Food regime analysis and agrarian questions: widening the conversation

Harriet Friedmann

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72 Citations (Scopus)


The central disagreement between McMichael and Bernstein boils down to how each of them analyses food and agriculture in relation to capitalist dynamics. McMichael thinks the main contradictions of capitalism now stem from agriculture, and any positive future will be guided by farmers. Bernstein thinks capitalism has fully absorbed agriculture (including farmers not expelled from the land) into circuits of capital, turning agriculture into simply one of many sectors of accumulation and a major font of surplus labor. They have arrived by different paths to the same deeper question: Granted its illumination of the past, does the food regime approach remain useful for interpreting present contradictions, and if so, how? To invite a wider exploration of this very real and important question, I have tried to shift the debate towards a conversation about the complexity of the current transition. I start by widening the frame of the debate to include other writings by McMichael (his method of incorporated comparison) and Bernstein (his distinction between farming and agriculture). I conclude that food regimes and agrarian changes must be located in a wider set of analyses of agrarian and capitalist transitions, each of which misses something important. Older agrarian thought about urban society has much to offer but misses larger food regime dynamics; socio-technical transitions and new commons literatures offer critical analysis of technics, but lack appreciation of the centrality of food and farming; recent works recovering Marxist thought about human nature in a possible transition to a society of abundance and collaboration also ignore food and farming. Connecting with literatures outside the frame of food regimes and agrarian questions offers a way forward for those literatures and for ours.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)671-692
Number of pages22
JournalJournal of Peasant Studies
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 6 May 2016

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