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Utopian Spaces, Dystopian Places?: A Local Community-Based Perspective on Corporate Social Responsibility

Zoe Bray and Christian Thauer

ABSTRACT

In this article, we explore how corporate social responsibility may serve to mitigate the conflict between the utopia that many people—particularly those from underprivileged backgrounds in emerging markets states—associate with globalization and, on the other hand, the detrimental effect this globalization often actually has both on the quality of life of people and on the environment. Empirical data is drawn from field research on firm and local community relations in South Africa and China. We consider the extent to which corporate social responsibility may be a means to move beyond both utopian hopes and the dystopian reality of globalization.

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Whose Utopia? Our Utopia! Competing Visions of the Future at the UN Climate Talks

Richard Widick and John Foran

ABSTRACT

Social movements move and grow by autopoesisby calling their prospective ranks to order using public pronouncements replete with consequential assumptions about the world as they see it. In the same way, governing bodies and vested economic interests stake out opposing public positions. In the wake of the crucial international climate negotiations in Paris, December 2015, at which the nations adopted the first truly universal climate treaty, we look back over five years of participatory ethnographic research inside the UN climate talks and the social movements for climate justice, identifying key lifeworld assumptions inscribed in the public position-taking of central economic, public, and political sphere actors. Our findings include grounds for skepticism that UN climate policy can transcend the power of the fossil fuel companies to attenuate both international ambitions and national contributions to the universal effort, but also an exciting possibility that climate justice philosophy and tactics, aided by bold counter-spectacle techniques from the Occupy movement, might return to the stage in the coming years and lead the necessary deep culture shift that decarbonization will require.

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Book Reviews

Karen Hébert, Joshua Mullenite, Alka Sabharwal, David Kneas, Irena Leisbet Ceridwen Connon, Peter van Dommelen, Cameron Hu, Brittney Hammons, and Natasha Zaretsky

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Boundary Plants, the Social Production of Space, and Vegetative Agency in Agrarian Societies

Michael Sheridan

ABSTRACT

Boundary plants lie at the intersections of landscape ecology, social structure, and cultural meaning-making. They typically relate resource rights to social groups and cultural identities, and make these connections meaningful and legitimate. Landscape boundaries such as hedges and fence lines are often repositories for social identities and cultural meanings, and tools for the negotiations and struggles that comprise them. This article surveys botanical boundaries in classic ethnography, outlines social science approaches to boundary objects, and describes new theoretical work on space, place, and agency. It also introduces the concepts of monomarcation and polymarcation to delineate the contrast between technologically simple and socially complex forms of marking land. Three case studies, concerning the social lives of Dracaena in sub-Saharan Africa and Cordyline in the Caribbean, illustrate how boundary plants have a particular sort of vegetative agency to turn space into place in culture-specific ways.

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Cultures of Soy and Cattle in the Context of Reduced Deforestation and Agricultural Intensification in the Brazilian Amazon

Ariela Zycherman

ABSTRACT

The expansion and intensification of agriculture is a major driver of deforestation in tropical forests and for global climate change. However, over the past decade Brazil has significantly reduced its deforestation rates while simultaneously increasing its agricultural production, particularly cattle and soy. While, the scholarly literature primarily attributes this success to environmental policy and global economic trends, recent ethnographic depictions of cattle ranchers and soy farmers offer deeper insight into how these political and economic processes are experienced on the ground. Examples demonstrate that policy and markets provide a framework for soy farming and ranching, but emerging forms of identity and new cultural values shape their practices. This article argues that to understand the full picture of why Brazil’s deforestation rates have dropped while the agricultural industry has flourished, the culture of producers must be present in the analysis.

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Extractive Conservation

Peasant Agroecological Systems as New Frontiers of Exploitation?

Anne Cristina de la Vega-Leinert and Peter Clausing

ABSTRACT

In view of the Aichi international policy targets to expand areas under conservation, we analyze to what extent conservation has become an inherent element of extraction. We scrutinize the Land Sparing versus Land Sharing debate by explicitly incorporating environmental justice issues of access to land and natural resources. We contend that dominant conservation regimes, embedded within Land Sparing, legitimize the displacement of local people and their land use to compensate for distant, unsustainable resource use. In contrast, the Land Sharing counternarrative, by promoting spatial integration of conservation in agroecological systems, has the potential to radically challenge extraction. Common ground emerges around the concept of sustainable intensification. We contend that if inserted in green economy’s technocentric and efficiency-oriented framework, sustainable intensification will contribute to undermining diversified peasant agroecological systems by transforming them into simplified, export-orientated ones, thereby stripping peasant communities of the capacity to provide for their own needs.

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Humans, Plants, and Networks

A Critical Review

Laura Calvet-Mir and Matthieu Salpeteur

ABSTRACT

In recent years, Social Network Analysis (SNA) has increasingly been applied to the study of complex human-plant relations. This quantitative approach has enabled a better understanding of (1) how social networks help explain agrobiodiversity management, and (2) how social relations influence the transmission of local ecological knowledge (LEK) related to plants. In this paper, we critically review the most recent works pertaining to these two lines of research. First, our results show that this fast-developing literature proposes new insights on local agrobiodiversity management mechanisms, as well as on the ways seed exchange systems are articulated around other social relationships, such as kinship. Second, current works show that inter-individual connections affect LEK transmission, the position of individuals in networks being related to the LEK they hold. We conclude by stressing the importance of combining this method with comprehensive approaches and longitudinal data collection to develop deeper insights into human-plant relations.

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Introduction

People and Plants

Kay E. Lewis-Jones

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Placing Plants in Territory

Sarah Besky and Jonathan Padwe

ABSTRACT

In this article, we use plants to think about territory, a concept that is at once a bulwark of social theory and an under-theorized category of social analysis. Scholarship on plants brings together three overlapping approaches to territory: biological and behaviorist theories; representational and cartographic perspectives; and more-than-human analysis. We argue that these three approaches are not mutually exclusive. Rather, different epistemologies of territory overlap and are imbricated within each other. We further argue that these three approaches to territory inform three distinct domains of territoriality: legibility and surveillance; ordering and classification; and exclusion and inclusion. Through examples of how plants operate in these three domains, we illustrate the analytical potential that a more-than-human approach to territory provides. We conclude, however, that attention to the particularities of plant ecologies can help move multispecies discussions more firmly into the realm of the political economic.

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Separating the Wheat from the Chaff

The Social Worlds of Wheat

Jessica Barnes

ABSTRACT

Wheat is one of the world’s most widely grown, traded, and consumed crops. This article reviews the interdisciplinary literature on human-wheat interactions, tracing how various actors engage with wheat up until its point of consumption. I look first at wheat as a seed, examining efforts to transform wheat over time through farmer selection and scientific breeding, and the emergence of high-yielding wheat, hybrid wheat, and genetically modified wheat. Second, I look at wheat as a plant and what it means to farm wheat. I highlight two key dimensions of farmer-wheat interactions—farmers’ choice of variety and their management of risk. Finally, I look at wheat as a grain and the practices of transportation, sorting, and trade that mediate flows of harvested grain from field to market. Through reviewing these three areas of literature, the article reveals the social worlds that both shape and are shaped by this globally significant crop.