ChapterPDF Available

The Hypertrophic City vs The Planet of Fields

Authors:

Abstract

In an extended critical response to Mike Davis's The City as Ark, this article dissects the urbanization and modernization teleologies which structure and inform the current interest in framing the city as humanity’s utopia. Instead, by showing how contemporary Global North urban rests rest on settler-colonialism and ecological imperialism, it shows how sustainable urbanization and urban forms ought to be based on a smooth relationship between urban forms and their surrounding agriculture hinterlands. In turn it also suggests that urban studies ought to pay greater attention to peasant movements and world-ecology, since they are the basis for a sustainable rural world, and thus a sustainable urban world.
3
Political strategies, struggles and horizons
of people on the planet living in cities (purportedly) rising constantly, technocrats have
focused debate on the urban age, and in turn swiftly dismiss both rural people and the
production of food. If they even raise the still-lingering agrarian question, it is only to
quickly dash it to the ground. The primary resort is to either tacitly or explicitly assert
a double-helix modernization teleology: one ascending spiral, intensive rural-to-urban
migration, and the second, the development of capital intense and labor light agriculture
in the countryside.5
In this way, those advocating a future of megacities sidestep critiques of contemporary
agricultural and metropolitan forms. Such analyses have devastatingly anatomized
the ecological dislocations and the entropic modes of energy use linked to industrial
agriculture, and tied such dissections to alternative models of food production—with
strong implications for future development and planning regimes.6
But such stances are now on the margins, even in circles concerned with development.
7
Outside the peasant international Via Campesina and its associated intellectuals, few
discussions are about the relative weight of city and country, or indeed whether these
categories are of any use. Instead, cities are seen as xed and modular units, without any
substantive relationship to the ows which constitute them and the effects those ows have
beyond municipal borders.8 In turn, debates hinge on the technicalities of how to pack the
people of the countryside into the cities. In the process, a modernization narrative becomes
the background in front of which planners and politicians numbly discuss substantively
identical trajectories. Indeed, from the Right, it is not even a background; it is the plan.
Bevies of experts, oblivious to the fallout from their forebears’ fetishization of capital-
intense agriculture and high-density, high-population urban living, shrugging at the ashes
and ruins that lay behind the juggernaut of the development project (which, given the
anti-rural bias of such policies, must also be viewed as an urbanization project), now peddle
a second Green Revolution in agriculture, hoping to structure the sowing of the elds of
Africa and Asia on a fully scientic and rational basis: capital-intensive, labor-light, and
petroleum-fueled.
Yet this line of thinking is not just the province of devotees of industrial agriculture, or
semi-reformed apologists for the system such as Jeffrey Sachs and Joseph Stieglitz. It is
one that has captured the imagination of a broad sweep of analysts—from the boosters of
capitalism, to myriad reformist tinkerers, and even on to its most prominent Cassandras.
Indeed, from the Left, it is often much the same as on the Right, only with the modernization
process criticized for its effects, yet simultaneously framed as unavoidable and thus as
inevitable. For example, in a recent essay entitled, “Building the Ark,” urban theorist Mike
Davis argues that the cities of the future and the cities of the South, the centers of both
human population increase and carbon emissions, will become the arks in which the culture
of twenty-rst century human civilization will ride out the oods and tempests of the
In a crisp vignette, the urban planner and social critic Lewis Mumford asked, “What is
a City?” He answered: the city is a “Geographic plexus, an economic organization, an
institutional process, a theater of social action, and an aesthetic symbol of collective unity
… It fosters art and is art; the city creates the theater and is the theater.”1 For Mumford, as
for the slightly younger Paul Goodman and the slightly older Patrick Geddes, the city could
encourage social complexity and be an incubator for human culture.2 But they also knew
that the urban form could grow wildly: “Megalopolis is fast becoming a universal form,”
Mumford wrote, with humanity moving fast towards a future “mechanized, standardized,
effectively dehumanized, as the nal goal of urban evolution.”3
Mumford and his contemporaries had cuttingly diagnosed the late twentieth century urban
form. They would have been chagrined, but probably not shocked, to nd that the future
had not merely borne out their diagnosis, but that those charged with arresting the problem
were still in denial about it. The hydrocephalic city remains the goal of most planners.
Shared goals do not always mean shared means, but in this case, lying underneath that goal
is a seldom acknowledged but universally shared underside: the end of the countryside and
the relocation of its peoples. Nearly the entire policy spectrum and the dominant ensemble
of cultural critics and development practitioners reject outright the notion that “cities grow
on the planet of plants.”4 Instead, the ruling idea is that plants and the planet are there for
cities. With most of the world’s population drawn into the cash nexus, and the percentage
Max Ajl
32
THE HYPERTROPHIC CITY
VERSUS THE
PLANET OF FIELDS
3
Political strategies, struggles and horizons
of people on the planet living in cities (purportedly) rising constantly, technocrats have
focused debate on the urban age, and in turn swiftly dismiss both rural people and the
production of food. If they even raise the still-lingering agrarian question, it is only to
quickly dash it to the ground. The primary resort is to either tacitly or explicitly assert
a double-helix modernization teleology: one ascending spiral, intensive rural-to-urban
migration, and the second, the development of capital intense and labor light agriculture
in the countryside.5
In this way, those advocating a future of megacities sidestep critiques of contemporary
agricultural and metropolitan forms. Such analyses have devastatingly anatomized
the ecological dislocations and the entropic modes of energy use linked to industrial
agriculture, and tied such dissections to alternative models of food production—with
strong implications for future development and planning regimes.6
But such stances are now on the margins, even in circles concerned with development.
7
Outside the peasant international Via Campesina and its associated intellectuals, few
discussions are about the relative weight of city and country, or indeed whether these
categories are of any use. Instead, cities are seen as xed and modular units, without any
substantive relationship to the ows which constitute them and the effects those ows have
beyond municipal borders.8 In turn, debates hinge on the technicalities of how to pack the
people of the countryside into the cities. In the process, a modernization narrative becomes
the background in front of which planners and politicians numbly discuss substantively
identical trajectories. Indeed, from the Right, it is not even a background; it is the plan.
Bevies of experts, oblivious to the fallout from their forebears’ fetishization of capital-
intense agriculture and high-density, high-population urban living, shrugging at the ashes
and ruins that lay behind the juggernaut of the development project (which, given the
anti-rural bias of such policies, must also be viewed as an urbanization project), now peddle
a second Green Revolution in agriculture, hoping to structure the sowing of the elds of
Africa and Asia on a fully scientic and rational basis: capital-intensive, labor-light, and
petroleum-fueled.
Yet this line of thinking is not just the province of devotees of industrial agriculture, or
semi-reformed apologists for the system such as Jeffrey Sachs and Joseph Stieglitz. It is
one that has captured the imagination of a broad sweep of analysts—from the boosters of
capitalism, to myriad reformist tinkerers, and even on to its most prominent Cassandras.
Indeed, from the Left, it is often much the same as on the Right, only with the modernization
process criticized for its effects, yet simultaneously framed as unavoidable and thus as
inevitable. For example, in a recent essay entitled, “Building the Ark,” urban theorist Mike
Davis argues that the cities of the future and the cities of the South, the centers of both
human population increase and carbon emissions, will become the arks in which the culture
of twenty-rst century human civilization will ride out the oods and tempests of the
In a crisp vignette, the urban planner and social critic Lewis Mumford asked, “What is
a City?” He answered: the city is a “Geographic plexus, an economic organization, an
institutional process, a theater of social action, and an aesthetic symbol of collective unity
… It fosters art and is art; the city creates the theater and is the theater.”1 For Mumford, as
for the slightly younger Paul Goodman and the slightly older Patrick Geddes, the city could
encourage social complexity and be an incubator for human culture.2 But they also knew
that the urban form could grow wildly: “Megalopolis is fast becoming a universal form,”
Mumford wrote, with humanity moving fast towards a future “mechanized, standardized,
effectively dehumanized, as the nal goal of urban evolution.”3
Mumford and his contemporaries had cuttingly diagnosed the late twentieth century urban
form. They would have been chagrined, but probably not shocked, to nd that the future
had not merely borne out their diagnosis, but that those charged with arresting the problem
were still in denial about it. The hydrocephalic city remains the goal of most planners.
Shared goals do not always mean shared means, but in this case, lying underneath that goal
is a seldom acknowledged but universally shared underside: the end of the countryside and
the relocation of its peoples. Nearly the entire policy spectrum and the dominant ensemble
of cultural critics and development practitioners reject outright the notion that “cities grow
on the planet of plants.”4 Instead, the ruling idea is that plants and the planet are there for
cities. With most of the world’s population drawn into the cash nexus, and the percentage
Max Ajl
32
THE HYPERTROPHIC CITY
VERSUS THE
PLANET OF FIELDS
5
Political strategies, struggles and horizons
The second historical regime is a society based on non-fossil-input-based farming, in which
people skim off a surplus from the biome while managing it so as to increase the quantity
of primary production usable by human beings in the form of cereals or other kinds of
caloric or non-caloric goods. Agriculture is a sine qua non for urbanization, because to
concentrate a population into cities one needs to produce an excess to supply non-farmers
with food.14 Ecologically speaking, farming represents a massive intrusion into biological
cycles, as natural cycles of succession, in which increasingly dense and big forms of ora
replace simpler ones, are continuously interrupted by human ingenuity and intervention.
And then there is a third energy regime, the one in which basically the entire global North
and large swathes of the global South live, work and die. This is the industrial energy
regime, which relies on the subterranean forests that previous generations have left us,
and which has used them up at an astonishingly fast rate. This regime increasingly relies on
industrial forms of agriculture, substituting dead biotic energy in the form of fossil fuels
for human and living biotic energy that has been displaced from the countryside.
15
Such
forms of agriculture go hand-in-hand both historically and practically with high industrial
civilization—the making of modern cities, modern slums, and the factories and workshops
within which the working classes labor.
Capitalism is conceptually distinct from the types of energy that power it. It is also distinct
from industrialization, an entropic mode of material production which takes in concentrated
materials from far-ung places, processes them using machines and non-human energy, and
produces nished products and waste. For that reason it abrades the rest of the ecology:
“Industry does not have environmentally good and bad forms. Industry just is inherently
disruptive, and ignorant of its own effects.16 Capitalism is also conceptually distinct from
urbanization, “a process of continual sociospatial transformation, a relentless ‘churning’
of settlement types and morphologies that encompasses entire territories and not just
isolated ‘points’ or ‘zones’ within them.”17 Nevertheless, historically, each of these processes
has been tightly intertwined. This intersection was particularly stark in eighteenth and
nineteenth century Britain, where industrialization, urbanization, and capitalism developed
in a synergistic whirl, generating social and ecological changes on increasingly large scales.
