We need to articulate utopian visions for our agricultural systems. Currently mainstream discussions addressing problems in agriculture build from a context embedded in the logics of the market and several times removed from ecological communities of reciprocity. These discussions, though often well-intentioned, are constrained by an inability to imagine possibilities outside of the established order and invisibilize the non-capitalist forms of economy that exist currently, or could exist. By exploring the role of technology, diverse economies, interconnectedness and the transformative potential of social movements, this panel aims to decenter the logics of capitalism and re-center agriculture’s present and futures around care, community, democracy and well-being for all beings. The contributors to this panel are scholar-activists working across disciplines towards potential and eventual (potentual) socio-ecological transformation.
Agroecology and degrowth: complementarity in utopian futures
A primary way that capitalism inhibits transformation is by invisibilizing and/or minimizing non-capitalist forms of economy. For example, the degrowth movement calls for diverse economies centered around plural values as opposed to economic growth; these are both invisibilized and trivialized as elite ‘alternatives’ to capitalism. Similarly, industrial agriculture, via its application of neoliberal and capitalist logics, trivializes agroecology as an “alternative” and insufficient approach to food production. In employing logics antithetical to those of capitalism, both degrowth and agroecology stand in opposition to the dominant system. More importantly, both articulate and enact utopian futures. This exemplifies what Mooney and Hunt (2009) describe as a sharp key framing, or a collective action framing that challenges dominant and institutionalized social and discursive conventions. In this paper we hypothesize a complementarity and potential for coordination across agroecology and degrowth in their realization of social-ecological transformation.
Non-market farming—historical, contemporary, and potential
Market competition in agriculture has forced farmers to replace human and animal labor with petroleum-powered machinery, and ecological processes with imported material inputs. The resultant economic growth has driven human environmental stressors past critical sustainability thresholds. Yet non-market agriculture, which predates and now exists alongside production for sale, tends to be inefficient with respect to labor. Preliminary results from a qualitative study in Vermont suggest that this is because people pursue non-instrumental relational values when producing food for sharing or their own consumption. In principle, greatly increasing the share of society’s food coming from labor-inefficient non-market production systems would necessarily coincide with economic degrowth. A brief exploration of past and present food systems without markets shows that such a transition is perhaps fundamental to any social-ecological transformation beyond capitalism. Through this story one comes to see that a flourishing of non-market farming is not only necessary but entirely possible.
Farming without markets: what’s the role for technology?
Both large-scale commercial agriculture and information and communications technologies (ICT) rely on vast concentrations of various forms of power in service of markets. Combined, they have been used to offer the illusory promise of a world of plenty, where limitless growth is possible, seemingly without social or ecological consequence. We interrogate the socio-economic systems that underpin emerging technologies in agriculture to explore how they might support all facets of agricultural sustainability and system change. We consider the potential purpose, form, and impact of non-market-based technologies in non-market based farming systems, specifically addressing: 1) What would happen if profit motives were taken out of the use of emerging technologies for agriculture? 2) What if technology were disallowed from ‘solving’ market problems? 3) What if agricultural technology were not used as a means to distance humans from each other and the rest of nature? 4) What if the embodied injustices implicit in technology manufacture and use across the supply chain were factored into its role in farming?
(Who Is Involved In) Dismantling the Magic Wall: Multispecies Agroecology
Agroecological landscapes are co-created with multiple species, yet dominant discourse frames agriculture as a way that humans have taken control and dominated landscapes, granting ourselves agency and intention and denying it to other beings. This anthropocentric discourse allows us to say ‘domesticated’ when we like the ways those other species contribute to our lives (dogs, broccoli, cows), whereas we say ‘weeds’ or ‘pests’ when we don’t like the ways these species contribute to our lives (mosquitos, rats, dandelions). We explore how anthropocentrism has allowed agricultural production to be considered of utmost importance and reveal what is being sacrificed in service to that primacy. The ways in which our relationships shape agricultural species make us closely related beyond evolutionary or genetic perspectives. Acknowledging this kinship is an important step towards dismantling the magic wall which many believe separates and centers humans, and allows us to more comprehensively examine the relationships between all beings entangled within agricultural landscapes and illuminate ways to reimagine and act together with all beings towards a more balanced and pluralistic future for all.
Leverage, Vision, and Future Food
Caitlin Bradley Morgan
Empirical work (my own and others’) has shown that visionary or transformative food systems are hard to adopt when constrained by a neoliberal context. Often, interventions in food systems occur at leverage points that do not alter the direction of the overall system, an outcome explainable by theory. This presentation integrates Donella Meadows’s “places to intervene in a system” with fieldwork from two values-based community food projects, asking: what are the visions expressed in participants’ explanations and actions? What level of systems interventions do they attempt and actually achieve? What would their visions look like as interventions at a different place in systems—and how might we work towards such social organization?