Academic Papers

UN Food Systems Summit 2021: Dismantling Democracy and Resetting Corporate Control of Food Systems

With Molly D Anderson and Phil McMichael

Frontiers in Sustainable Food Systems, 2021

This article analyzes the development and organization of the United Nations Food Systems Summit (UNFSS), which is being convened by UN Secretary General António Guterres in late 2021. Although few people will dispute that global food systems need transformation, it has become clear that the Summit is instead an effort by a powerful alliance of multinational corporations, philanthropies, and export-oriented countries to subvert multilateral institutions of food governance and capture the global narrative of “food systems transformation.” This article places the upcoming Summit in the context of previous world food summits and analyzes concerns that have been voiced by many within civil society. It elaborates how the current structure and forms of participant recruitment and public engagement lack basic transparency and accountability, fail to address significant conflicts of interest, and ignore human rights. As the COVID-19 pandemic illuminates the structural vulnerabilities of the neoliberal model of food systems and the consequences of climate change for food production, a high-level commitment to equitable and sustainable food systems is needed now more than ever. However, the authors suggest that the UNFSS instead seems to follow a trajectory in which efforts to govern global food systems in the public interest has been subverted to maintain colonial and corporate forms of control.

Agriculture, Law, and the State

With Amy Cohen and Michael Fakhri

The Routledge Handbook of Law and Society, 2021

This chapter traces how states and other actors have used legal rules and institutions to govern the provisioning of agriculture-based food and to shape national and global power since Second World War. From the 1950s to around the 1980s, governments used law to stabilize and protect domestic markets. From the 1950s until 2008, development planners largely neglected agricultural development. Third World governments and internati

onal institutions alike shifted resources away from agriculture towards industrialization. In the 1980s and 1990s, powerful states, international organizations, and agribusiness corporations used some international institutions to reconfigure agriculture as a question of trade liberalization. In 1986, the United States, the European Community, and other wheat exporting countries began negotiations to include agriculture within formal legal trade agreements that culminated in 1994 with the World Trade Organization Agreement on Agriculture. Food security, the United States argued in these negotiations, is ‘best provided through a smooth-functioning world market’.

Property Regimes

Oxford Handbook of Law & Anthropology

Property regimes refer to the political, legal, and economic systems through which societies order their relationships between people with respect to valued things. Anthropologists and legal scholars have long been engaged in a dynamic dialogue about the organization and practice of property regimes. However, whereas legal theory has been uniquely concerned with ownership and private property as a system for allocating scarce goods and resources, anthropologists have consistently investigated its inconsistencies in everyday practice, illuminating how the distinctions between law and practice mutually constitute power relations. This entry reviews how anthropologists have attended to aporias of property theory by ethnographically analysing conflict and transformations between property regimes. It surveys anthropological insights into three continuing processes of property regime transformation: decolonization, privatization, and enclosure. In addition, it analyses two emergent processes around which property claims are being re-configured: de-materialization and re-materialization. The dematerialization of property through informational and financial capitalism is occurring at a time when industrial modes of carbon-dependent accumulation are facing ecological limits brought on by climate change. However, technologies of informationalization and financialization are also re-materializing property regimes by constructing new calculative devices and global markets for increasingly limited natural resources. How these emerging regimes shape social relations between people, the distribution of social entitlements, and the boundaries between persons and things, offers an important field of ethnographic inquiry.

From Colonialism to Collaboration: Disputing biofuels in the age of the Anthropocene

Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology Working Paper Series

Biofuels are a major source of conflict in debates over global food and energy security. In the face of climate change, biofuels are being promoted as a new form of “green energy.” However, transnational agrarian movements argue that biofuels exacerbate global food insecurity by lowering global food stocks and increasing global food prices. To manage this conflict, new arenas of multi-stakeholder, collaborative governance have proliferated on multiple political scales. This paper examines the emergence of collaborative governance within the historical context of shifting global arrangements of food and energy production, or what I term “energopolitical regimes.” Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork in the UN Committee on World Food Security, I argue that collaboration is emerging as a contested regulatory ideology in the age of the Anthropocene. As actors engage in collaboration in the face of shifting environmental-human relations, they face new political and ethical dilemmas.

Claiming Food Sovereignty: Legal Mobilization in an Era of Transnational Governance

Studies in Law, Politics and Society, 2020

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.

Banana Brokers: Communicative Labor, Translocal Translation, and Transnational Law

Public Culture, 2019

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.

Compromised collaborations: food, fuel, and power in transnational food security governance

Trasnational Legal Theory, 2018

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

Disputing the Global Land Grab: Claiming Rights and Making Markets Through Collaborative Governance

Law & Society Review, 2018

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.

Law: Anthropological Aspects (with Sally Merry)

International Encyclopedia of Social & Behavioral Sciences: Second Edition

Anthropologists approach law as a form of normative ordering that includes rules and processes. The anthropology of law has evolved significantly from viewing law as a measure of civilization and savagery to understanding law as an emergent cultural feature and form of power. Contemporary anthropologists investigate law ethnographically, by looking at disputes in spaces that lack formal legal institutions and codified law, as well as in the institutional sites where law is produced. Plural legal orders, each invested with particular modes of authority, are seen as a feature of all societies. With the growth of globalization and transnational law, anthropology has extended its scope to explore the dialectical interaction between these multiscalar forms of law.


Transnational Food Law

Oxford Handbook of Transnational Law

Transnational food law is a growing field of practice that has emerged with the globalization of food and agricultural systems. This chapter analyses the role of food and agriculture as a legally constitutive site of struggle. As both a basic need and an economic commodity, food is an object around which struggles over the organization of markets, the authority of legal institutions, and the regulation of powerful actors have consistently fomented. After surveying the role of agrarian struggles in shaping early international law, this chapter analyses the contentious regulatory space of transnational food security governance. It argues that contemporary governance is shaped by competing paradigms—a ‘productivist’ and ‘food sovereignty’ paradigm—which transnational actors struggle to translate across a variety of regulatory institutions, arenas, and processes. This chapter thereby demonstrates how food and agricultural governance remain a critical space of struggle over the democratic and regulatory possibilities of global governance.