Ecological Imperialism and the Limits to Limitless Growth
As Kenneth Pomeranz has pointed out, British industrial development came to rely on
extra-territorial supplies of land to overcome the land squeeze and the equilibrium trap
it would have entailed, and fortuitously located coal supplies to overcome the timber
squeeze.
18
The cotton which fueled it was grown by slave labor in the American South.
The slaves who worked that land were stolen from West Africa, whose land and resources
England and the US planter class effectively pillaged in the form of the human bodies
which that land and resources had nurtured to adulthood.
19
Although hydrocarbons did
not set capitalism in motion, they did enable it to increase its size and scope by temporarily
ecological devastation wrought by twentieth century carbon civilization.
9
With sufcient
care to safeguard public space, to make public the city’s private riches, Davis argues, the
metropolis might be transformed from one of the major causes of climate change into
the Great Ark. For others, the question of agricultural production in the global North
is transformed into a problem of massive technological advance braided with socialist
revolution. One proponent argues for “solar arrays, green fuels, new food sources and
vertical farms necessary to feed billions of people in an ecologically sustainable fashion,”
suggesting that such infrastructures would entail a “wholesale technological transformation
of existing agriculture.”
10
Through this resort to agro-Prometheanism, lessons from the
global South are made irrelevant.
In short, from Left to Right, the contemporary agrarian question is dominated by a solid
wall of modernization narratives that dismiss lightly capitalized agricultural systems and
embrace a nearly surreal 1950s-style progressivist-developmentalist narrative. They refuse
to discuss the appropriate size for human communities, and assume that humanity can
simply invent its way out of ecological crisis. It is a tableau riddled with problematic
assumptions—most fundamentally, that existing patterns of rural-to-urban migration are
both sustainable and desirable; and relatedly, that very large cities are the appropriate spatial
units for future human development.
In what follows, I begin by explicating the concept of the energy regime in order to show
how the widespread view of the Euro-American pattern of industrialization as a global
ideal type rests upon a naturalization of large-scale fossil fuel consumption. I then clarify
that the concentration of populations in large-scale metropolitan regions in the global
North has hinged upon global ecological plunder. On this basis I discuss the implications
of further urbanization in the global South and its probable effects on agriculture, as well
as on the planet as a whole. I argue that this process is linked both to an acceleration of
entropic modes of living as well as to unsustainable forms of agriculture. I conclude with
a counter-proposal focusing on the centrality of agriculture to the creation of a sustainable
form of urbanization.
Fossil Capitalism and Energy Regimes
First, consider forms of energy, which we can interpret using the concept of the energy
regime.11 In the earliest regime, that of hunter-gatherers, the human population took what
it needed from foraging in the surrounding environs, with living standards corresponding
to what Marshall Sahlins describes as stone-age afuence.12 That regime was extremely
low-impact. It also could not support more than a tiny population.13 Whatever the abstract
merits of such societies—large amounts of leisure among them—they offer nothing to
the massive populations inundating the cities and countrysides of the contemporary global
South.
5
Political strategies, struggles and horizons
The second historical regime is a society based on non-fossil-input-based farming, in which
people skim off a surplus from the biome while managing it so as to increase the quantity
of primary production usable by human beings in the form of cereals or other kinds of
caloric or non-caloric goods. Agriculture is a sine qua non for urbanization, because to
concentrate a population into cities one needs to produce an excess to supply non-farmers
with food.14 Ecologically speaking, farming represents a massive intrusion into biological
cycles, as natural cycles of succession, in which increasingly dense and big forms of ora
replace simpler ones, are continuously interrupted by human ingenuity and intervention.
And then there is a third energy regime, the one in which basically the entire global North
and large swathes of the global South live, work and die. This is the industrial energy
regime, which relies on the subterranean forests that previous generations have left us,
and which has used them up at an astonishingly fast rate. This regime increasingly relies on
industrial forms of agriculture, substituting dead biotic energy in the form of fossil fuels
for human and living biotic energy that has been displaced from the countryside.
15
Such
forms of agriculture go hand-in-hand both historically and practically with high industrial
civilization—the making of modern cities, modern slums, and the factories and workshops
within which the working classes labor.
Capitalism is conceptually distinct from the types of energy that power it. It is also distinct
from industrialization, an entropic mode of material production which takes in concentrated
materials from far-ung places, processes them using machines and non-human energy, and
produces nished products and waste. For that reason it abrades the rest of the ecology:
“Industry does not have environmentally good and bad forms. Industry just is inherently
disruptive, and ignorant of its own effects.16 Capitalism is also conceptually distinct from
urbanization, “a process of continual sociospatial transformation, a relentless ‘churning’
of settlement types and morphologies that encompasses entire territories and not just
isolated ‘points’ or ‘zones’ within them.”17 Nevertheless, historically, each of these processes
has been tightly intertwined. This intersection was particularly stark in eighteenth and
nineteenth century Britain, where industrialization, urbanization, and capitalism developed
in a synergistic whirl, generating social and ecological changes on increasingly large scales.
Ecological Imperialism and the Limits to Limitless Growth
As Kenneth Pomeranz has pointed out, British industrial development came to rely on
extra-territorial supplies of land to overcome the land squeeze and the equilibrium trap
it would have entailed, and fortuitously located coal supplies to overcome the timber
squeeze.
18
The cotton which fueled it was grown by slave labor in the American South.
The slaves who worked that land were stolen from West Africa, whose land and resources
England and the US planter class effectively pillaged in the form of the human bodies
which that land and resources had nurtured to adulthood.
19
Although hydrocarbons did
not set capitalism in motion, they did enable it to increase its size and scope by temporarily
ecological devastation wrought by twentieth century carbon civilization.
9
With sufcient
care to safeguard public space, to make public the city’s private riches, Davis argues, the
metropolis might be transformed from one of the major causes of climate change into
the Great Ark. For others, the question of agricultural production in the global North
is transformed into a problem of massive technological advance braided with socialist
revolution. One proponent argues for “solar arrays, green fuels, new food sources and
vertical farms necessary to feed billions of people in an ecologically sustainable fashion,”
suggesting that such infrastructures would entail a “wholesale technological transformation
of existing agriculture.”
10
Through this resort to agro-Prometheanism, lessons from the
global South are made irrelevant.
In short, from Left to Right, the contemporary agrarian question is dominated by a solid
wall of modernization narratives that dismiss lightly capitalized agricultural systems and
embrace a nearly surreal 1950s-style progressivist-developmentalist narrative. They refuse
to discuss the appropriate size for human communities, and assume that humanity can
simply invent its way out of ecological crisis. It is a tableau riddled with problematic
assumptions—most fundamentally, that existing patterns of rural-to-urban migration are
both sustainable and desirable; and relatedly, that very large cities are the appropriate spatial
units for future human development.
In what follows, I begin by explicating the concept of the energy regime in order to show
how the widespread view of the Euro-American pattern of industrialization as a global
ideal type rests upon a naturalization of large-scale fossil fuel consumption. I then clarify
that the concentration of populations in large-scale metropolitan regions in the global
North has hinged upon global ecological plunder. On this basis I discuss the implications
of further urbanization in the global South and its probable effects on agriculture, as well
as on the planet as a whole. I argue that this process is linked both to an acceleration of
entropic modes of living as well as to unsustainable forms of agriculture. I conclude with
a counter-proposal focusing on the centrality of agriculture to the creation of a sustainable
form of urbanization.
Fossil Capitalism and Energy Regimes
First, consider forms of energy, which we can interpret using the concept of the energy
regime.11 In the earliest regime, that of hunter-gatherers, the human population took what
it needed from foraging in the surrounding environs, with living standards corresponding
to what Marshall Sahlins describes as stone-age afuence.12 That regime was extremely
low-impact. It also could not support more than a tiny population.13 Whatever the abstract
merits of such societies—large amounts of leisure among them—they offer nothing to
the massive populations inundating the cities and countrysides of the contemporary global
South.
7
Political strategies, struggles and horizons
temporal theft, in this case from the future.30 Since the energy stocks condensed in carbon
fuels cannot currently be replaced, and since there is no viable technology for scrubbing
carbon dioxide from the atmosphere on human time scales, the market is incapable of
accurately pricing hydrocarbons and most metals. The corollary of the market’s failure in
this domain is that consumption patterns and social institutions should be organized such
that future inheritors of the earth will have as much ability to use carbon and metallic ores
as the inhabitants of the industrial epoch have had. As I will show, this proposition has
strong implications for planning patterns, and for the question of when, how, and where
necessarily scarce and difcult-to-process metals and dense and compact energy sources
should be used.
The question of sustainable planning is thrown into even sharper relief with the dawn
of the Anthropocene, and amidst increasing public clarity, if not yet consensus, on the
unsustainability of fossil capitalism.31 Still, the question is not, pace the peak-oilers, whether
the planet will run out of oil. The question is not even one of whether burning that oil will
emit so much carbon dioxide as to destabilize entire continents. By now, such destabilization
is a foregone conclusion. Rather, the most urgent question is how societies will deal with
the socio-ecological chaos such transformations will induce, a situation that is transforming
the question of development into one of “managing the future,” and of the terms on
which that future will be managed.
32
To put it differently, the world’s future inhabitants will
have to deal with a “full planet” in ways that the world’s past and current inhabitants have
not.33 This fact, too, has unavoidable implications for development planning. Institutions
are interlaced with the physical material which they arrange. That being so, sustainable
social institutions and their physical infrastructures will have to be made of renewable
materials. Much that is currently constructed out of petroleum and metal will soon have
to be procured and fabricated in other ways. That means that the massive metal-and-glass
cities of today are not likely to be the cities of tomorrow.
End of the World’s Smallholders?
The notion that there are no glass and metal megacities on offer for the future denizens of
the global South may sound anti-developmentalist. In fact, it undercuts one of the ideologies
that has long justied faith in the development project: the chimera of inclusion. Pushing
for the remainder of the world’s peasants to ood the already-massive cities of the South
means forced migrations, whether as drawn out and excruciating as the British enclosure of
the commons, or as rapid as the modern day sales of state land in Africa.34 The growth of
megacities is not a natural phenomenon. It is the result of a plan, one whose human-made
outlines are concealed by naturalistic metaphors that turn the topology constructed by
political and economic forces into preexisting contours of the social landscape.35 Moreover,
it is a plan for catastrophe. Poor countries simply lack adequate resources to construct
these planners’ dream cities—neither vertical farms nor capital-intense hydroponics are
feasible in the medium-run for developing countries, nor are well-constructed eco-towers
allowing the material processes which capitalists order and re-order to increase substantially
in size, drawing on ancient energy from the sun as well as that lying beyond the immediate
geographical connes of England—and later, Europe.
