Monthly Archives: February 2013

Women and the Food Crisis

la-paz-by-you-_2-960x654The vast majority of food is grown by women. In the Global South, women are the primary producers of basic grains such as rice, wheat, and corn. Yet women – and their children – are the most likely people to suffer from hunger in the world.

In poor countries around the globe, women have increasingly been entering salaried agricultural work, producing food for export in the agribusiness sector. But women are not offered comparable pay or jobs as their male counterparts in this sector. And of course salaried work imposes a double burden since women must continue to work in non-salaried labor in order to grow food for their families. In Spain, for instance, women workers in agribiz make 30-40% less than men.

The food crisis, in other words, is also a gender crisis. More and more of the aspects of social reproduction that were once controlled by peasants – by peasant women, specifically – are being subsumed by agribiz. As this happens, control over food production is taken out of the hands of producers and submitted to the whims of global capital.

campesinaThe upshot has been a global wave of de-peasantization and migration to megacities, many of which are now directly in harm’s way as a result of climate change.

Esther Vivas offers an excellent discussion of these trends, and of the resistance organized by peasant women through organizations such as La Via Campesina, in her report “Without Women There Is No Food Sovereignty.”

Also worth checking out is my colleague Fred Kaufman’s recent book Bet the Farm: How Food Stopped Being Food. As it’s title suggests, Bet the Farm explores the financialization of food, as well as linked political consequences such as the Arab Spring.

The contradictions in the global food system are set to catalyze dramatic upheavals in the not-too-distant future. Vivas and Kaufman help us understand where these crises are coming from, and how we can challenge them.

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Fracking & Global Land Grabs

fracking Hydraulic fracturing (aka fracking) in order to recover natural gas supplies has been making big news in the New York region over the last couple of years because the procedure could directly threaten New York City’s famously pure water supplies in the Catskills. A strong citizen movement has arisen to challenge fracking in New York, and the state’s governor, Andrew Cuomo, has delayed release of an inquiry into the procedure. Since the state missed a mid-February deadline, the review process will have to be restarted, with another round of citizen hearings in which the people can make their voices of opposition to the process heard.

But fracking is an issue not just in New York, not just in the United States, but around the world.  A recent report released by the wonderful Transnational Institute (TNI) explores the global boom in fracking. The TNI report links fracking to a spate of water and land grabs that has unfolded in recent years, with baleful alliances between nation-states and big capital leading to the privatization of the commons around the world. As TNI puts it,

Fracking is an expression of the water and land grabbing agenda already underpinning expanding corporate takeover of natural resources. In addition to further intensifying and spreading fossil fuel extraction-related environmental destruction, fracking is breathing new life into the corporate oil industry, which is already a serious impediment to democratic control of resources and resource management and a key actor behind accelerating climate change. For all these reasons, fracking must be stopped.

The TNI report explains how fracking works, who the interests promoting fracking are, how fracking is part of an agenda to privatize the global commons, and, perhaps most importantly, what kinds of resistance movements are igniting around the world to challenge fracking. This is essential reading.

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This is a key site of conflict in contemporary India. Check out Arundhati Roy’s “Walking with the Comrades” for a powerful depiction of contemporary conflicts in India’s rural zones.

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Cities in Conflict

With the ongoing uprisings in Cairo and other cities in the Arab world, the role of cities as crucibles for social egypttransformation and conflict is clearer than ever. Urban dwellers across the globe are more intent than ever on claiming what the great French theorist Henri Lefebvre called the right to the city.

In tandem with such democratizing current, however, today’s megacities are also sites for various forms of escalating inequality and violence. From urban warfare among drug cartels in cities such as Medellin, to increasing interpersonal violence against women, to the many forms of imperial destruction visited on far too many cities around the world today, cities are sites for a variety of key conflicts today.

This sgunemester I’m teaching a seminar at the CUNY Graduate Center that focuses on urban culture in the global South. The topic of conflict features prominently on the syllabus, a copy of which can be found here: ENGL 86600 syllabus.

Fortuitously, the OpenDemocracy project has just started an essay series on the topic of Cities in Conflict. The site describes the brief of the series in the following terms:

The Cities in Conflict series seeks to examine the manner in which cities are conceptualised, planned or contested as sites of conflict, security or resistance. With increasing public awareness of cities’ role in hosting globally significant conflicts and social upheaval, whether in Cairo, Athens or Mumbai, the series will look to examine the city as a key terrain of conflict and a politics of spatial securitization. In particular the series will scale down mainstream media security discourse to the urban/local level – examining the everyday, covert ruminations of urban conflict.

Contributors to the series include some of today’s foremost analysts of urban conflict.  Well worth checking out!

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Filed under culture, democracy, imperialism, urbanity

The evil that men do lives after them

caesarYesterday I went to see the film Caesar Must Die, by Paolo and Vittorio Taviana.  Set in a maximum security prison outside Rome called Rebibbia, which famously houses some of the top bosses of the Italian mafia, the film documents a scorching production of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar by a group of convicts. The film is a chilling meditation on mens’ capacities for violence.

The film is stripped down to bare essentials. We see a snippet of the final production at the outset, but the film quickly segues back to try outs for the play, in which potential actors are asked to identify themselves first as if they are at a border crossing, leaving behind their wives and children, and second as if they are being harshly interrogated. Following this introductory casting, rehearsals unfold, although the border separating rehearsals, the play itself, and the lives of the convicts is consistently blurred.

Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar offers a harsh lesson about the dramatic danger of unleashing violence, with the cascade of vendettas and military clashes that follow Caesar’s assassination completely undermining Brutus’s idealistic vision in murdering his beloved Caesar.

The power of Caesar Must Die lies in the gravity that comes from employing men who have led violent lives as actors in Shakespeare’s depiction of a politically motivated assassination and the bloodletting that follows. The Taviani brothers’ film hammers home this message by showing us that men such as the actor-convicts of Rebibbia prison are ineluctibly scarred by the violent acts they have committed. The shadows that pass over these actors at moments in the production remind us as viewers that violence does not die, but lives on in these men, scarring their memories, interrupting their voices, and, of course, drastically impoverishing their present-day lives.

At the outset and conclusion of Caesar Must Die, we watch as each of the men whom we come to know in the course of the film is locked into his tiny cell. These somber moments underline the grim toll of violence, but also suggest the importance of art in opening up – however fleetingly – wider vistas of human experience and emotion to the men who enact Shakespeare’s play. A similar unsettling message can be found in This American Life‘s moving portrait of a jailhouse production of the final act of Hamlet. However great the violence committed in the past by such men, these two documentaries suggest, the greater violence lies in their societies’ decision to consign them to a living death behind bars.

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Escalating violence against green activists worldwide.

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Really important story about resistance to GMO crops in the Hawaiian islands. Tucked in the middle is the fact that many of the big corporations manufacturing GMO crops were previously involved in producing chemicals such as Agent Orange for US imperial wars. Hawaiian resistance to GMOs is really important and needs to be supported by other US’ers.

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