Tag Archives: racism

Co-opting the Coop

Kirby, Marianne – Co-opting the Coop –  What’s the real cost of homesteading’s new hipness?

This article makes a distinction between ongoing homesteading for survival among poor and marginalized communities, and hipster homesteading that has now become cool.  Kirby argues that hipster homesteading not only ignores and erases these histories; “The mainstream appropriation of poor skills might sell books, but it might also be detrimental to the people who do depend on these skills for survival. Simply put, the appropriation of poor skills by the mainstream can end up further marginalizing already marginalized populations who still rely on those skills.”  There are some sharp critiques of hipster homesteaders in this article, but it’s not clear what the implications are, other than the idea that we should “examine our practices” and acknowledge “the idea that poor and immigrant populations might be directly involved in the broader homesteading movement, to the benefit of everyone involved”

In contrast to previous homesteading practiced by poor people, Kirby explains that contemporary urban homesteading is often “practiced by single [privileged] people and single families.”  Kirby documents an extreme case of co-optation, in which the Urban Homestead Project has copyrighted ‘urban homesteading.’  She also points to destruction of ecosystems by wildcrafters and foragers, and the appropriation and commodification of homesteading skills.

Another problem Kirby cites is that “Rising costs from the commodification of poor skills can also leave poor people who still rely on these skills further marginalized,” such as designer chicken coops.  More broadly, she argues that increased demand will lead to skyrocketing prices, placing essentials out of reach of poor people who have been relying on them.

In terms of policy, she points to government attempts to regulate the ‘wrong’ kind of homesteading, policing forms of subsistence that don’t look pretty or gentrified.  She contrasts Denise Morrison, who relied on her garden for subsistence and medicine, to hipster homesteaders.  Morrison’s garden was destroyed for looking untidy, while “the cool kids are lauded for their revolutionary interest in a gentrified version of subsistence farming.”

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Growing Food and Justice: Dismantling Racism through Sustainable Food Systems

Morales, Alfonso. “Growing Food and Justice: Dismantling Racism Through Sustainable Food Systems.” In Cultivating Food Justice: Race, Class, and Sustainability, 149–176. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2011.

This article explores food justice in communities of colour, focusing on the emergence Growing Food and Justice Initiative (GFJI), a coalition of groups working on antiracist food justice.  In addition the article begins by placing food justice in historical context of industrial food, racialized suburbanization (white flight) and its implications for food deserts, the medicalization/individualization of food, and the emergence of community food security–which gave rise to the Community Food Security Coalition (CFSC) in 1995.  He situates food justice as an antiracist response to community food security, driven by people of colour.  He sees this as building on the work of community food security and its ‘systems-focused thinking’ that addresses roots of food insecurity.  By the same token, he suggests that the antiracist GFJI–spearheaded by communities of colour–complemented the CFSC.

The CFSC is “the dominant private, nonprofit organization in the field of CFS” (community food security), (152) and he suggests that it has had important impacts on federal policy (153).  It exists in “dynamic tension” with the GFJI, which works “to promote individual and organizational empowerment through training, networking, and creating a supportive community” (156).  In terms of both farmers and eaters, people of colour are some of the most marginalized (158).  By taking an explicitly racialized approach, then, the food justice movement helps avoid the colorblindness of the food movement (158).

He discusses a conference held by the GFJI which linked the problems faced by poor households (hunger, lack of access to good food, obesity) with the problems of farmers (low farm-gage prices, consolidation, overseas competition).  He reads presenters as engaging in three types of work, broadly: identifying/combating racism, advocacy for immigrant farmers and other communities of colour, and “reimagining the participation of immigrants, indigenous peoples and other communities of colour within the food system” (160).

He presents three detailed case studies of organizations that presented their work in the conference: 1: organization working with disadvantaged Hmong farmers to coordinate training, improve access to markets, and securing land and other resources (160-1). 2: An Indigenous organization working to reintroduce traditional farming and food prep.  Morales reads the presenter as extending a critique of institutional racism and the democratization of the food system (163). 3: A rural organization working with Latino immigrants to help train and support new and economically viable farming operations (165-6).  Through this process, the new farmers “trade their identity as labour for an entrepreneurial identity” (166).