20
If capitalism is a system premised
on the growth and differential accumulation of capital, it also tends to rely on the growth of
the material structure of production and consumption which that social hierarchy restlessly
shapes and molds.21 And such growth leads to geographical expansion, at least when the
choice is between that and increasing domestic consumption.22
Oil only aggravated this dynamic, contributing to “the new conception of the economy
as an object that could grow without limit in several ways.”23 Oil initially declined in price
for the entire 1920 – 1970 period of national developmentalism, making it so that “the
cost of energy did not appear to represent a limit to economic growth.
24
This in turn
allowed the new discipline of economics, which would soon spawn the step-child discipline
of development economics, to “conceive of long-run growth as something unrestrained
by the availability of energy.”
25
Furthermore, both the European and American periods
of pronounced national development, from 1945 to 1970, were periods when oil prots
were modulated as part of a planning regime which in its American form locked together
several disparate social practices and physical infrastructures into a very particular kind
of modernity. Suburbs, cheap food, massive employment, continuous GDP growth, the
spread of the interstate highway system, the universalization of the automobile—these
parts were all linked into a spectacularly energy-intense regime of accumulation which, in
turn, activated the nal destruction of the American countryside.26 Those processes and
institutions encouraged a presentist morality, one which was locked into a tight afnity with
corporate institutions that privileged a short time-horizon, foreshortened constantly by
capital ows calibrated to quarterly prot reports.
27
So for the North there has been enough,
at least for some, but only because its dominant accumulation regime has been grounded
upon the theft of resources, both spatially and temporally, from the present inhabitants of
the Third World and from the future inhabitants of the whole world.
William Rees and Mathis Wackernagel, who have formalized the notion of the ecological
footprint to capture the spatial aspect of this dynamic, point out that:
material ows in trade thus represent a form of thermodynamic imperialism.
The low cost energy represented by commodity imports is required to sustain
growth and maintain the internal order of the so-called ‘advanced economies’ of
the urban North.28
As they go on to write, the “toys and tools” of industrial man, the “human-made ‘capital’
of economists” should be characterized as the “exosomatic equivalent of organs.”29 And
much like organs, they require circulatory ows in the form of continuous inputs of energy
to keep them functioning. However, it is impossible to put any reasonable price on those
inputs when they come from fossil fuels that are not renewable on human time scales—the
7
Political strategies, struggles and horizons
temporal theft, in this case from the future.30 Since the energy stocks condensed in carbon
fuels cannot currently be replaced, and since there is no viable technology for scrubbing
carbon dioxide from the atmosphere on human time scales, the market is incapable of
accurately pricing hydrocarbons and most metals. The corollary of the market’s failure in
this domain is that consumption patterns and social institutions should be organized such
that future inheritors of the earth will have as much ability to use carbon and metallic ores
as the inhabitants of the industrial epoch have had. As I will show, this proposition has
strong implications for planning patterns, and for the question of when, how, and where
necessarily scarce and difcult-to-process metals and dense and compact energy sources
should be used.
The question of sustainable planning is thrown into even sharper relief with the dawn
of the Anthropocene, and amidst increasing public clarity, if not yet consensus, on the
unsustainability of fossil capitalism.31 Still, the question is not, pace the peak-oilers, whether
the planet will run out of oil. The question is not even one of whether burning that oil will
emit so much carbon dioxide as to destabilize entire continents. By now, such destabilization
is a foregone conclusion. Rather, the most urgent question is how societies will deal with
the socio-ecological chaos such transformations will induce, a situation that is transforming
the question of development into one of “managing the future,” and of the terms on
which that future will be managed.
32
To put it differently, the world’s future inhabitants will
have to deal with a “full planet” in ways that the world’s past and current inhabitants have
not.33 This fact, too, has unavoidable implications for development planning. Institutions
are interlaced with the physical material which they arrange. That being so, sustainable
social institutions and their physical infrastructures will have to be made of renewable
materials. Much that is currently constructed out of petroleum and metal will soon have
to be procured and fabricated in other ways. That means that the massive metal-and-glass
cities of today are not likely to be the cities of tomorrow.
End of the World’s Smallholders?
The notion that there are no glass and metal megacities on offer for the future denizens of
the global South may sound anti-developmentalist. In fact, it undercuts one of the ideologies
that has long justied faith in the development project: the chimera of inclusion. Pushing
for the remainder of the world’s peasants to ood the already-massive cities of the South
means forced migrations, whether as drawn out and excruciating as the British enclosure of
the commons, or as rapid as the modern day sales of state land in Africa.34 The growth of
megacities is not a natural phenomenon. It is the result of a plan, one whose human-made
outlines are concealed by naturalistic metaphors that turn the topology constructed by
political and economic forces into preexisting contours of the social landscape.35 Moreover,
it is a plan for catastrophe. Poor countries simply lack adequate resources to construct
these planners’ dream cities—neither vertical farms nor capital-intense hydroponics are
feasible in the medium-run for developing countries, nor are well-constructed eco-towers
allowing the material processes which capitalists order and re-order to increase substantially
in size, drawing on ancient energy from the sun as well as that lying beyond the immediate
geographical connes of England—and later, Europe.
20
If capitalism is a system premised
on the growth and differential accumulation of capital, it also tends to rely on the growth of
the material structure of production and consumption which that social hierarchy restlessly
shapes and molds.21 And such growth leads to geographical expansion, at least when the
choice is between that and increasing domestic consumption.22
Oil only aggravated this dynamic, contributing to “the new conception of the economy
as an object that could grow without limit in several ways.”23 Oil initially declined in price
for the entire 1920 – 1970 period of national developmentalism, making it so that “the
cost of energy did not appear to represent a limit to economic growth.
24
This in turn
allowed the new discipline of economics, which would soon spawn the step-child discipline
of development economics, to “conceive of long-run growth as something unrestrained
by the availability of energy.”
25
Furthermore, both the European and American periods
of pronounced national development, from 1945 to 1970, were periods when oil prots
were modulated as part of a planning regime which in its American form locked together
several disparate social practices and physical infrastructures into a very particular kind
of modernity. Suburbs, cheap food, massive employment, continuous GDP growth, the
spread of the interstate highway system, the universalization of the automobile—these
parts were all linked into a spectacularly energy-intense regime of accumulation which, in
turn, activated the nal destruction of the American countryside.26 Those processes and
institutions encouraged a presentist morality, one which was locked into a tight afnity with
corporate institutions that privileged a short time-horizon, foreshortened constantly by
capital ows calibrated to quarterly prot reports.
27
So for the North there has been enough,
at least for some, but only because its dominant accumulation regime has been grounded
upon the theft of resources, both spatially and temporally, from the present inhabitants of
the Third World and from the future inhabitants of the whole world.
William Rees and Mathis Wackernagel, who have formalized the notion of the ecological
footprint to capture the spatial aspect of this dynamic, point out that:
material ows in trade thus represent a form of thermodynamic imperialism.
The low cost energy represented by commodity imports is required to sustain
growth and maintain the internal order of the so-called ‘advanced economies’ of
the urban North.28
As they go on to write, the “toys and tools” of industrial man, the “human-made ‘capital’
of economists” should be characterized as the “exosomatic equivalent of organs.”29 And
much like organs, they require circulatory ows in the form of continuous inputs of energy
to keep them functioning. However, it is impossible to put any reasonable price on those
inputs when they come from fossil fuels that are not renewable on human time scales—the
9
Political strategies, struggles and horizons
“shift from sorghum, millet, maize and root crops to rice and wheat (often processed
into bread).”42 Rice and wheat are traded on international commodity markets. Roots and
cassava are not. The urban poor become subject to price variations in the global market.43
The rural poor retain a thick protective buffer. Moreover, that rural-based buffer is one
that can extend to inhabitants of cities, since the families of rst-generation migrants often
retain small plots in the countryside even as younger generations ood metropolitan areas
in search of work. With the right policy incentives, such a buffer could become denser yet,
especially given the increasing eforescence of urban and periurban agriculture. Cuba is
the widely cited posterchild of these projects, yet such production patterns are common
across Africa as well.
44
But given urban agriculture’s centrality in feeding the people of
countries like Senegal and Ghana, it is unclear why there is such a thrust to impose the
social dislocation that drives peasants into cities in the rst place. Is it better to farm in a
cityside slum than in the countryside?
Given the multiple roles even minifundia play in warding off total subjection to the
market, it is no surprise that the project of land alienation continues to encounter vigorous
resistance.45 Indeed, some who otherwise argue for eliminating small-scale agriculture
accept the role of subsistence farming in fending off food crises.46 Across Asia and Latin
America, the defense of subsistence agriculture is not a dying echo of populist thought. It
is an active anti-systemic struggle.47
Furthermore, those who argue for more capital-intense, commercialized agro-exports on
the Brazilian model – and the accompanying rural-urban migration – seldom consider the
ecological costs of shifting large quantities of food production to the entropic regime of
industrial agriculture while also constructing the input-intensive cities required for such a
massive population shift.
48
Concerning the industrialization of agricultural production, the
energetic basis for the ideal-typical modernization process, the Vandermeer Report notes,
We have moved from an “ecosystem function” of energy generation to one based
on fossil fuels, thus converting an agricultural system whose main purpose was
to provide energy to human beings, to a system that is a net consumer of energy.
Paraphrasing Richard Lewontin, it was a change from “using sun and water
to grow peanuts” to “using petroleum to manufacture peanut butter.” As a
consequence, it has been estimated that this industrial food system expends 10-
15 energy calories to produce 1 calorie of food, thereby effectively reversing the
reason for the invention of agriculture in the rst place.49
Instead of paying attention to these facts, those peddling a new urban age seem to consider
cities a kind of black box into which one can dump the human population and worry later.
Not so. Cities come in all shapes and sizes, but they all consume a great deal of resources.
