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A political ontology of seeds

The transformative frictions of a farmers' movement in Europe

Elise Demeulenaere

This article follows the trajectory of a French farmers' movement that contests the seed production and regulation system set in place during agricultural modernization. It focuses on the creativity of the movement, which ranges from semantic innovations (such as “peasant seeds”) to the reinvention of onfarm breeding practices based on new scientific paradigms, and includes new alliances with the social movements defending the commons. The trajectory of the movement is shaped by its encounters—with scientists, other international seed contestations, and other social movements—and by the productive frictions they create. This in-depth reframing of the activities connected to seeds contributes to building a counternarrative about farmers and seeds that reopens spaces for contestation. In this counternarrative, “peasant seeds” play a central and subversive role in the sense that they question the ontological assumptions of present seed laws.

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The seed and the citizen

Biosocial networks of confiscation and destruction in Canada

Birgit Müller

While farmers set up conditions for the development of plants, the seeds they help grow into plants determine conditions for the farmers. Modern plants not only have agronomic characteristics but also intellectual property rights, phytosanitary regulations, and classifications attached to them. Interacting with their seeds creates fields of property and power, situations of possibility and impossibility, in which farmers and breeders operate. The biosocial networks from which seeds emerge are animated by bureaucratic measures, property relations, and research and cultivation practices that I will explore in action. Seeds not only become what they are in multifarious networks of natural, cultural, and political agencies, but their emergence and coevolution with humans is ruptured through deregistration, persecution, confiscation, and destruction of proprietary seeds. This article will take the reader from the fields of farmers in Saskatchewan to seed breeders in Saskatoon and ultimately to public meetings organized by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency in Ottawa.

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Separating the Wheat from the Chaff

The Social Worlds of Wheat

Jessica Barnes

, geography, sociology, and history that looks at human-wheat interactions from seed to harvest to market, up until the point at which the plant, or rather, a particular part of the plant—the grain—is processed and consumed. In reviewing this literature, I

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Introduction

Seeds—Grown, governed, and contested, or the ontic in political anthropology

Birgit Müller

Seeds are simultaneously a meaningful part of the daily life of many people involved in agriculture and instruments for national and international policy making. This thematic section explores the sensorial connections between people and plants, the relationships of power that impact and frame them, and the reflections and contestations that they are a part of. In the midst of Western societies and among scientists and farmers, different ontologies and different perceptions of being and coevolving with others in the world coexist, as we will show by looking at human-seed relationships. Local and global legacies create powerful differences between seeds, while various forms of international governance simultaneously push seeds toward homogenization and agriculture toward industrialization while claiming to preserve diversity. Intellectual property rights over seeds and seed regulations have become powerful tools of multinational seed corporations for appropriating large parts of farmers' incomes and controlling the food chain, while it is the sensorial and emotional connections between humans and plants that provide the drive to resist them.

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Actually existing tomatoes

Politics of memory, variety, and empire in Latvian struggles over seeds

Guntra A. Aistara

In March 2012, a small farm in Latvia with a collection of over 200 tomato varieties was charged with the illegal sale of seeds not included in the European Union's Common Catalogue. The farm's collection includes traditional Latvian varieties that have never been officially registered, Western varieties imported illegally during the Soviet years, and Russian varieties that came into use during the Soviet years and are now defended by Latvian gardeners as "traditionally grown" and representing the taste of their childhoods. The debate highlighted the continuing struggle over Latvia's geopolitical positioning between Russia and the European Union and control over seeds as a tactic of empire. I explore the cultural memories embedded in the contested tomato seeds and how they contribute to an intertwined imaginary of the Latvian landscape idyll with a Soviet sociality. I argue that the innovative resolution to this conflict represents a process of transculturation in a contact zone between empires (Pratt 1992).