Morales admits that different places and contexts are unique, but insists that “food security and food justice are woven together by individuals and organizations who recognize a problem, reconstruct it as an opportunity, and organize around it while at the same time empowering communities in agricultural production, healthier consumption, local politics, and economic self-determination.  A vision of self-sustaining, independent, yet interdependent community and local economic activity etches itself in different ways in distinct communities, not so much as resistance to industrial agriculture, but more toward establishing resilient and sustainable communities” (169).

In his conclusion, he suggests directions for future research.  First, three kinds of work: immigrant farmer/processor, food distribution systems, and small grocery/corner stores.

He also calls for applied research to “discover and advance policy objectives related to the antiracist and economic objectives espoused by GFJI and its participant organizations” (170).

He is interested in unerstanding “the organizational and institutional elements of the GFJI” as well: knowledge diffusion, growth and change, how members pursue antiracism.  He also asks how the antiracist framework of the GFJI articulates itself in relation to other frameworks of food-systems thinking: “industrial food, urban agriculture, sustainable and local food, community gardens–each has its history, ideas, and particular practices.  Each is also associated with values we often think of as incommensurate, I would argue for research that uncovers comparability in these practices and fosters dialogue among the practitioners” (171).  He also calls for research on “community formation, political activism, and approaches to leveraging food-based economic development in marginazlied communities” and the need to “understand the variety of activities taking place to shape policy to enhance the chances for economic political, and social success”(171).

Commentary/Questions

Morales is clearly more than an academic–he’s in conversation with organizations and people working on food justice, and he sees his research as a way to continue the conversations going on.  The brief contexutalization of the GFJI not only within food justice, but within the institutional racism of the industrial food system.

Like most other articles in this book, it only goes back to the early 20th century.  More specifically, it says nothing about colonialism and the emergence of property relations, despite (brief) descriptions of a indigenous food sovereignty project.  More generally, there’s no discussion of the political economy of land, except for food deserts: land prices and property vanishes as an important way to think about farming and access to land, for example.

Finally, Morales repeatedly emphasizes policy as a major focus for research, action, and a way to assess the impacts and success of food justice movement.  No doubt policy is important, but he seems to neglect other, more grassroots impacts.  Furthermore, there’s no mention of actual tensions between policy objectives and horizontal, grassroots community-building.  Although he points to tensions between the CFSC and GFJI, this seems like a missed opportunity to consider broader (or other) tensions between non-profits and more grassroots coalitions (especially in terms of antiracism).  What are the unintended (and often regressive, racist, and destructive) impacts of policies–even policies that have been fought for by food advocates (such as those discussed by Guthman)?  How might new regulations, incentives, or grant programs create new problems–such as competition and professionalization–that have led to critiques of the NGO-industial-complex?  Are there places and people who are self-consciously side-stepping these problems by doing horizontal grassroots modes of intervention in the food system?

Forgotten Place and the Seeds of Grassroots Planning – Ruth Wilson Gilmore

This is a great article, for several reasons.  It’s from a book called Engaging Contradictions: Theory, Politics, and Methods of Activist Scholarship, available free online.  Gilmore weaves together theory and practical examples in a unique way: her whole array of concepts seems to flow from on-the-ground problems and questions that come out of anti-prison activism.  It has implications for the role of researchers and their relationships to communities and activism.  She manages to avoid constituting geography or other academic domains as her primary audience, while still clearly making a contribution to theoretical debates.

This isn’t a very good summary and this article is worth re-reading.  It could be useful for all sorts of reasons.   For one thing, she is explicitly concerned with struggles of land use involving activists, municipalities, etc.  More broadly, she makes explicit the conceptual and practical problems of engaged research, bringing diverse communities together in struggle, formulating problems effectively, constituting venues and audiences for politics, engaging critically with the NGO-industrial-complex (while acknowledging it as an irreducible site of struggle), among other things.  Her concepts of stretch, resilience, and resonance are particularly interesting (and important for a more coherent summary, as the whole chapter is really organized around these concepts and the problems they get at).