And resource consumption inevitably raises the question of recycling. The knot of the
problem is that modern cities are basically black holes, drawing in massive amounts of
or stunning, sprawling, and comprehensive subterranean public transportation systems. On
the social horizon of megacity schemes is not an urban utopia but rather the total denuding
of the countryside of people, and their ever-more dense enclosure into the favelas, barrios,
and shantytowns of Rio de Janeiro, Caracas, Mumbai, Shanghai, Lagos and Dakar.36 There
is no planet of cities on offer. Only a planet of slums.37
In concert with such post-developmentalist planning, others argue for eliminating the last
remaining vestiges of small-scale agriculture—or, at least, roughly incorporating them into
large-scale international commodity markets—on the assumption that urban productivity
increases are what will necessarily lead to “development.” For example, as Collier and
Dercon argue, “there are good reasons to suspect that larger farmers have an important
role to play in experimenting and pushing the technological frontier in agriculture,” since
they are the ones with enough spare capital to invest in modern production technology.38
Rural-urban migration is thereby turned into a natural law, deecting the question of where
former smallholders will live, never mind how they will nd work, in the African and Latin
American cities that are now either deindustrializing or which never industrialized to begin
with. Just as importantly, in such arguments, the question of why peasants should relocate to
cities instead of cities being built around peasants is never raised—an astounding omission
that uncritically reects the agro-export agenda lurking behind such models. In any case,
the assumptions supporting a large-farm and agro-export-centered development schema
dissolve for being breathed upon, not least the contention that such processes can promote
developmental take-off in the cities of the global South. Such models miss or ignore the
silent violence of throwing millions of peasants off their land, and they are based upon
naïve and inaccurate assumptions regarding the degree to which, under a global neoliberal
regime, agro-export-based accumulation strategies can nance internal growth, much less
social reproduction.39
Furthermore, even putative success in this project would amount to failure, for projected
productivity increases cannot compensate for both the loss of the situated knowledge
in contemporary smallholders’ hands and minds, as well as their by now well-established
advantages in productivity per unit-of-land.40 If, with enough innovation and investment, it
should actually come to pass that those ushering in the new pattern of rural development
could somehow conjure up Collier and Dercon’s “technological frontier in agriculture,” it
would be a hollow victory, for with it would come the permanent disappearance of the
remainder of the rural smallholders, overwhelmingly women, who still produce 70 percent
of the planet’s food – most food is not traded on international markets.41 Indeed, the role
of smallholders in overall world food production is overwhelmingly unknown, perhaps
because of whose hands are actually carrying out such production.
Megacity formation in the global South presents other social problems, too. As consumers
move into cities, they produce less of their own food, and increasingly have to buy
food produced under conditions in which prots accrue to multinationals. Urban eaters
9
Political strategies, struggles and horizons
“shift from sorghum, millet, maize and root crops to rice and wheat (often processed
into bread).”42 Rice and wheat are traded on international commodity markets. Roots and
cassava are not. The urban poor become subject to price variations in the global market.43
The rural poor retain a thick protective buffer. Moreover, that rural-based buffer is one
that can extend to inhabitants of cities, since the families of rst-generation migrants often
retain small plots in the countryside even as younger generations ood metropolitan areas
in search of work. With the right policy incentives, such a buffer could become denser yet,
especially given the increasing eforescence of urban and periurban agriculture. Cuba is
the widely cited posterchild of these projects, yet such production patterns are common
across Africa as well.
44
But given urban agriculture’s centrality in feeding the people of
countries like Senegal and Ghana, it is unclear why there is such a thrust to impose the
social dislocation that drives peasants into cities in the rst place. Is it better to farm in a
cityside slum than in the countryside?
Given the multiple roles even minifundia play in warding off total subjection to the
market, it is no surprise that the project of land alienation continues to encounter vigorous
resistance.45 Indeed, some who otherwise argue for eliminating small-scale agriculture
accept the role of subsistence farming in fending off food crises.46 Across Asia and Latin
America, the defense of subsistence agriculture is not a dying echo of populist thought. It
is an active anti-systemic struggle.47
Furthermore, those who argue for more capital-intense, commercialized agro-exports on
the Brazilian model – and the accompanying rural-urban migration – seldom consider the
ecological costs of shifting large quantities of food production to the entropic regime of
industrial agriculture while also constructing the input-intensive cities required for such a
massive population shift.
48
Concerning the industrialization of agricultural production, the
energetic basis for the ideal-typical modernization process, the Vandermeer Report notes,
We have moved from an “ecosystem function” of energy generation to one based
on fossil fuels, thus converting an agricultural system whose main purpose was
to provide energy to human beings, to a system that is a net consumer of energy.
Paraphrasing Richard Lewontin, it was a change from “using sun and water
to grow peanuts” to “using petroleum to manufacture peanut butter.” As a
consequence, it has been estimated that this industrial food system expends 10-
15 energy calories to produce 1 calorie of food, thereby effectively reversing the
reason for the invention of agriculture in the rst place.49
Instead of paying attention to these facts, those peddling a new urban age seem to consider
cities a kind of black box into which one can dump the human population and worry later.
Not so. Cities come in all shapes and sizes, but they all consume a great deal of resources.
And resource consumption inevitably raises the question of recycling. The knot of the
problem is that modern cities are basically black holes, drawing in massive amounts of
or stunning, sprawling, and comprehensive subterranean public transportation systems. On
the social horizon of megacity schemes is not an urban utopia but rather the total denuding
of the countryside of people, and their ever-more dense enclosure into the favelas, barrios,
and shantytowns of Rio de Janeiro, Caracas, Mumbai, Shanghai, Lagos and Dakar.36 There
is no planet of cities on offer. Only a planet of slums.37
In concert with such post-developmentalist planning, others argue for eliminating the last
remaining vestiges of small-scale agriculture—or, at least, roughly incorporating them into
large-scale international commodity markets—on the assumption that urban productivity
increases are what will necessarily lead to “development.” For example, as Collier and
Dercon argue, “there are good reasons to suspect that larger farmers have an important
role to play in experimenting and pushing the technological frontier in agriculture,” since
they are the ones with enough spare capital to invest in modern production technology.38
Rural-urban migration is thereby turned into a natural law, deecting the question of where
former smallholders will live, never mind how they will nd work, in the African and Latin
American cities that are now either deindustrializing or which never industrialized to begin
with. Just as importantly, in such arguments, the question of why peasants should relocate to
cities instead of cities being built around peasants is never raised—an astounding omission
that uncritically reects the agro-export agenda lurking behind such models. In any case,
the assumptions supporting a large-farm and agro-export-centered development schema
dissolve for being breathed upon, not least the contention that such processes can promote
developmental take-off in the cities of the global South. Such models miss or ignore the
silent violence of throwing millions of peasants off their land, and they are based upon
naïve and inaccurate assumptions regarding the degree to which, under a global neoliberal
regime, agro-export-based accumulation strategies can nance internal growth, much less
social reproduction.39
Furthermore, even putative success in this project would amount to failure, for projected
productivity increases cannot compensate for both the loss of the situated knowledge
in contemporary smallholders’ hands and minds, as well as their by now well-established
advantages in productivity per unit-of-land.40 If, with enough innovation and investment, it
should actually come to pass that those ushering in the new pattern of rural development
could somehow conjure up Collier and Dercon’s “technological frontier in agriculture,” it
would be a hollow victory, for with it would come the permanent disappearance of the
remainder of the rural smallholders, overwhelmingly women, who still produce 70 percent
of the planet’s food – most food is not traded on international markets.41 Indeed, the role
of smallholders in overall world food production is overwhelmingly unknown, perhaps
because of whose hands are actually carrying out such production.
Megacity formation in the global South presents other social problems, too. As consumers
move into cities, they produce less of their own food, and increasingly have to buy
food produced under conditions in which prots accrue to multinationals. Urban eaters
11
Political strategies, struggles and horizons
is now fabricated hinges upon the use of non-renewable methods and non-renewable
resources—especially metals and hydrocarbons. Eventually these resources will become
untenably expensive to extract, and their ecological costs will become unbearable. At that
point, human societies will have to revert to direct photosynthetic processes of energy
concentration to produce the raw materials upon which civilization rests.
The question, then, is one of turning agriculture into a means for producing the raw
materials for satisfying human needs, especially food, in a sustainable manner, and
interlacing it with urban systems built according to plans that constrain, not end, the reliance
upon materials acquired through disruptive forms of extraction. This means that skylines
of skyscrapers should not be set up as the normative goal for architects and planners,
nor should human society be made needlessly expensive from an energetic perspective.56
That means thinking about scale. For example, smaller cities could return waste to their
agricultural hinterlands instead of relying on treatment plants that consume tremendous
amounts of energy to do what nature can do for free. Existing cities could be carefully
perforated with urban agricultures that would also help recycle wastes, and would also cool
off buildings and cut down transport costs for the commodities grown on such plots.
The question of land and agriculture is, ultimately, at the core of such a model. In the
industrial energy system, oil is almost literally transformed into corn, turning nature’s logic
on its head. In contrast, in a sustainable agricultural system, land use must yield a positive
energy balance. The amount of energy put into agricultural production by human and
animal traction must be less than the amount of energy that is withdrawn from it in the
form of consumable harvest. Without hallucinating a pre-lapsarian idyll—agricultural
civilizations have been capable of tremendous harm to their environments—societies
centered on agriculture are capable of relative long-run sustainability and could take
relatively good care of the people who live in them, given democratic control over both
planning and the means of production.
57
They also secure, rather than diminish, the amount
of space available within the world for human culture. It is an ahistorical anthropocentrism
to think that the environment must always contain a large place within it for human beings,
summed up in the conceit of man’s supposedly increasing dominance of nature. Nature
always calls the shots.58 At the moment, the environment is arranged in such a manner as
to facilitate large human populations and easy living. That could change very quickly.59
To forestall misreading, this is not a polemic against civilization, or against cities, or
indeed against industrialization. As Mumford recognized, all human cultures contained
within them warring tendencies. Hypertrophic cities and the civilizations within which
they were embedded rested on complex, hierarchical technologies. Mumford laid out the
pathways of such megatechnics, contrasting them with democratic, organic, simple and
egalitarian technologies.60 Both have existed in all human societies. The former allowed for
incredible population densities, miraculous feats of engineering, and most importantly, an
enormous accumulation of wealth. The latter had a different merit: they survived. This
energy and matter, and then excreting degraded waste into the biosphere.50 Of course, all
organisms do this. The vice of modern megacities is their size. Being so big, rather than
having a smooth metabolism with their peripheries, they disrupt them radically. In the past,
agriculture mediated waste processing, thereby not only making efcient use of wastes but
also doubling as an early-warning signal for the excessive build-up of toxic efuent. But
under the megacity/agro-export regime, such processing becomes impossible, as raw or
manufactured materials are imported from elsewhere, and the waste products thereupon
are subsequently dumped in highly concentrated form, elsewhere. To construct cities on
such a huge scale has meant making much of the global South and the global North
peripheries—or, to draw on a more familiar parlance, colonies. Imperialism has always had
an ecological component.
