Special section: Performing development roles: theorizing agriculture as performance, Journal of Political Ecology, edited by Andrew Flachs
Rounding out 2018 [we are still academic-run, and free, unlike the other journals with a political ecology remit] we have a big special issue investigating Paul Richards' notion of 'agriculture as performance' edited by Andrew Flachs. Richards' 40 years work in West Africa has inspired a lot of critical studies of the failures of technological solutions, including Green Revolution derivatives, in small scale farming systems where agriculture has symbolic and sociopolitical importance. He also shows how material practices drive social structures, through exhaustive ethnography. Enjoy. If you don't have much time, Richards’ article constructs an agenda based on reinterpreting Durkheim’s concepts and Mary Douglas's work, in a brief paper. Glenn Stone's article is a nicely illustrated account of agricultural spectacle building on Debord’s notion of ‘spectacle’. Glover links performance ideas to political ecology, and the other 4 reflect on the sociology of agriculture and its representation in SE Asia and S Asia in different ways.
Special section: Performing development roles: theorizing agriculture as performance edited by Andrew Flachs
*Andrew Flachs, Paul Richards. 2018. Playing development roles: the political ecology of performance in agricultural development. JPE 25: 638-646
Performance is a useful lens through which to analyze agrarian life, as performance illuminates the ways that farmers manage the complex socioecological demands of farm work while participating in social life and in the larger political economy. The dialectic of planning and improvisation in the farm field has produced scholarship at multiple scales of political ecology, including the global ramifications of new technologies or policies, as well as the hyper-local engagements between farmers and fields in the context of modernity and development. Political ecologists are also beginning to understand how affects, such as aspirations and frustrations, influence agriculture by structuring how farmers and other stakeholders make decisions about farms, households, capital, and environments. To understand farm work as a performance is to situate it within particular stages, roles, scripts, and audiences at different scales. The articles in this Special Section ask how farmers have improvised, planned, and performed in response to agroecological challenges, bridging scholarship in political ecology, development studies, and the study of agrarian landscapes through new empirical case studies and theoretical contributions. Agriculture both signals social values and fosters improvisations within farming communities' collective vulnerability to weather and the political economy. We argue that the lens of performance situates the political ecology of agriculture within the constraints of the political economy, the aspirations and frustrations of daily life, and the dialectic between improvised responses to change and planning in the field.
Keywords: Performance, agriculture, planning, improvisation, agrarian studies
*Paul Richards. 2018. Peasant farming as improvisation: what theory do we possess and how might it be used? JPE 25: 647-655
Improvisation is currently enjoying an intellectual vogue across fields as diverse as the musicology of free jazz to management science. But what are the theoretical moorings of this far-reaching new enterprise? First, the article offers a brief review of some potential foundations for studies of improvisation. The hypothesis that humans possess neurons for mirrored interaction because they have evolved as social animals is arguably as plausible as the notion that interactive, social behaviour is a product of a neural architecture primed for interactive cognition. Durkheim responded to a similar unresolved set of arguments about brains and cognition at the end of nineteenth century by taking his well-known late ethnographic turn (towards Australia). This takes us to the second part of the article. The ethnography of performance retains its value to nourish our understanding of larger questions regarding properties of human sociality. Specifically, the article seeks to suggest that a focus on the ritual shaping of embodied actions is crucial to understand and address the emergence of a range of competing "styles of thought." An example helps show that the "bubbles" and "echo chambers" of opinion, of which contemporary political commentators complain, are not (as supposed) products of the internet and social media, but rooted in more fundamental differences in social ordering reinforced by variations in practical and ritual performance. The article seeks to bring out the persistent "deafness" of development agencies to connections between shifting cultivation and social practices of marriage and death in a West African farming community. Calls by development agencies to abandon shifting cultivation have no effect. Approaching agrarian intervention via joint improvisation might help two circular arguments sustained by institutional differences to connect.
