This essay analyses how the relation between food and fuel shapes the practice of collaborative food governance. Dominant explanations for the persistence of global hunger often point to the influence of political-economic inequalities on the production, distribution, and governance of global food. The causes of the 2007–2008 global food crisis, however, suggest the need to examine the entanglements between food and other forms of ecological extraction. I draw on the concept of ‘energopolitics’ to demonstrate how changing material processes of energy extraction condition the calculative logics through which transnational food governance is constituted. An energopolitical analysis, I argue, illuminates how collaborative food governance supresses the conflict between food and fuel that it was developed to mediate. In an era of climate change, such an approach reveals the links between food and broader struggles over carbon-fuelled inequalities.
Ethnographers have shown how the fields of human rights and international law are produced by translating norms across political and spatial scales. Neoliberal globalization, however, has transformed the hierarchical imaginary once embedded in the global juridical order. Today, networks of states, international institutions, multi-national corporations, and transnational activists struggle for power by producing competing norms. This essay argues that contemporary transnational legality is produced by networks of actors struggling for interpretive authority through different social practices of translation. I draw on ethnographic fieldwork of the conflict over the “Super Banana—a genetically modified crop funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation—to analyze how different social practices of translation are constituted. The Super Banana operated as a transnational legal assemblage that produced opposing networks of actors struggling to invest it with meaning. By analyzing the different forms of communicative labor deployed in interpreting the Banana, I show how translocal translation can be distinguished from hegemonic practices of transnational translation by examining translators’ material and symbolic resources, epistemologies, and practices of commensuration. In doing so, this essay illuminates the often-unrecognized differences in communicative labor that constitute competing visions of global legality.
As transnational movements contest economic inequalities and demand inclusion into global decision-making processes, new models of collaborative governance have proliferated. Promoters of this new mode of governance suggest that it can produce “win-win” solutions through inclusive, consensus- based processes, if these arenas of governance account for power asymme- tries within their rules and processes. Yet, by focusing on procedural aspects of collaboration, these accounts overlook how power operates through the wider landscape of transnational legal pluralism. This article adapts the sociolegal disputing approach to the context of global governance through an extended case analysis of the “global land grab.” In doing so, it demon- strates how power operates through the competition to frame disputes across transnational arenas. I argue that the frame through which collaboration is ultimately deployed serves to reconstitute conflicts, thereby subordinating competing claims to the values of the dominant frame. This analysis ultimately suggests participation in collaborative governance comes with risks. By engaging in collaborative processes, activists face the possibility of constituting the very markets they seek to contest.
Reviewed in this essay:
Appadurai, Arjun. Banking on Words: The Failure of Language in the Age of Derivative Finance. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2016.
Hariman, Robert and Ralph Cintron, eds. Culture, Catastrophe, and Rhetoric: The Texture of Political Action. New York: Berghahn Books, 2015.
Sending, Ole Jacob. The Politics of Expertise: Competing for Authority in Global Governance. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2015.
Claiming Food Sovereignty: Legal Mobilization and Global Governance From Below
As social movements engage in transnational legal processes, they have articulated innovative rights claims outside the nation-state frame. This article analyzes emerging practices of legal mobilization in response to global governance through a case study of the ‘right to food sovereignty.’ Developed to oppose to the liberalization of food and agriculture, the claim of food sovereignty is mobilized transnationally by small-scale food producers, food chain workers, and the food insecure. I analyze the formation of this claim in relation to the rise of a ‘network imaginary’ of global governance. By drawing on ethnographic research, I show how activists have internalized this imaginary within their claims and practices of legal mobilization. In doing so, I argue, transnational food sovereignty activists co-constitute global food governance from below. Ultimately, the development of these practices in response to shifting forms of transnational legality reflects the enduring, mutually constitutive relationship between law and social movements on a global scale.