The troubles of mass urbanization and the universalization of industrial agriculture appear
not just with respect to recycling, but also in relation to resource consumption. Here the
limits are Malthusian—there is not enough world. Turning the global South’s remaining two
billion peasants into city dwellers on the model of afuent global North urban nodes means
massive population shifts. Such shifts may cause their consumption patterns decreasingly
to resemble those of people living in organic economies reliant on biomass, and to be
transformed into those particular to mineral economies, reliant on the buried forests of
the past which time and pressure have turned into coal, oil and gas.51 An early foretaste of
this catastrophic scenario is the doubling and redoubling of meat consumption amongst
the massively growing Chinese middle class over the last two decades. If the 70 percent
of the world’s population currently stuck in poverty—most of them rural, and most of
those in China, India, and Africa—were to adopt resource-use patterns replicating those
of the afuent, urban and peri-urban and suburban global North, humanity would require
between 20 to 30 times the amount of annual US energy use—about equal to the potential
net primary production of all of Earth’s terrestrial biota.
52
That will never work, because it
would not leave anything for the rest of the living species with which we share the planet,
never mind what would happen to the atmosphere if we cut down all the trees. Meanwhile,
if the fuel came from coal, the world would swiftly turn to Venus, one reason why more
“progressive” environmentalists such as James Lovelock are having a late-stage love affair
with nuclear power.53
Why Centralize Agriculture?
If the space in the atmosphere for the waste products of this particular sort of industrial
civilization is shrinking, and will soon disappear, then one way or another, a regime based
on sustainable forms of farming and a considerably less-entropic mode of production
more generally must come to the fore, what environmental historian Colin Duncan refers
to as the centrality of agriculture.54 As he writes, future forms of agriculture will have to
provide much of the “materials and energy that we are now in the habit of procuring
almost exclusively in the industrial style, from petroleum especially.”55 Much of what
11
Political strategies, struggles and horizons
is now fabricated hinges upon the use of non-renewable methods and non-renewable
resources—especially metals and hydrocarbons. Eventually these resources will become
untenably expensive to extract, and their ecological costs will become unbearable. At that
point, human societies will have to revert to direct photosynthetic processes of energy
concentration to produce the raw materials upon which civilization rests.
The question, then, is one of turning agriculture into a means for producing the raw
materials for satisfying human needs, especially food, in a sustainable manner, and
interlacing it with urban systems built according to plans that constrain, not end, the reliance
upon materials acquired through disruptive forms of extraction. This means that skylines
of skyscrapers should not be set up as the normative goal for architects and planners,
nor should human society be made needlessly expensive from an energetic perspective.56
That means thinking about scale. For example, smaller cities could return waste to their
agricultural hinterlands instead of relying on treatment plants that consume tremendous
amounts of energy to do what nature can do for free. Existing cities could be carefully
perforated with urban agricultures that would also help recycle wastes, and would also cool
off buildings and cut down transport costs for the commodities grown on such plots.
The question of land and agriculture is, ultimately, at the core of such a model. In the
industrial energy system, oil is almost literally transformed into corn, turning nature’s logic
on its head. In contrast, in a sustainable agricultural system, land use must yield a positive
energy balance. The amount of energy put into agricultural production by human and
animal traction must be less than the amount of energy that is withdrawn from it in the
form of consumable harvest. Without hallucinating a pre-lapsarian idyll—agricultural
civilizations have been capable of tremendous harm to their environments—societies
centered on agriculture are capable of relative long-run sustainability and could take
relatively good care of the people who live in them, given democratic control over both
planning and the means of production.
57
They also secure, rather than diminish, the amount
of space available within the world for human culture. It is an ahistorical anthropocentrism
to think that the environment must always contain a large place within it for human beings,
summed up in the conceit of man’s supposedly increasing dominance of nature. Nature
always calls the shots.58 At the moment, the environment is arranged in such a manner as
to facilitate large human populations and easy living. That could change very quickly.59
To forestall misreading, this is not a polemic against civilization, or against cities, or
indeed against industrialization. As Mumford recognized, all human cultures contained
within them warring tendencies. Hypertrophic cities and the civilizations within which
they were embedded rested on complex, hierarchical technologies. Mumford laid out the
pathways of such megatechnics, contrasting them with democratic, organic, simple and
egalitarian technologies.60 Both have existed in all human societies. The former allowed for
incredible population densities, miraculous feats of engineering, and most importantly, an
enormous accumulation of wealth. The latter had a different merit: they survived. This
energy and matter, and then excreting degraded waste into the biosphere.50 Of course, all
organisms do this. The vice of modern megacities is their size. Being so big, rather than
having a smooth metabolism with their peripheries, they disrupt them radically. In the past,
agriculture mediated waste processing, thereby not only making efcient use of wastes but
also doubling as an early-warning signal for the excessive build-up of toxic efuent. But
under the megacity/agro-export regime, such processing becomes impossible, as raw or
manufactured materials are imported from elsewhere, and the waste products thereupon
are subsequently dumped in highly concentrated form, elsewhere. To construct cities on
such a huge scale has meant making much of the global South and the global North
peripheries—or, to draw on a more familiar parlance, colonies. Imperialism has always had
an ecological component.
The troubles of mass urbanization and the universalization of industrial agriculture appear
not just with respect to recycling, but also in relation to resource consumption. Here the
limits are Malthusian—there is not enough world. Turning the global South’s remaining two
billion peasants into city dwellers on the model of afuent global North urban nodes means
massive population shifts. Such shifts may cause their consumption patterns decreasingly
to resemble those of people living in organic economies reliant on biomass, and to be
transformed into those particular to mineral economies, reliant on the buried forests of
the past which time and pressure have turned into coal, oil and gas.51 An early foretaste of
this catastrophic scenario is the doubling and redoubling of meat consumption amongst
the massively growing Chinese middle class over the last two decades. If the 70 percent
of the world’s population currently stuck in poverty—most of them rural, and most of
those in China, India, and Africa—were to adopt resource-use patterns replicating those
of the afuent, urban and peri-urban and suburban global North, humanity would require
between 20 to 30 times the amount of annual US energy use—about equal to the potential
net primary production of all of Earth’s terrestrial biota.
52
That will never work, because it
would not leave anything for the rest of the living species with which we share the planet,
never mind what would happen to the atmosphere if we cut down all the trees. Meanwhile,
if the fuel came from coal, the world would swiftly turn to Venus, one reason why more
“progressive” environmentalists such as James Lovelock are having a late-stage love affair
with nuclear power.53
Why Centralize Agriculture?
If the space in the atmosphere for the waste products of this particular sort of industrial
civilization is shrinking, and will soon disappear, then one way or another, a regime based
on sustainable forms of farming and a considerably less-entropic mode of production
more generally must come to the fore, what environmental historian Colin Duncan refers
to as the centrality of agriculture.54 As he writes, future forms of agriculture will have to
provide much of the “materials and energy that we are now in the habit of procuring
almost exclusively in the industrial style, from petroleum especially.”55 Much of what
13
Political strategies, struggles and horizons
hollowed-out urban areas have a high potential for achieving food sovereignty, matching up
unemployable labor with Keynesian policies that could also lead to a relatively more socially
embedded capitalism with increased backwards-and-forwards linkages, as well as healing
the metabolic rift by enabling waste recycling and reducing the production of the carbon
dioxide wastes for which the food production system is responsible.66 This does not mean
sidestepping the question of social power. Counter-cyclical policies will not be on the table
without social pressure. Here the Cuban example is entirely appropriate—Havana derives
a huge proportion of its produce from low-input urban gardens. Some object that this
kind of occupational and spatial transition is impossible. This claim seems odd. Do people
prefer working at McDonalds to receiving retraining to work in small-scale and locally
controlled agriculture? The question should at least be posed in the form of progressive
social policy. And if current energy prices make such a transition unfeasible by subsidizing
unsustainable rates of hydrocarbon use, once again, the answer is using political tools to
change such prices: massive gasoline taxes, which could then be used for all sorts of socially
determined processes, not least paying sufcient salaries to newly-trained urban and peri-
urban gardeners to make their work pay a living wage.
Another short-run planning policy is to ditch entirely the notion of building or expanding
existing suburbs and ex-urbs. Such sprawl is not sustainable, and new patterns are
necessary. That may indeed eventually mean resettling the American countryside. John
Friedmann’s agropolitan districts are one example of how to conceptualize such a shift:
areas of between 20,000 and 100,000 people, largely self-sufcient and capable of self-
governance.67 This is precisely the size of the ideal cities which Howard and Kropotkin, as
well as modern radical ecologists like Kirkpatrick Sale, have proposed.68 Such a transition
would mean decentralizing cultural and educational institutions, and in turn drenching
the new spaces in such institutions. If such districts are to be urban—that is, if they are
to have high population densities and a high proportion of their populations engaged in
non-farm labor—then they could be organically and symbiotically tied into the surrounding
countryside on the basis of reciprocal exchange.
Here some object that purposive planning patterns and any such control of population
ows require a sort of authoritarian technocracy. But such objections are nothing more
than a deication of the processes of “the market” and the social arrangements which
those processes produce.69 There is no reason why green Keynesianism policies could
not set these shifts in motion, thereby beginning the important process of relocalizing
continental or ocean-length commodity chains, and also putting people to work. Others
object that commodities produced through agro-ecological methods are too expensive
for those without adequate purchasing power. The answer is to guarantee incomes high
enough to make such goods affordable—which then immediately revives the issue of
social power by putting into question how and to what ends it is used. A third objection is
that “socialism” should mean a world without labor. Putting aside the oddly anti-humanist
misanthropy of such a formulation, in countries with massive and structural unemployment
insight allows us to think of technology as the use of human knowledge for human ends.