: Social theory, development, ethnography, performance
*Glenn D Stone. 2018 .Agriculture as spectacle. JPE 25: 656-685
In the influential "performance" model of agriculture, the appearance of the farm is the unintentional result of improvisational decision-making rather than the intentional result of design. However in many ways agriculture is explicitly intended to produce an appearance, often aimed at a specific audience. This phenomenon, termed agricultural spectacle, comes in many forms and serves varied aims. This article offers a theoretical framework beginning with a consideration of how agricultural spectacle differs from other classes of spectacle and from generalized societal spectacle as theorized by Debord. Most important in this regard is that agricultural spectacle generally functions as a form of synecdoche as it presents a temporal or spatial part as a representation of the whole agricultural operation. It also often relies on "captioning" to render ambiguous sights striking to viewers. But agricultural spectacle is highly diverse, as shown by exploring three axes of variation. The first axis concerns the extent to which agricultural activities are adjusted for their impact on viewers, as opposed to being conducted purely for utility and rendered spectacular after the fact. The second compares the intent of the agricultural spectacle. The last axis distinguishes scale, from plant part to field to farm to landscape.
: agriculture, spectacle, indigenous knowledge, propaganda, performance
*Dominic Glover. 2018. Farming as a performance: a conceptual and methodological contribution to the ecology of practices JPE 25: 686-702
In two widely cited articles, the first of which was published almost 30 years ago, the anthropologist Paul Richards described the situated practices of small-scale farmers as a type of performance, akin to a musical or theatrical performance (1989, 1993). This definition, applied specifically to small-scale and subsistence agriculture, has a powerful appeal for good reasons. This article examines performance as a conceptual framework and tool for studying small-scale farming practice and technological change. Taking the comparison with musical or theatrical endeavour seriously, the article explores the dynamics of performance by individuals and groups; considers alternative ways of conceiving the 'stage' and the 'audience'; and examines the nature of the performers' skills and competence, through an elaboration of key concepts such as , , and . The article also discusses the important implications of a performance being situated in a particular time and place, shaped by its surrounding socio-cultural and ecological context and conditioned by uncertainty. The article proposes that ethnographic or technographic methods are appropriate for studying performance, and considers the ethical responsibilities of the researcher when intervening in a performance from its outside. The argument is framed as a contribution to political ecology, especially an ecology of practices.
: Performance, farming, practice, skill, technography
*Harro Maat. 2018. Group compositions: the politics of technology implemented in smallholder farming 25: 703-715
This article investigates the connection between performance, group, and society. The argument is that group formation around particular farm operations and the details of the activities they engage in are an expression of the preferred way of technology implementation. The argument is developed using Paul Richards' notion of agriculture as performance. Two cases are presented. The first is the composition of a spraying team for weed control in smallholder oil palm production in Sumatra, connected to a global agreement on sustainable oil palm production, known as the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO). The second case is about a team of women transplanting young rice seedlings on prepared paddy fields in a village in Uttarakhand, India. A new way of rice transplanting was introduced by a local non-governmental organization, known as the System of Rice Intensification (SRI). The analysis shows that group performances provide essential information about how introduced plans, regulations and material designs are reworked and turned into meaningful and effective changes to agricultural practices. The article concludes that these activities are not merely technical adjustments but in themselves express arguments about the preferred way of organising farming, farm labor, and payments. Performing groups thus exert a form of bargaining power against development actors.