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Sowing the Seeds of Its Own Destruction

Democracy and Democide in the Weimar Republic and Beyond

Mark Chou

That all democracies have, by their very nature, the potential to destroy themselves is a fact too rarely documented by the acolytes of democracy. Indeed, in the brief decades since Joseph Goebbels, then as Reich Minister of Propaganda, reminded the world that it 'will always remain one of the best jokes of democracy, that it gave its deadly enemies the means by which it was destroyed', democrats have quickly forgotten just how precarious a thing democracy can be. The objective of this article is to entertain the underexplored notion that democratic failure is a possibility that remains very much entrenched within the idea and ideal of democracy itself. Using the breakdown of democracy during the Weimar Republic as a brief illustrative example, the article first describes the process through which a democracy can self-destruct before offering a theoretical explanation of why this is so - one which draws its inspiration from the dual notions of autonomy and tragedy. By doing this, it will hope to have shown just how a democracy can, in the course of being democratic no less, sow the seeds of its own destruction.

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The Seeds of Time

Graham Holderness

Underpinned by a cultural materialist study of the presence of Shakespeare in a series of great national festivals – the great Exhibition of 1851, the Festival of Britain in 1951, and the London Olympics of 2012 – this story uses imaginative methods to pursue a critical inquiry, combining documentary evidence and critical argument with imaginative speculation. To study Shakespeare diachronically through a time-line of national commemorations, the kind of work featured in Critical Survey 22, 2 (2010), Shakespeare and the Cultures of Commemoration, is analogous to travelling in time. Here Wells’s Time Traveller, scientist, engineer, and devotee of progress, returns to the past in search of Shakespeare, and finds in the Great Exhibition a Shakespeare surprisingly assimilated to the priorities of mechanical engineering and industrial design. Shuttling forward to 1951, he discovers similar evidence, including a steam locomotive named William Shakespeare. Inadvertently coming across the London Olympics in 2012 (by carelessly setting his GPS navigation system to ‘Stratford’), the Time Traveller encounters lines from The Tempest spoken by an impersonation of Isambard Kingdom Brunel. In this story historical, critical and scholarly questions are explored imaginatively in fictional form. For a critical account of the same material, see Graham Holderness, ‘Remembrance of Things Past’, in Celebrating Shakespeare: Commemoration and Cultural Memory, edited by Clara Calvo and Coppelia Kahn (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015).

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Carl Djerassi's Seed

Eva-Sabine Zehelein

Some fifteen years ago, a distinguished chemistry professor at Stanford University closed his lab in order to write autobiographies, novels and plays. The ‘(god)father of the pill’ (a term he has often criticized) has received numerous scientific prizes and honours. Carl Djerassi is one of the few American scientists to have been awarded both the National Medal of Science (1973) and the National Medal of Technology (1992). He has been called an outstanding scientific hero of the twentieth century, well-situated in the National Inventors Hall of Fame, and now even immortalized on an Austrian postal stamp. Djerassi decided to fence off his own personal garden patch on the vast prairies of belles lettres, and to create his own literary genre.

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Making Post/Anthropocentric Futures in Agrobiodiversity Conservation

Franziska von Verschuer

countries in the world collaborate to secure the future of agriculture. Part of this system is an international seed storage facility in the Arctic permafrost, inspired and initiated by Cary Fowler, which serves to safeguard backups of seed collections

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‘They Tried To Bury Us; They Didn’t Know We Were Seeds’

Intergenerational Memory and La casa

Sarah D. Harris

In using metaphors including trees, food, land and house to invoke the power of intergenerational memory, Paco Roca’s La casa (2015) shifts a national obsession with memory to an intimate scale. The book’s intimacy invites reconsideration of notions of ‘giving voice’ and ‘sites of memory’ that several other recent and groundbreaking Spanish comics have explored. This article situates the visual and verbal metaphors in La casa within the larger context of comics and memory, and the consistent attention to memory in Roca’s oeuvre. The characters’ discussions about tending to the land they have inherited, especially via Roca’s impeccably sophisticated use of the medium, demand that we tend to a new generation taking up its ancestors’ struggles, including the silent struggles of a repressed (or buried) generation.