Beyond the State: Farmers’ emancipation in Greece, Kentucky, and Mexico City

Authors: Karina Benessaiah*, Arizona State University, Julia C Bausch, Florida International University, Rebecca Shelton, Arizona State University
Topics: Development, Rural Geography, Human-Environment Geography
Keywords: agency; farming; livelihoods; crisis; political action; resistance; emancipation
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/10/2018
Start / End Time: 2:40 PM / 4:20 PM
Room: Grand Ballroom D, Sheraton, 5th Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


In current media and political narratives, the rise of populism is attributed to disaffected rural voters seeking emancipation from economic decline principally by relying on government intervention. This narrative homogenizes rural populations and their interests, masking the ways that rural people pursue emancipation for different aims and under different political circumstances. This presentation seeks to open up what ‘emancipatory rural politics’ can mean for farmers, a key part of rural populations, through a comparative analysis of three cases—Greece, Kentucky (US), and periurban Mexico City—where farming’s economic viability has declined yet small-scale farming has persisted. In each case, the relationship between smallholders and the state has changed dramatically in the last decade, creating different circumstances for farmers’ emancipatory pathways. In Kentucky, a state-sponsored economic transition away from Tobacco farming has largely failed. In Greece, people have turned to farming in the midst of the economic crisis. In peri-urban Mexico City, smallholders have been abandoned by national agricultural policies, becoming instead targets of urban sustainability policies. We contrast dominant media narratives with a nuanced picture of farmers’ agency and politics: what kinds of actions and objectives are considered emancipatory and for whom? Through interviews, we find that farmers are not solely seeking emancipation through economic development: for experienced and new farmers, farming as an activity is culturally and personally emancipatory with or without a supportive government or viable market. Our findings open up the narrative of what constitutes emancipation for farmers within the current political context.

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