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Commodity frontiers: Markets, sociotechnical entanglements and the end of “cheap nature”?

Authors: Christian Berndt*, University of Zurich
Topics: Economic Geography, Anthropocene, Latin America
Keywords: bioeconomy, marketization, commodity chains, Argentina
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Commodification and marketization operate around seemingly clear notions of difference between what is commodified and marketized and what is not. Stabilized temporally (modern vs. backwards, developed vs. undeveloped) and spatially, these boundaries legitimize interventions to expand the realm of the market into hitherto uncharted terrain. Following Mitchell (2007), I conceptualize these frontiers not as sharp lines that separate capitalism’s inside and outside, but as broad frontier regions and sites of struggle over the internalization of market outside and the non-commodified. Using the global soy complex as an empirical example, I map contested human/nature frontiers from the perspective of sociotechnological assemblages that appropriate “cheap nature” for the production of “cheap food” (Moore 2015). In the case of the global soybean commodity chain, a key role is played by genetically modified seeds and broad spectrum herbicides. I seek to demonstrate how the GMO-herbicide complex evolves ambivalently and highly unevenly with and against its ecological and social limits. Special emphasis will be put on Argentina and the role of the state, local capital and social movements in shaping the articulation of human with extra-human nature.

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