But technology cannot tell us anything about those ends. In and of itself, it is socially and
ecologically neutral. That also means it is not limited to metabolically entropic modes:
industry. Agriculture is also a technology—as Braudel noted, perhaps the rst technology,
certainly for millennia the most widespread—and done properly, is the apotheosis of the
democratic, resilient, and human-scale technologies which Mumford praised.61
But nor is this a call for the world to return to isolated subsistence farming as a universal
form, and still less for a reversion to hunting and gathering. Early twentieth century social
critics, from Mumford to Peter Kropotkin to Ebenezer Howard, were not primitivists. They
did not attack cities; they attacked their size, as part of a holistic vision of the appropriate
scale for human communities—Howard’s notions of garden cities were one example of this
tendency.62 They proposed urban forms that could incubate human creativity, interweave
elds and factories, and in the process heal the metabolic rift which twentieth century
capitalism was constantly stretching.63
How to Centralize Agriculture
Putting such theory into practice means moving beyond post-developmentalist abstractions
which seek to replicate the American model of laborless agriculture, endless highways and
petroleum use, and, of course, megalopolis, and impose it on the rest of the planet. There is
no reason to set up skylines of skyscrapers as the normative horizon for cities. Those which
are already built should remain—there is nothing else to do with them. But there seems
little justication for building more of them. They are also expensive, and need immense
expenditures of energy for their steel, concrete, and infrastructure. Finally, their super-
abundance contributes to the kind of urbanization marked by too dense and too big core
cities and the neglect of medium-size or small cities.64 This was, of course, a theme which
Mumford and his contemporaries raised insistently over ve decades ago. For them, there
could be no rootless and restless dreaming about an abstract urban form. Urbanization
and human communal density produced culture. But too much density was damaging. As
Mumford wrote, “the mere mechanical massing of the population creates difculties which
can be overcome only by an undue expenditure of capital and income on the means of
existence: that is to say, on measures which, though they produce no good in themselves,
are necessary in order to overcome the defects of congestion,” such as highways, the need
to tap increasingly distant sources of water, and expensive mass-transit systems.65
This refocusing on agriculture has slightly different implications for the cities of the South
and the cities of the North. In the latter, to tackle the largest task, it means fundamentally
rejigging American patterns of urban and spatial planning. In the short-to-medium-run,
making agriculture central means massive state support for urban farming initiatives, as
well as agro-ecological training for those working on such plots. While this tendency is
frequently ridiculed as a form of haute couture green capitalism or localism-gone-mad, many
13
Political strategies, struggles and horizons
hollowed-out urban areas have a high potential for achieving food sovereignty, matching up
unemployable labor with Keynesian policies that could also lead to a relatively more socially
embedded capitalism with increased backwards-and-forwards linkages, as well as healing
the metabolic rift by enabling waste recycling and reducing the production of the carbon
dioxide wastes for which the food production system is responsible.66 This does not mean
sidestepping the question of social power. Counter-cyclical policies will not be on the table
without social pressure. Here the Cuban example is entirely appropriate—Havana derives
a huge proportion of its produce from low-input urban gardens. Some object that this
kind of occupational and spatial transition is impossible. This claim seems odd. Do people
prefer working at McDonalds to receiving retraining to work in small-scale and locally
controlled agriculture? The question should at least be posed in the form of progressive
social policy. And if current energy prices make such a transition unfeasible by subsidizing
unsustainable rates of hydrocarbon use, once again, the answer is using political tools to
change such prices: massive gasoline taxes, which could then be used for all sorts of socially
determined processes, not least paying sufcient salaries to newly-trained urban and peri-
urban gardeners to make their work pay a living wage.
Another short-run planning policy is to ditch entirely the notion of building or expanding
existing suburbs and ex-urbs. Such sprawl is not sustainable, and new patterns are
necessary. That may indeed eventually mean resettling the American countryside. John
Friedmann’s agropolitan districts are one example of how to conceptualize such a shift:
areas of between 20,000 and 100,000 people, largely self-sufcient and capable of self-
governance.67 This is precisely the size of the ideal cities which Howard and Kropotkin, as
well as modern radical ecologists like Kirkpatrick Sale, have proposed.68 Such a transition
would mean decentralizing cultural and educational institutions, and in turn drenching
the new spaces in such institutions. If such districts are to be urban—that is, if they are
to have high population densities and a high proportion of their populations engaged in
non-farm labor—then they could be organically and symbiotically tied into the surrounding
countryside on the basis of reciprocal exchange.
Here some object that purposive planning patterns and any such control of population
ows require a sort of authoritarian technocracy. But such objections are nothing more
than a deication of the processes of “the market” and the social arrangements which
those processes produce.69 There is no reason why green Keynesianism policies could
not set these shifts in motion, thereby beginning the important process of relocalizing
continental or ocean-length commodity chains, and also putting people to work. Others
object that commodities produced through agro-ecological methods are too expensive
for those without adequate purchasing power. The answer is to guarantee incomes high
enough to make such goods affordable—which then immediately revives the issue of
social power by putting into question how and to what ends it is used. A third objection is
that “socialism” should mean a world without labor. Putting aside the oddly anti-humanist
misanthropy of such a formulation, in countries with massive and structural unemployment
insight allows us to think of technology as the use of human knowledge for human ends.
But technology cannot tell us anything about those ends. In and of itself, it is socially and
ecologically neutral. That also means it is not limited to metabolically entropic modes:
industry. Agriculture is also a technology—as Braudel noted, perhaps the rst technology,
certainly for millennia the most widespread—and done properly, is the apotheosis of the
democratic, resilient, and human-scale technologies which Mumford praised.61
But nor is this a call for the world to return to isolated subsistence farming as a universal
form, and still less for a reversion to hunting and gathering. Early twentieth century social
critics, from Mumford to Peter Kropotkin to Ebenezer Howard, were not primitivists. They
did not attack cities; they attacked their size, as part of a holistic vision of the appropriate
scale for human communities—Howard’s notions of garden cities were one example of this
tendency.62 They proposed urban forms that could incubate human creativity, interweave
elds and factories, and in the process heal the metabolic rift which twentieth century
capitalism was constantly stretching.63
How to Centralize Agriculture
Putting such theory into practice means moving beyond post-developmentalist abstractions
which seek to replicate the American model of laborless agriculture, endless highways and
petroleum use, and, of course, megalopolis, and impose it on the rest of the planet. There is
no reason to set up skylines of skyscrapers as the normative horizon for cities. Those which
are already built should remain—there is nothing else to do with them. But there seems
little justication for building more of them. They are also expensive, and need immense
expenditures of energy for their steel, concrete, and infrastructure. Finally, their super-
abundance contributes to the kind of urbanization marked by too dense and too big core
cities and the neglect of medium-size or small cities.64 This was, of course, a theme which
Mumford and his contemporaries raised insistently over ve decades ago. For them, there
could be no rootless and restless dreaming about an abstract urban form. Urbanization
and human communal density produced culture. But too much density was damaging. As
Mumford wrote, “the mere mechanical massing of the population creates difculties which
can be overcome only by an undue expenditure of capital and income on the means of
existence: that is to say, on measures which, though they produce no good in themselves,
are necessary in order to overcome the defects of congestion,” such as highways, the need
to tap increasingly distant sources of water, and expensive mass-transit systems.65
This refocusing on agriculture has slightly different implications for the cities of the South
and the cities of the North. In the latter, to tackle the largest task, it means fundamentally
rejigging American patterns of urban and spatial planning. In the short-to-medium-run,
making agriculture central means massive state support for urban farming initiatives, as
well as agro-ecological training for those working on such plots. While this tendency is
frequently ridiculed as a form of haute couture green capitalism or localism-gone-mad, many
15
Political strategies, struggles and horizons
There is, nally, a question of populations perhaps choosing to return to the countryside.
75
Ghana experienced re-peasantization during the 1970-1984 period as its economy tumbled
into disaster, a situation that was enabled by the fact that recent rural-urban migrants
still had extensive knowledge of farming practices.76 The Cuban government has carried
out a program of re-peasantization during the Special Period.
77
Some Landless Workers’
Movement (MST) settlements are made up of former slum-dwellers from Brazil’s cities,
as are some of the residents of Venezuela’s new agrarian settlements. There is no reason
to rue these facts. Agriculture need not be an afterthought or an awkward adjunct to
development. It could be, as Duncan writes, the framework for a sustainable socialism
nested in bioregions.78 The question is not one of plopping the populations of New York
and London into elds with pitchforks in their hands. It is, rather, a matter of designing
social and planning policy so that the populations currently on the land are not so eager to
leave it, and working forwards from there.
In such a vision, megacities can hardly serve as ecological arks, and the bigness fetish of
high modernism must be abandoned as a relic of industrial excess.79 Immense human
population concentrations are not a value in and of themselves. Cities should be built to
accommodate people, not the other way around. That includes accommodating the pre-
existing social fabric of their lives. Just as the countryside’s people can be brought to the
cities, that which is crucial about cities—for instance, hospitals, universities, museums, art
collectives, a profusion of social interaction—can be easily brought to the countryside.
Conclusion
The notion that in a free society, some work will still have to be done and some of it will
be hard, and that is okay so long as it is evenly distributed; the view of modernization and
development as having often had destructive consequences; the idea that modern society
need not fetishize industry; and the assumption that cities ought respond to the needs of
the countryside, which they in any case rely on, ecologically and economically, for survival—
all these are commonly cast aside as a vague and retrograde populism. As arguments, they
run against the grain of over one hundred years of development thinking, Marxist and
mainstream alike.
Yet these claims are not new. Nearly a century ago, as the Soviet Union was beginning its
heavy industrial lock-in, Ivan Kremnev penned a story about a time-traveler who woke
up in 1980 after having been adrift for decades after the Bolshevik Revolution. Rather
than the violent concentration of the peasantry in cities amid forced collectivization,
peasant forces had captured the state. They rebuilt the entire country, abolishing towns
of more than 20,000 people, dispersing the massive Moscow metropolis, creating local
centers at railroad junctions, perfecting the communications network, and saturating the
local centers in culture—theaters, museums, peoples’ universities, sport activities, choral
societies, all the classical accoutrements of city life that, he understood, did not require
like the United States and the southern European countries, there is nothing wrong with
medium-run programs that would put that manpower to work in return for adequate
reward. This is to say nothing of silvicultures that do not require a great deal of labor,
but that do require immense amounts of long-term planning, or the elaborate forms of
gardening exemplied by the rice farming methods in Fukuoka’s The One Straw Revolution,
which require minimal, but well-timed, labor.70
In the global South, a sustainable model of urbanization means, perhaps counterintuitively,
an immediate end to state support for policies, often enough coming from the World
Bank or other transnational institutions, which provoke rural-urban migration.
71
In a world
of unaffordable capital and unemployed—indeed, unemployable—labor, why worsen
the situation by packing people into cities, especially when labor is needed in the eld?
Instead, the countries of the South should be deploying policies removing them from
global commodity production loops, most importantly, through food sovereignty strategies
based on heavy investment in small-holder agriculture—again, a demand that entails a
massive reorganization of social power and property relations, as powerfully expressed
in the ongoing struggle for local control of land use systems and redistributive agrarian
reform by groups like the Landless Workers’ Movement (MST) in Brazil.72 For such
currents, smallholder agriculture is far from an antiquarian curio. It is a ght for survival. A
sustainable urbanism, woven into a global urban fabric, must defend that ght, rather than
undermine it. Crucially, then, a wholesale shift in the form of urbanization in the global
South requires revolutionary change in property relations in the countryside.
