trade models, who implements the required standards and who profits.

To conclude we can state that Critical Agrarian Studies have a huge potential for the analysis of the transformation of rural areas as well as the related conflicts. Their strengths are especially in the identification of historical developments and structural conditions on a macro level as well as their meaning for conflicts over land. The main challenge for the empirical analysis now lies on the one hand in avoiding economism and structural determinism and on the other hand in not remaining in the contingency of the case.

The workshop was a great success and we thank all participants for their inspiring contributions just as the controversial and enlightening discussions.

The Power-Point presentations of Haroon Akram-Lodhi and Robin Thiers can be downloaded here.

Haroon Akram-Lodhi: Critical Agrarian Studies: An Introduction.

Robin Thiers: Why do the "small" persist? From agrarian to mineral political economy.

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