Finding Labor in the Agrarian Question

Authors: Carrie Freshour*, Delta State University, Max Ajl, Cornell University
Topics: Agricultural Geography, food systems, Rural Geography
Keywords: Agrarian Question, racialization, political ecology, labor, food and agriculture, food sovereignty
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/4/2019
Start / End Time: 9:55 AM / 11:35 AM
Room: Governor's Room, Omni, East
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


In this paper we resuscitate the "classic" Agrarian question of labor and clarify its partial suppression in the US through a historical/empirical focus on the US poultry industry. We trace the industry’s growth and restructuring as connected to global processes of capital accumulation. In doing so, we clarify both the spatial and socio-ecological relationship between “city and country” while revisiting the “subject of the question” which extends across national boundaries. Within the context of the US, this process of rural restructuring necessary to poultry growth and consolidation in many ways mirrors rounds of state-sanctioned violence, racialized dispossession, and cultural transformations documented elsewhere. Yet, this process is never “completed” as labor moves elsewhere in the food chain. The continued struggles over poultry processing plant openings across rural America constitute, what Ruthie Gilmore calls a wearing out of places by wearing out of people. There is both an enduring Agrarian Question of labor in the global North connected to that in the global South, and, more to the point, its movement elsewhere in the food chain rests in socially and ecologically unsound practices. In the creation of a socio-ecologically just food system, these are important considerations which scholars and social movements must contend with and transcend. We conclude by connecting labor movements along the food chain to emerging scholarship on Black-farmer led movements as a way to re-envision and practice anti-capitalist alternatives.

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