Questions: Given ‘organized abandonment,’ “how can people who inhabit forgotten places scale up their activism from intensely localized struggles to something less atomized and therefore possessed o f a significant capacity for self-determination” (31)?  Here ‘scaling up’ isn’t a fetishism of ‘large-scale’ over ‘local’ change; instead she wants to describe the ways in which people create and develop the capacity to formulate problems collectively and act to shape their communities (Harvey might call this ‘the right to the city’).  She is interested in the conditions under which regional coalitions are formed, “partly because their growing understanding of their sameness trumps their previously developed beliefs in their irreconcilable differences” (38).

What capacities might such [marginalized people] animate, and what scales, to make the future better than the present?  What does better mean?  How do people make broadly contested sensibilities—indeed feelings—the basis for political struggle, especially when their social identities are not fixed by characteristics that point toward certain proven patterns (or theories) for action?” (32)

Forgotten places: Gilmore is concerned with “forgotten places:” “marginal people on marginal lands.”  These are obviously not the same everywhere, but Gilmore maps out some compelling continuities.  Not just lack: abandoned places are also “planned concentrations or sinks:” hazardous materials, destructive practices (35).  They’re characterized by layering rounds of dispossession/domination/development – crisis becomes a way of life (36).

She uses the term ‘syncretic’ to describe these places (she prefers this over ‘hybrid’ because hybrid implies originally-pure origins).  The term is also important for research/method: it enables scholarly research as political experimentation (37). Because syncretic compels us to think about problems in terms of their stretch, resonance, and resilience.  She is interested in how “the practice of engaged scholarship necessarily and ethically change[s] the ideological and material field of struggle (55).  Engaged scholarship (and activism) entails constituting audiences at every step, “both within and as an effect of observation, discovery, analysis, and presentation” (55).

–       Stretch: enables a question to reach further than the immediate object without bypassing particularity (e.g. ‘what is development?’ > ‘why do you want this development?’)

–       Resonance: enables a question to support/model non-hierarchical collective action “by producing a hum that, by inviting strong attention, elicits responses that do not necessarily adhere to already existing architectures of sense-making” (38)

–       Resilience: enables a question to be flexible rather than brittle – create questions where surprise can strengthen, rather than ruin them.

She’s interested in how research “combines with the actions of everyday people to shift the field of struggle and thus reorganize both their own consciousness and the concentration and uses of social wealth in ‘forgotten places’” (38).

Desakota – how do mainalized ppl become effective political actor: connect rural/urban in non-schematic way: comparison as a way of bringing together what seems irreconcilable – compare different political/economic/territorial/ideological valences that distinguish (and might unite) places shaped by external control or locaed outside particular dev pathways 33-5

–       rural/urban in relational/linked context: dwellers in more urban areas combine deep rurual roots w/ participation in formal/informal econ

–       she discusses an anti-prison conference and the consciousness of marginalized ppl involved: “their conciousness is a product of vulnerability in space coupled with unavoidable and constant movement through space (43)

–       the desakota region is all about the movement of resources—wether transfers of social wealth from public sectors (welfare to domestic warfare) or migration (voluntary or not) or across supraregional spaces to amass remittances that, once sent, counter the apparently unidirectional concentration of wealth (43)

–       This “respatialization of the social” (rather than automatic recognition based in racial or ethnic categories) “forms the basis for syncretizing previously separate political movements (44)

  • So this reformulation of structure/agency, racialization, space, etc is a way of creating stretch: shared problems w/out bypassing particularity
  • She discusses how this also happened at the anti-prison conference, where activists talked about “how they had come to encounter, identify, understand, and solve the problems where they lived” (41)
    • The final segment involved brainstorming outcomes to life-harming situations of prisons etc
    • This all led to the recognition that “they and their places shared a family resemblance that needed further investigation” 42

–       Prisons and development: she describes the way in which prisons have been created Desakota rural/urban in-between became important for understanding prison proliferation: prisons can reconfigure political jurisdictions, along with other economic/social/cultural effects (44-5).

