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Reworking the metabolic rift: La Via Campesina, agrarian citizenship, and food sovereignty

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Amidst increasing concerns about climate change, food shortages, and widespread environmental degradation, a demand is emerging for ways to resolve longstanding social and ecological contradictions present in contemporary capitalist models of production and social organisation. This paper first discusses how agriculture, as the most intensive historical nexus between society and nature, has played a pivotal role in social and ecological change. I explore how agriculture has been integrally associated with successive metabolic ruptures between society and nature, and then argue that these ruptures have not only led to widespread rural dislocation and environmental degradation, but have also disrupted the practice of agrarian citizenship through a series of interlinked and evolving philosophical, ideological, and material conditions. The first section of the paper thus examines the de-linking of agriculture, citizenship, and nature as a result of ongoing cycles of a metabolic rift, as a 'crucial law of motion' and central contradiction of changing socio-ecological relations in the countryside. I then argue that new forms of agrarian resistance, exemplified by the contemporary international peasant movement La Via Campesina's call for food sovereignty, create a potential to reframe and reconstitute an agrarian citizenship that reworks the metabolic rift between society and nature. A food sovereignty model founded on practices of agrarian citizenship and ecologically sustainable local food production is then analysed for its potential to challenge the dominant model of large-scale, capitalist, and export-based agriculture.
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Keywords: agrarian transformation; citizenship; food sovereignty; metabolic rift; nature

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Simon Fraser University, Vancouver, BC, Canada

Publication date: 01 October 2009

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