Elsewhere, if urbanization is taking place in situ, then there is all the more reason to focus
on the qualitative aspects of germinating sustainable urban forms. This raises the question
of planning, to support the growth of smaller cities linked tightly and organically to
agricultural production. Indeed, shifts in occupation are inevitable as the implicit subsidy
of atmospheric space for carbon wastes slowly disappears and the costs of burning so
much cheap energy catch up with the planet. The question is whether they will also be
calamitous.
73
Since urbanization in much of the global South consists of cities swelling over
and enveloping agricultural hinterlands, the question there would be one of constructing
those cities in ways that respect pre-existing agricultural forms. This does not mean
envelopment of agricultural plots within cities. Urban agriculture is a stop-gap measure,
in the global North and South alike; it should not be raised to the level of principle. Cities
are cities because they are dense. What this does mean is constructing cities so that they
do not swell onto their hinterlands. If in India, for example, governments can subsidize
special economic development zones for IT, they can as easily secure peasant property
rights and divert development into resources that people, rather than corporations, need.
The latter include, for example, electrication, healthcare and sanitation, all of which have
an historical rather than necessary association with industrialization and a fossil-fuel based
model of urbanization.
74
As in the global North, that should also mean distributing cultural
institutions in spots of relative density.
15
Political strategies, struggles and horizons
There is, nally, a question of populations perhaps choosing to return to the countryside.
75
Ghana experienced re-peasantization during the 1970-1984 period as its economy tumbled
into disaster, a situation that was enabled by the fact that recent rural-urban migrants
still had extensive knowledge of farming practices.76 The Cuban government has carried
out a program of re-peasantization during the Special Period.
77
Some Landless Workers’
Movement (MST) settlements are made up of former slum-dwellers from Brazil’s cities,
as are some of the residents of Venezuela’s new agrarian settlements. There is no reason
to rue these facts. Agriculture need not be an afterthought or an awkward adjunct to
development. It could be, as Duncan writes, the framework for a sustainable socialism
nested in bioregions.78 The question is not one of plopping the populations of New York
and London into elds with pitchforks in their hands. It is, rather, a matter of designing
social and planning policy so that the populations currently on the land are not so eager to
leave it, and working forwards from there.
In such a vision, megacities can hardly serve as ecological arks, and the bigness fetish of
high modernism must be abandoned as a relic of industrial excess.79 Immense human
population concentrations are not a value in and of themselves. Cities should be built to
accommodate people, not the other way around. That includes accommodating the pre-
existing social fabric of their lives. Just as the countryside’s people can be brought to the
cities, that which is crucial about cities—for instance, hospitals, universities, museums, art
collectives, a profusion of social interaction—can be easily brought to the countryside.
Conclusion
The notion that in a free society, some work will still have to be done and some of it will
be hard, and that is okay so long as it is evenly distributed; the view of modernization and
development as having often had destructive consequences; the idea that modern society
need not fetishize industry; and the assumption that cities ought respond to the needs of
the countryside, which they in any case rely on, ecologically and economically, for survival—
all these are commonly cast aside as a vague and retrograde populism. As arguments, they
run against the grain of over one hundred years of development thinking, Marxist and
mainstream alike.
Yet these claims are not new. Nearly a century ago, as the Soviet Union was beginning its
heavy industrial lock-in, Ivan Kremnev penned a story about a time-traveler who woke
up in 1980 after having been adrift for decades after the Bolshevik Revolution. Rather
than the violent concentration of the peasantry in cities amid forced collectivization,
peasant forces had captured the state. They rebuilt the entire country, abolishing towns
of more than 20,000 people, dispersing the massive Moscow metropolis, creating local
centers at railroad junctions, perfecting the communications network, and saturating the
local centers in culture—theaters, museums, peoples’ universities, sport activities, choral
societies, all the classical accoutrements of city life that, he understood, did not require
like the United States and the southern European countries, there is nothing wrong with
medium-run programs that would put that manpower to work in return for adequate
reward. This is to say nothing of silvicultures that do not require a great deal of labor,
but that do require immense amounts of long-term planning, or the elaborate forms of
gardening exemplied by the rice farming methods in Fukuoka’s The One Straw Revolution,
which require minimal, but well-timed, labor.70
In the global South, a sustainable model of urbanization means, perhaps counterintuitively,
an immediate end to state support for policies, often enough coming from the World
Bank or other transnational institutions, which provoke rural-urban migration.
71
In a world
of unaffordable capital and unemployed—indeed, unemployable—labor, why worsen
the situation by packing people into cities, especially when labor is needed in the eld?
Instead, the countries of the South should be deploying policies removing them from
global commodity production loops, most importantly, through food sovereignty strategies
based on heavy investment in small-holder agriculture—again, a demand that entails a
massive reorganization of social power and property relations, as powerfully expressed
in the ongoing struggle for local control of land use systems and redistributive agrarian
reform by groups like the Landless Workers’ Movement (MST) in Brazil.72 For such
currents, smallholder agriculture is far from an antiquarian curio. It is a ght for survival. A
sustainable urbanism, woven into a global urban fabric, must defend that ght, rather than
undermine it. Crucially, then, a wholesale shift in the form of urbanization in the global
South requires revolutionary change in property relations in the countryside.
Elsewhere, if urbanization is taking place in situ, then there is all the more reason to focus
on the qualitative aspects of germinating sustainable urban forms. This raises the question
of planning, to support the growth of smaller cities linked tightly and organically to
agricultural production. Indeed, shifts in occupation are inevitable as the implicit subsidy
of atmospheric space for carbon wastes slowly disappears and the costs of burning so
much cheap energy catch up with the planet. The question is whether they will also be
calamitous.
73
Since urbanization in much of the global South consists of cities swelling over
and enveloping agricultural hinterlands, the question there would be one of constructing
those cities in ways that respect pre-existing agricultural forms. This does not mean
envelopment of agricultural plots within cities. Urban agriculture is a stop-gap measure,
in the global North and South alike; it should not be raised to the level of principle. Cities
are cities because they are dense. What this does mean is constructing cities so that they
do not swell onto their hinterlands. If in India, for example, governments can subsidize
special economic development zones for IT, they can as easily secure peasant property
rights and divert development into resources that people, rather than corporations, need.
The latter include, for example, electrication, healthcare and sanitation, all of which have
an historical rather than necessary association with industrialization and a fossil-fuel based
model of urbanization.
74
As in the global North, that should also mean distributing cultural
institutions in spots of relative density.
17
the dense, unsustainable conglomerations of people that inhabited Moscow.
80
The text’s
English translation is introduced dismissively by another Soviet writer: “The forms of the
peasant economy . . . are retrograde even compared with capitalist forms of agriculture”;
the “peasantry generally follows the proletariat, its politically more advanced and better
organized fellow,” while the former struggles to preserve its “essentially reactionary
ideals.”81 Even then, on a planet of peasants, the prevailing assumption was that farmers’
struggles were anti-modern, and destructive of the ideal of human progress.
It is, though, an odd concession to the modern-day religion of progress to think that only
industrialized society can secure healthy lives for people. As Halperin makes clear, it was
not industrialization in and of itself that delivered social development to the North.82
Indeed, industrialization has seldom closed the North/South divergence in living standards,
which continue to widen.83 Furthermore, as Duncan points out, “It is striking that those
recognized elements of a ‘good life’ that are most strongly cross-cultural – good food
and drink, nice garments, ne music and conversation, and comfortable housing – in no
way require industry.”
84
Advanced medical care, as he points out, is a separate issue, but
the Cuban example shows clearly that a healthcare system capable of achieving excellent
quality-of-life indicators need not be dependent on either extensive energy use or a society
based on heavy industrialization and hyper-dense, large-scale urbanization. Networks of
thousands of small and medium cities, linked by high-speed trains, is one such vision, and
a more productive use of limited resources than concentrating them in unlivable cities,
where daily commutes along desperately overcrowded and under-serviced arterial roads
can exceed three hours in the global South’s megacities.
So is this a Luddite fantasy, a reincarnation of the Romantic penchant for the countryside?
That is the perspective of the neoliberal clergy. Collier writes of “the middle- and upper-
class love affair with peasant agriculture … With the near-total urbanization of these classes
in both the United States and Europe, rural simplicity has acquired a strange allure. Peasant
life is prized as organic in both its literal and its metaphoric sense.”85 And indeed, this
is the same criticism those holding out the promise of perpetual growth and industrial
development as a route to universal prosperity have been putting forward for over a century.
But top-down industrialization has simply failed to deliver that which it has promised.
Chants for bread animate the revolts of the new millennium as surely as they did 100 years
ago. The idea of progress has promised so much and come through with so little, and
that for so few. It must be acknowledged that people have neither wanted nor asked for
industrial societies of the sort which have been relentlessly imposed upon them. Perhaps
it is now time to listen to the victims of our visions.86
1
Lewis Mumford, “What is a City,Architectural Record 82 (1937)
59-62, 60.
2
Percival Goodman and Paul Goodman, Communitas (New York:
Columbia University Press, 1990).
3 Mumford, “What is a City,” 62, 61.
4
André Torre and Lise Bourdeau-Lepage, “When Agriculture
Meets the City… a Desire for Nature or an Economic Necessity?”
Metropolitics 10 (2013). http://www.metropolitiques.eu/When-
agriculture-meets-the-city.html.
5
For a representative example, see Hiroaki Suzuki, Arish Dastur,
Sebastian Moffatt, Nanae Yabuki and Hinako Maruyama, Eco2
Cities: Ecological Cities As Economic Cities (World Bank Publications,
2010).
6
On agro-ecology, see Eric Holt-Giménez and Miguel A. Altieri,
Agroecology, Food Sovereignty, and the New Green Revolution,”
Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems 37, 1 (2013) 90-102.
7 For a representative dismissal, see Tom Brass, “Moral Economists,
Subalterns, New Social Movements, and the (re-) Emergence of a
(post-) Modernized (middle) Peasant,” Journal of Peasant Studies 18,
2 (1991) 173-205.
8
See Neil Brenner, “Theses on Urbanization,” this book, Ch. XX. It
would be intriguing to develop a comparison between the historical
development of this concept of the city as an analytical categor y
immured from the ows which constitute it and the development of
the concept of the economy as a free-standing sphere of life walled
off from the wider world within which it is necessarily although
not conceptually embedded, especially since cities can no more
exist without their hinterlands than can “economies” without the
world in which their so-called “externalities” are dumped. On this
see Timothy Mitchell, “The Properties of Markets,” Do Economists
Make Markets?, eds. Donald A. MacKenzie, Fabian Muniesa, and
Lucia Siu (New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 2007) 244-75.
9 Mike Davis, “Who Will Build the Ark?” New Left Review 61 (2010)
29-46.