  • People organized to counter boosterism in the elected leadership, but they had a hard time constituting audiences to make their argument (46).  They engaged with social science methods to rebut data in the environmental review, which represented a narrow technocratic vision substuted for civic engagement (48)
  • This ‘unfunded devolution’ of state powers (the function of the ‘anti-state state’) entails an unfunded devolution of social welfare

–       Desakota (and the precarity, divisions, and movements they entails) aren’t a simple weakness or lack: “people get past certain barriers because they have an already developed sense of the perils and promise of movement, that the practice of circulating within regions underlies potential interpretations of possibility and alliance,a nd finally that multiply rooted people have a sense of the ways that “elsewhere” is simultaneously ‘here’ (another way of saying that ‘I is an Other’) (50).

Complicating identity politics and structure/agency: she critiques the simplistic dismissals of identity politics, while developing a more complicated idea of identity, pointing to: “the contradictory ways in which idnetities fracture and reform in the curcibles of state and society, public and private, home and work, violence and consent (39).  She also refuses a simple division between structure/agency: she’s not saying that agency is an unimportant concept, but thinks it’s too often designated as an attribute of oppressed people against something called ‘structure’ (40).  Structures are both the residue of agency and animated by agents… and the modes through which people organize to resist are (or become) structural.  She points back to ‘stretch’ here: in terms of generalization (thinking about structure/agency) and “in terms of what we must think about to think at all well” 40).

Critique of NGOs – turns out she was a contributor to The Revolution Will Not Be Funded, and she covers some of the same ground here: organizations become competitive and professionalized, stifling potential alliances w/ other orgs.  She distinguishes between becoming legal (under IRS) and using the legal as a tool (43).  This, along with capitalism’s 20th C counter-rev, and waves of criminalization, help explain the brittleness of the present moment.

–       This professionalization has also created the need to generate ‘products’ and and instrumental approach to problems that look for easy (often technocratic) and limited solutions (50)

  • This is a double-edged problem: there’s the assumptions that marginalized communities need roaming specialists (on the one hand) and there’s a flip where marginalized people are assumed to have a latent revolutionary subjectivity waiting to be unleashed (51) (this is a concrete repetition of the structure/agency dichotomy)

–       These result in the loss of stretch and resonance

–       However, this doesn’t entail an abandonment of NGOs: Gilmore discusses the ways in which activists were able to find a ‘provisionally syncretic identity’ through shared problems/struggles, and then these had to be reformed in the context of mission statements, funding streams, and other boundaries: NGOs are both enabling and disabling (42)

–       Against technocratic solutions (or fetishism of marginalized ‘agency’) she suggests that self-determination is created under conditions of “a real engagement of people’s creative thinking mixed with locally or externally available understandings of political and economic possibilities and constrains” (51)

  • The resilience of this question “depends on people’s immediate and longer-range engagement—their own resilience—to realize any outcome (51)

Evolution or gentrification: Do urban farms lead to higher rents?

This is a short editorial-type article on the relationship between urban agriculture, community gardens, and gentrification.  The author is a white urban farmer working in Detroit, critical of his own (potential) role in gentrification.  He draws links between gentrification and the shift from community gardens to urban for-profit farming, alongside increased white farmers and yuppies.  He makes some a somewhat vague distinction between gentrification and real community development, but the article doesn’t hinge on this difference.  He has practical suggestions and responses, which don’t solve gentrification, but at least self-consciously respond to it:

  1. Root your organization in social justice, (which for him meant changing hiring practices, decision-making, and developing partnerships)
  2. Learn about the history of food/farming/growing in the city you’re in, and work with that history
  3. Listen actively, take criticism graciously, don’t take credit for a bunch of good ideas, seek out established leaders/mentors