New Extractivism, Peasantries and Social Dynamics: Critical Perspectives and Debates

Fifth conference, Moscow, 13-16 October 2017 organized by BRICS Initiative in Critical Agrarian Studies

About the conference

Over the past two decades, agrarian economies and food systems have been undergoing a profound restructuring in the wake of large-scale land investments and the increasing financialization of capital and land. These have reinforced old and created new forms and sites of capital accumulation by local and foreign elites, and supported both old and new forms of extractivism and agroextractivism. This restructuring has contributed to the unsettling of global geopolitics in this period, the context within which the BRICS grouping of countries was established as a vehicle to pursue their collective and individual agendas.

Recently, uncertainties in global power relations have been exacerbated by the rise of variegated nationalist-populist political projects, movements or governments. Many of these are authoritarian and reactionary – as part of the reaction to, and reflection of, the failure of neoliberal globalization and its version of ‘development’. Such projects sometimes involve chauvinistic appeals to land and nation, and xenophobic violence against outsiders, however defined. Typically, the divisions of class relations are downplayed or hidden by these ideologies and practices, despite their undoubted centrality to the underlying dynamics. On the other hand, new forms of resistance and struggles by oppressed groups, including peasants and traditional communities, are also emerging. Often these involve emancipatory forms of politics, but in some cases they are rife with tensions over class, gender and other social differences. Politics in all its guises thus continues to be a fundamental factor within processes of socio-economic transformation, including agrarian change.

This conference will explore these emerging realities from the perspective of critical and engaged scholarship, in alliance with active social forces. We will seek answers to difficult questions within three main clusters of subthemes – all informed by perspectives derived from agrarian political economy, sociology, and agro-ecology:

 (a)  The rise of – and current troubles within – the BRICS countries and middle-income countries (MICs), and the implications for agrarian/rural transformations as key aspects of broader social changes, inside these countries and regionally/internationally.

Relevant questions include:

  • What are the dominant directions of transformation and social change, and are there any countervailing directions?
  • What endogenous and exogenous forces are driving change in agrarian structures, including financialization as a key driver of change?
  • What are the roles of the state in the agrarian and agro-food transformations? How are state policies implicated and how do they affect the prospects for accumulation by different forms of capital?
  • In turn, how do the interests and accumulation strategies of different forms of capital, including financial capital, shape state policies?
  • What are the roles of other actors, including NGO and grassroots initiatives in expressing the interests of different social groups within these processes of transformation, with what impacts on the accumulation of capital?

(b)  The renewed interest in what some call ‘new extractivism’ and/or ‘agro-extractivism’ – in and in relation to the BRICS countries and middle income countries and beyond – and the role of the state as part of broader agrarian and environmental transformations, and the implications for food sovereignty.

Relevant questions include:

  • What are the current processes and actors involved driving change and the emergence of new forms of agro-extractivism?
  • How are local and national processes of agrarian transformation shaped by global and trans-national processes of investment, trade and inter-state relations?
  • What new forms of agri-business capital are emerging and with what effects?
  • What are the implications for rights to land, food sovereignty and social movements that promote food sovereignty?

(c)  The rise of diverse forms of nationalist and populist movements and governments, within and outside the BRICS countries and middle- income countries, and the involvement in and reactions to such nationalist-populist projects by peasants and other rural classes.

Relevant questions include:

  • Can today’s forms of nationalist-populism be defined as a form of reactionary and even authoritarian politics that appeals to ordinary people while creating new exclusions, and be explained in part as a reaction to processes of social and economic change in the rural world driven by global capital?
  • Is nationalist-populism likely to influence and shape popular and policy responses to recent forms of new extractivism, financialization and accumulation?
  • What effects will nationalist-populism have on efforts to promote agrarian social movements in the countryside?
  • What are the prospects for resistance by peasants (family farmers/small scale farmers and traditional communities) and rural movements in particular?

Explorations into these sub-themes and answers to some of the proposed questions will be rooted in engaged and rigorous research and practice, and in friendly but critical debates amongst colleagues and comrades.

The challenges to advocacy work by civil society and social movement groups in relation to the issues dicussed above are enormous. A conversation on this will be an important part of the conference, anchored by the Transnational Institute (TNI) 

Keynote speakers

The list of keynote and plenary speakers is currently very partial and tentative, and is evolving; it includes:

  • Teodor Shanin (Russia),
  • Dzodzi Tsikata (Ghana),
  • Jayati Ghosh (India, tbi),
  • Ian Scoones (IDS Sussex),
  • Marc Edelman (CUNY, USA),
  • Jan Douwe van er Ploeg (WUR, Netherlands),
  • Henry Bernstein (SOAS, UK).

Organizing Committee includes

Teodor Shanin (Moscow), Alexander Nikulin (RANEPA, Moscow), Irina Trotsuk (Moscow), Ben Cousins (PLAAS, South Africa), Ruth Hall (PLAAS South Africa), Sergio Schneider (UFRGS, Brazil), Sergio Sauer (U of Brasilia), Ye Jingzhong (China Agricultural University, Beijing), Jun Borras (ISS, The Hague), Transnational Institute of TNI (Lyda Fernanda, Pietje Vervest, Jennifer Franco). BICAS secretariat (Juan Liu ICTA Barcelona, Ben McKay U of Calgary, Gustavo Oliveira, Swarthmore College