, VI Conference of BRICS Initiative of Critical Agrarian Studies

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Food Regime Analysis and ‘Post-Neoliberal’ Dynamics: The State-Capital Nexus, China, and the Rise/Demise of ‘Pink Tide’ States in Latin America
Mark Tilzey

Last modified: 2018-12-13


2019 marks the 30thanniversary of Harriet Friedmann and Philip McMichael’s seminal 1989 paper in Sociologia RuralisAgriculture and the State System: The Rise and Decline of National Agricultures, 1870 to the Present. Anticipating this event affords an opportunity to re-appraise the premises, theory, and temporal conjuncture that informed their paper. The rise of the BRICS countries, and particularly China, also stimulates a re-appraisal of the premises and theoretical categories informing Food Regime Analysis as deployed by these authors. Thus, the rise of greater ‘positive coordination’ (Tilzey and Potter 2007) of food production and distribution by the state in the form, variously, of neo-mercantilism/neo-productivism and neo-developmentalism, as exemplified by China and the ‘pink tide’ states, serves not only to highlight a changed historical conjuncture in the wake of the 2007/8 food and financial crises (which we may denote as ‘post-neoliberal’), but, in so doing, also challenges more profoundly some of the theoretical foundations of Friedmann and McMichael’s – and particularly McMichael’s – characterization of food regimes. The paper argues that a fundamental re-appraisal of the basic theoretical categories deployed by Friedmann and McMichael in their development of Food Regime Analysis is long overdue, and that these basic categories comprise: capitalism, the state, and class, together with the nature of agency in relation to these categories. We propose concepts such as the ‘state-capital nexus’ and ‘structured agency’ (Tilzey 2016, 2017, 2018) as a means to resolve what are seen as significant difficulties and lacunae in Friedmann and McMichael’s original, and indeed ongoing, thinking in Food Regime Analysis. The deployment of these ‘new’ concepts enables us to conceive of much closer relations between capitalism, the modern state, class contestation, and imperialism in the dynamics of food regimes, concepts which imply that we should not be at all surprised by the re-emergence of phenomena such a neo-mercantilism and neo-developmentalism. The paper goes on to delineate key relations between the emergence of China as a sub-imperium and the dynamics of the ‘pink tide’ states in Latin America. The paper concludes by drawing out some of the implications of this ‘new’ theorisation of food regimes (and state, capital, class relations more generally) for anti- and post-capitalist emancipatory politics, particularly in relation to food sovereignty and a ‘dual strategy’ of counter-hegemony.


Food Regimes; State-Capital Nexus; China; 'Pink Tide' States; Food Sovereignty

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