Authors Archives: Scott Stoneman

Raj Patel, On rights, sovereignty, and suicide

Interviewed by Scott Stoneman

Raj Patel is an activist, organizer and visiting scholar in the Centre for African Studies at the University of California at Berkeley, as well as a Research Associate at the School of Development Studies at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa. He has written extensively on food sovereignty as an ethical injunction and political horizon, and his recent Stuffed and Starved: Markets, Power and the Hidden Battle for the World Food System, a compendious and cogent study of the genealogies of our current global food system, has made him a major voice in discourses of food today. In this interview, he considers the ideological implications of “food security,” the limits of rights discourses and technocratic solutions in talking about food politics, the obfuscations of statistical knowledge and the possibility of mass participatory democracy today.

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Julie Guthman, On globalization, neoliberalism, obesity, local food and education

Interviewed by Scott Stoneman

Julie Guthman is an Associate Professor in the Community Studies Department at UC Santa Cruz. Her pressing and rigorous work has dealt with the ways in which organic farming movements and reform in California strain the boundaries that obtain between nature and capital and between the local and the global (Agrarian Dreams: The Paradox of Organic Farming in California), with governmentality, embodiment and resistance in the age of neoliberalism (“The Polanyian Way? Voluntary Food Labels as Neoliberal Governance,” “Embodying neoliberalism: economy, culture, and the politics of fat” [with Melanie DuPuis]), and the racial assumptions that impinge community projects for the distribution of local, organic food in African-American neighborhoods (“Bringing good food to others: investigating the subjects of alternative food practice”). Her developing research examines the biopolitics of obesity in terms of race, embodiment and the evolution of alternative food practices. Among other difficult questions, in this interview Dr. Guthman offers critical perspectives on the intersection of alternative food and political subjectivity, the social, cultural and bodily impact of neoliberalism, and the possibility of responsible food criticism and radical food pedagogy in a time of crisis.

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Scott Stoneman, Learning to learn from the food crisis: consumer sovereignty and the restructuring of subjectivity

“In every case, the geography of anger is not a simple map of action and reaction, minoritization and resistance, nested hierarchies of space and site, neat sequences of cause and effect. Rather, these geographies are the spatial outcome of complex interactions between faraway events and proximate fears, between old histories and new provocations, between rewritten borders and unwritten orders” (100).
-Arjun Appadurai, Fear of Small Numbers: An Essay on the Geography of Anger

Since the subject of this issue of Politics and Culture is food and the continuing struggle by the dispossessed and disenfranchised to manage their own food, the diversely disciplined contributors to this issue have necessarily persuaded themselves that it is important, now, to intervene in what Walter Benjamin called the “fight for the crude and material things without which no refined and spiritual things could exist” (Benjamin 254). Demanding food sovereignty means taking food seriously as a question of justice, survival and sustainability, and of how to imagine radically democratic registers of political and economic participation. It also means thinking about food in terms of the pedagogical. As Julie Guthman notes in her interview in this issue, food is becoming an increasingly important object of study among the privileged class of educators and intellectuals who, Guthman insists, bear the responsibility to “reflect on potential levers of transformation” rather than gorging on the capital which accompanies the rhetoric of prescribing what to eat.
The privatization of social concern that has driven neoliberal cultural politics at the “end of history”, or what Giorgio Agamben terms the “lasting eclipse of the political” (Agamben 121), has left a social and cultural vacuum in which the collective agency required to build living alternatives to contemporary global gastropolitics is left gasping for air. Filling this vacuum are, on the one hand, radical movements like Via Campesina that assert the “right to have rights,” or the right to “act together concerning things that are of equal concern to each,” (Arendt 296) in relation to the vital labour of growing and raising food. On the other are notions of consumer sovereignty which offer what we might call an “informational” model of imagining the subjectivity of the consumer: if consumers are informed adequately and accurately about the sublimely large networks of neoliberalized and protectionist profit and supply that constitute the global food system, if they are educated in the exploitative conditions of food production (as well as revolutionary efforts to undo these conditions), they might adjust their consumption habits and, in so doing, effectively join in the “crude” struggles whose absence stunts the growth of “refined and spiritual things.”

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