Group performance, smallholder farming, technology transfer, political acts
*Andrew Flachs. 2018. Development roles: contingency and performance in alternative agriculture in Telangana, India JPE 25: 716-731
Paul Richards invokes the metaphor of performance in agriculture to highlight the ways in which farmers improvise and draw on repertory knowledge to address new and unexpected problems in the field. This skillset helps farmers respond to shifting weather patterns or changing pest cycles, but it also helps farmers take advantage of new markets, technologies, and development interventions – a question of planning and context as much as improvisation in the moment. This article discusses two intervention failures and one success in Telangana cotton agriculture, arguing that such agricultural interventions succeed when farmers can align development performances with their own visions of development and agricultural success. In doing so, it offers a political ecology of farmer performance on two levels. First, it brings attention to the ecological and socioeconomic factors that inspire performances and structure farmer improvisations. Second, it argues that development initiatives must recognize their efforts as embedded within local agricultural planning and contingent on local calculations of social capital. In two ultimately unsuccessful interventions, farmers withdrew from programs that required investments of time and agricultural methods but did not underwrite important social and agricultural vulnerabilities identified by participants. In one successful intervention, farmers found that an NGO's willingness to respond to their agricultural needs and provide a stage for the cultivation of a local celebrity more than compensated for the new demands of non-certified organic agriculture. In a rural Indian context, where farming is a moral as well as agricultural process, the performance of a development identity is an integral part of performances and plans that guide farmer decision-making. Because these performances create a knowledge that cannot be separated from actors, roles, and stages present, these contingent performances ultimately have lasting impacts on the agrarian landscape.
India, alternative agriculture, performance, knowledge
*Debarati Sen. 2018. Fempreneurs or organic tea farmers? Entrepreneurialism, resilience and alternative agriculture in Darjeeling, India. JPE 25: 732-747
In this article I underscore how women organic tea farmers build economic resilience through dual enactments as "organic farmers" and as "entrepreneurs." In substantiating both, women question the limited optics through which Fair Trade type sustainability ventures measure their work for a tea cooperative, as well poorly recognizing their entrepreneurial work in their households and community. Women are deeply aware of the politics of Fair Trade where their productive and reproductive labor is appropriated through the labor of organics, where women not only produce the organic green leaf tea but also produce narratives of Fair Trade's success in its certification and gender audits. Thus, to understand what sustains the new wave of "sustainable agriculture" in the global South, we must explore the intersections of organic farming practices with emerging discourses and practices of gendered entrepreneurialism in organic farming communities. In Darjeeling, India, women provide the labor necessary to sustain organics that should ideally come from the Indian state or international trading partners. They fill the gap through their labor, time, creativity and risk-taking. I contend that the success of organic farming depends on critical maneuvers that entail economic and cultural entrepreneurialism, and demonstrate forms of resilience expressed through which women farmers identify and navigate the inadequacies of alternative agriculture and related Fair Trade practices.
Women organic tea farmers, women entrepreneurs, Fair Trade, rural Darjeeling, risk-taking, resilience
*Daniel Münster 2018. Performing alternative agriculture: critique and recuperation in Zero Budget Natural Farming, South India. JPE 25: 748-764
This article explores how 'Zero Budget Natural Farming', an Indian natural farming movement centered on its founder and guru Subhash Palekar, enacts alternative agrarian worlds through the dual practices of critique and recuperation. Based on fieldwork among practitioners in the South Indian state of Kerala and on participation in teaching events held by Palekar, I describe the movement's critique of the agronomic mainstream (state extension services, agricultural universities, and scientists) and their recuperative practices of restoring small-scale cultivation based on Indian agroecological principles and biologies. Their critique combines familiar political-ecological arguments against productionism, and the injustices of the global food regime, with Hindu nationalist tropes highlighting Western conspiracies and corrupt science. For their recuperative work, these natural farmers draw, on one hand, on travelling agroecological technologies (fermentation, spacing, mulching, cow based farming) and current 'probiotic', microbiological, and symbiotic understandings of soil and agriculture. On the other hand, they use Hindu nativist tropes, insisting on the exceptional properties of agrarian species native to, and belonging to India. I use the idea of ontological politics to describe the movement's performances as enacting an alternative rural world, in which humans, other-than-human animals, plants, mycorrhizae, and microbes are doing agriculture together.
agricultural anthropology; alternative agricultures; naturecultures; critique; ontological politics; small-scale cultivators; India; Kerala; Subhash Palekar
& Principal Fellow, University of Melbourne, Australia
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