The Imperial Relations of Food: Food Sovereignty and Self-determination in World Politics

Date of Completion

January 2010


Agriculture, General|Economics, Agricultural|Peace Studies|Political Science, General




Concerned with the geographies of hunger and the geopolitics of food and agriculture, this study examines the global political economy of food and illuminates the persistence of imperialism and neocolonialism in contemporary world politics. Specifically, the study foregrounds racial patriarchy as a central axis of power in structuring the global politics of food and agriculture. Using a critical interdisciplinary approach that augments postcolonial theory with Critical Race Theory and Third World Approaches to International Law, it is argued that the study of the global political economy of food requires an analysis that can engage representation, race, gender, class, the imperial juncture, and resistance. ^ The study begins with an exploration of the notion of scarcity within the emergence of modernity/coloniality, as well as a genealogy of "food security." Subsequently, the study examines two important institutions of "global governance" that inform the imperial relations of food: the World Bank and the World Trade Organization. I trace the way in which these institutions produce and circulate particular assumptions and ideas about food and agricultural issues – especially about the causes of food insecurity and malnutrition, the necessity of capitalist markets, and the roles of biotechnology and commercial agriculture. I also illuminate how debates about the "right to food" have become framed in terms of food security, and how the latter masks the racialized, gendered, and class practices that produce and enable not only food insecurity, but massive immiseration and death. The study contends that the dominant "food security" discourse has become considerably implicated in the entrenchment of hegemonic notions about the causes and solutions to food insecurity, which privileges some groups/classes/states over others. ^ Lastly, the study reflects on resistance to necroeconomics; and contends that La Via Campesina uses the concept food sovereignty to contest the emancipatory powers of conventional human rights discourse, thereby opening up new possibilities for self-determination. The study concludes that political economy is already a gendered, classed, raced, and nationalized practice, especially for those who are hungry; and reveals the centrality of necroeconomics to world politics and the complicity of IR discourses in the production of contemporary death worlds. ^