Constituting the Sovereign: The Radical Potential and Limitations of Food Sovereignty in Bolivia

Authors: Michael Cary*, Cornell University
Topics: Agricultural Geography, South America, Latin America
Keywords: food sovereignty, Bolivia, social movements
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/4/2019
Start / End Time: 5:00 PM / 6:40 PM
Room: Committee Room, Omni, West
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


For over two decades the notion of “food sovereignty” has functioned as a powerful framework for political mobilization. The term’s multiplicity of its meanings allows it to unite a diverse group of transnational actors in opposition to the international institutionalization of food security in the context of the global “corporate food regime” (McMichael 2005). As many scholars have pointed out, however, the food sovereignty movement is inclusive of contradictory and often irreconcilable visions of development (Bernstein 2014). This paper examines food sovereignty in Bolivia, one of a handful of countries in which the term has been written into the national constitution. Using an ethnographic case study of peach farmers in Cochabamba’s Valle Alto, whom national and regional governments have touted as an exemplar of food sovereignty, it argues that the very same factors that make food sovereignty such a powerful framework for popular mobilization at the international level have the potential to limit its implementation as concrete state policy. That food sovereignty is discursively constructed at the international level primarily in opposition to the dominant global food system has allowed the term to function, in the Laclaudian sense, as an empty signifier, flattening the temporally and spatially differentiated demands of varied actors into a chain of equivalence. While this has opened up the possibility for meaningful counter-hegemonic struggle, attempts to implement food sovereignty as policy at different scales of government threaten to expose the contradictory demands and visions of development that comprise this movement.

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