‘Seeds of Nations:’ The Sowing and Uprooting of Philadelphia’s Plantation Origins

Authors: Rebecca Croog*, Harvard University
Topics: Socialist and Critical Geographies, Historical Geography, Environmental Justice
Keywords: plantation criticism, urban agriculture, carceral geographies, critical food studies, historical geography, Philadelphia
Session Type: Virtual Lightning Paper
Day: 4/9/2021
Start / End Time: 9:35 AM / 10:50 AM
Room: Virtual 19
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


This research project seeks to contribute to a growing body of scholarship on the carceral geographies of urban land and food injustice by analyzing Philadelphia’s urban-agricultural history through Clyde Woods’ (1998) “plantation criticism” theory and methodology. The analysis covers a periodization spanning from the mid-eighteenth century (the late settler-colonial period) to the late nineteenth century (consolidation of the city’s rural hinterland) and follows Woods’ method of identifying “major mobilizations” of plantation power re-structuring and consolidation. I identify and critically examine a set of major mobilizations of what I refer to as Philadelphia’s “urban-rural plantation complex”: 1) the establishment of colonial plantations on indigenous land, 2) the rise and fall of an urban slave system, and 3) cotton-driven textile industrialization. Each of these mobilizations can be characterized as a conjuncture of geographically extensive urban and rural processes that ultimately consolidated white supremacist “economic, political, ethnic, and cultural power” within the city of Philadelphia (Woods, p. 278), but not without significant Black-led counter-mobilizations, which I also discuss. I ultimately argue that, because the plantation processes that formed and consolidated today’s Philadelphia have occurred across an urban-rural continuum, the contemporary urban farm, by symbolically and materially encompassing both urban and rural dimensions of the city, is a key site through which to address racial injustice and carceral power. The article concludes with a discussion of current urban farming initiatives in Philadelphia that center racial justice, Black leadership, and abolitionist ecologies.

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