10
Greg Sharzer, “A Critique of Localist Political Economy and Urban
Agriculture,” Historical Materialism 20, 4 (2012) 75-114, 105.
11
Rolf Peter Siefer le, The Subterranean Forest (Cambridge: White Horse
Press, 2010). See also Helmut Haberl “The Energetic Metabolism
of Societies,Journal of Industrial Ecology 5, 2 (2002) 71-88.
12 Marshall Sahlins, Stone Age Economics (London: Routledge, 2012).
13
See William Cronon, Changes in the Land (London: Macmillan, 2011),
for a discussion of the merits and demerits of such societies as they
occurred in America.
14
James Scott develops an intriguing argument linking forms of low-
intensity agriculture to attempts to escape incorporation into cities.
See James Scott, The Art of Not Being Governed (New Haven: Yale
University Press, 2009).
15
Joan Martinez-Alier, “The EROI of Agriculture and Its Use by
the Via Campesina,” Journal of Peasant Studies 38, 1 (2011) 145-60.
16
Colin A. M. Duncan, “On Identifying a Sound Environmental
Ethic in History: Prolegomena to Any Future Environmental
History,” Environmental History Review (1991) 15.
17
Neil Brenner and Christian Schmid, “The ‘Urban Age’ in
Question,” this book, Ch. XX.
18 Kenneth Pomeranz, “Political Economy and Ecology on the Eve
of Industrialization: Europe, China, and the Global Conjuncture,”
The American Historical Review 107, 2 (2002) 425–46.
19 Walter Rodney, How Europe Underdeveloped Africa (Baltimore: Black
Classic Press, 2011).
20 As Moore insightfully argues, the expansion of the timber frontier
to the Baltic region was part of this process. For example see,
Jason W. Moore, “‘Amsterdam Is Standing on Norway’ Part II: The
Global North Atlantic in the Ecological Revolution of the Long
Seventeenth Century,Journal of Agrarian Change 10, 2 (2010) 188-
227, 196-211.
21
Jonathan Nitzan and Shimshon Bichler, Capital as Power: A Study of
Order and Creorder (Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge, 2009).
22
In three critically important works of comparative historical
sociology, Sandra Halperin makes clear that human or social
development in Europe was not the result of any “org anic” process
built into modernity but was, rather, the result of massive popular
mobilizations coinciding with preparations for war. See Sandra
Halperin, Re-Envisioning Global Development (London: Routledge,
2013); and Sandra Halperin, In the Mirror of the Third World: Capitalist
Development in Modern Europe (New York: Cornell University Press,
1997); Sandra Halperin, War and Social Change in Modern Europe
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004).
23 Timothy Mitchell, Carbon Democracy: Political Power in the Age of Oil
(London: Verso, 2011) 139.
24 Ibid.
25
Ibid; Farshad Araghi, “Food Regimes and the Production of Value:
Some Methodological Issues,” Journal of Peasant Studies 30 (2003)
41-70.
26 Matt Huber, “The Use of Gasoline: Value, Oil, and the ‘American
Way of Life’,” Antipode 41, 3 (2009) 465-486; Matt Huber, “Fueling
Capitalism: Oil, the Regulation Approach, and the Ecology of
Capital,” Economic Geography 89, 2 (2013) 171-194. On oil prices in
this era, see John R. Blair, The Control of Oil (New York: Pantheon
Books, 1976).
27
Duncan, “On Identifying a Sound Environmental Ethic in
History,” 16-22.
28
William E. Rees and Mathis Wackernagel, “Urban Ecological
Footprints: Why Cities Cannot be Sustainable and Why They are
a Key to Sustainability,Envir onmental Impact Assessment Review, 16
(1996) 223-48, 239.
29 Ibid, 225.
30 Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen, “Myths About Energy and Matter,”
Growth & Change 10, 1 (1979) 16; Herman E. Daly, “Myths About
Energy and Matter: Comment,” Growth & Change 10, 1 (1979) 24.
31
Larry Lohmann, “Capital and Climate Change,” Development and
Change 42, 2 (2011) 649-68.
32
Philip McMichael, Development and Social Change (Thousand Oaks:
Sage Press, 2011) xiv.
33 Joshua Farley and Herman Daly, “The Failure of the Free-Market
on a Full Planet,” Vortragsskript für ISEE/RC (2001). http://www.
utopia.uzh.ch/research/Farley_Daly_paper.pdf, 26.
34
See, among many critical studies of this phenomenon, Lorenzo
Cotula, Land Deals in Africa: W hat is in the Contracts? (London:
International Institute for Environment, 2011).
35
From a far more critical angle that claims to be skeptical of the
“grand narrative of power and people-decentred architecture that
dominate the iconic mega cities of today,” one still reads of how
Asia and Africa in particular are experiencing rapid rural to urban
migration.” See Wendy Harcourt, “Editorial: Designing Urban
Living,” Development 54, 3 (2011) 291-92, 292, 291. Such accounts
bracket the nature of the “push” factors that were creating that
rural-to-urban migration in the rst place.
36
One might object that much of the critical literature does in fact
note that massive rural-urban migration is an effect of structural
adjustment policies that make the countryside unlivable. But
such an objection does not hold. First, the push-pull factors that
produced massive and unsustainable urbanization preceded the
structural adjustment policies, and were instead rooted in other
kinds of unsustainable urban-biased policies—although those
same structural adjustment policies are indeed intensifying and
accelerating previous processes. Second, much of the literature
accepts and arguably naturalizes the ow of population from
country to city, since they accept the demographic projections
which presuppose the continuance of such ows—an odd ontology
that removes from consideration a range of possible scenarios that
Notes
17
the dense, unsustainable conglomerations of people that inhabited Moscow.
80
The text’s
English translation is introduced dismissively by another Soviet writer: “The forms of the
peasant economy . . . are retrograde even compared with capitalist forms of agriculture”;
the “peasantry generally follows the proletariat, its politically more advanced and better
organized fellow,” while the former struggles to preserve its “essentially reactionary
ideals.”81 Even then, on a planet of peasants, the prevailing assumption was that farmers’
struggles were anti-modern, and destructive of the ideal of human progress.
It is, though, an odd concession to the modern-day religion of progress to think that only
industrialized society can secure healthy lives for people. As Halperin makes clear, it was
not industrialization in and of itself that delivered social development to the North.82
Indeed, industrialization has seldom closed the North/South divergence in living standards,
which continue to widen.83 Furthermore, as Duncan points out, “It is striking that those
recognized elements of a ‘good life’ that are most strongly cross-cultural – good food
and drink, nice garments, ne music and conversation, and comfortable housing – in no
way require industry.”
84
Advanced medical care, as he points out, is a separate issue, but
the Cuban example shows clearly that a healthcare system capable of achieving excellent
quality-of-life indicators need not be dependent on either extensive energy use or a society
based on heavy industrialization and hyper-dense, large-scale urbanization. Networks of
thousands of small and medium cities, linked by high-speed trains, is one such vision, and
a more productive use of limited resources than concentrating them in unlivable cities,
where daily commutes along desperately overcrowded and under-serviced arterial roads
can exceed three hours in the global South’s megacities.
So is this a Luddite fantasy, a reincarnation of the Romantic penchant for the countryside?
That is the perspective of the neoliberal clergy. Collier writes of “the middle- and upper-
class love affair with peasant agriculture … With the near-total urbanization of these classes
in both the United States and Europe, rural simplicity has acquired a strange allure. Peasant
life is prized as organic in both its literal and its metaphoric sense.”85 And indeed, this
is the same criticism those holding out the promise of perpetual growth and industrial
development as a route to universal prosperity have been putting forward for over a century.
But top-down industrialization has simply failed to deliver that which it has promised.
Chants for bread animate the revolts of the new millennium as surely as they did 100 years
ago. The idea of progress has promised so much and come through with so little, and
that for so few. It must be acknowledged that people have neither wanted nor asked for
industrial societies of the sort which have been relentlessly imposed upon them. Perhaps
it is now time to listen to the victims of our visions.86
1
Lewis Mumford, “What is a City,Architectural Record 82 (1937)
59-62, 60.
2
Percival Goodman and Paul Goodman, Communitas (New York:
Columbia University Press, 1990).
3 Mumford, “What is a City,” 62, 61.
4
André Torre and Lise Bourdeau-Lepage, “When Agriculture
Meets the City… a Desire for Nature or an Economic Necessity?”
Metropolitics 10 (2013). http://www.metropolitiques.eu/When-
agriculture-meets-the-city.html.
5
For a representative example, see Hiroaki Suzuki, Arish Dastur,
Sebastian Moffatt, Nanae Yabuki and Hinako Maruyama, Eco2
Cities: Ecological Cities As Economic Cities (World Bank Publications,
2010).
6
On agro-ecology, see Eric Holt-Giménez and Miguel A. Altieri,
Agroecology, Food Sovereignty, and the New Green Revolution,”
Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems 37, 1 (2013) 90-102.
7 For a representative dismissal, see Tom Brass, “Moral Economists,
Subalterns, New Social Movements, and the (re-) Emergence of a
(post-) Modernized (middle) Peasant,” Journal of Peasant Studies 18,
2 (1991) 173-205.
8
See Neil Brenner, “Theses on Urbanization,” this book, Ch. XX. It
would be intriguing to develop a comparison between the historical
development of this concept of the city as an analytical categor y
immured from the ows which constitute it and the development of
the concept of the economy as a free-standing sphere of life walled
off from the wider world within which it is necessarily although
not conceptually embedded, especially since cities can no more
exist without their hinterlands than can “economies” without the
world in which their so-called “externalities” are dumped. On this
see Timothy Mitchell, “The Properties of Markets,” Do Economists
Make Markets?, eds. Donald A. MacKenzie, Fabian Muniesa, and
Lucia Siu (New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 2007) 244-75.
9 Mike Davis, “Who Will Build the Ark?” New Left Review 61 (2010)
29-46.
10
Greg Sharzer, “A Critique of Localist Political Economy and Urban
Agriculture,” Historical Materialism 20, 4 (2012) 75-114, 105.
11
Rolf Peter Siefer le, The Subterranean Forest (Cambridge: White Horse
Press, 2010). See also Helmut Haberl “The Energetic Metabolism
of Societies,Journal of Industrial Ecology 5, 2 (2002) 71-88.
12 Marshall Sahlins, Stone Age Economics (London: Routledge, 2012).
13
See William Cronon, Changes in the Land (London: Macmillan, 2011),
for a discussion of the merits and demerits of such societies as they
occurred in America.
14
James Scott develops an intriguing argument linking forms of low-
intensity agriculture to attempts to escape incorporation into cities.
See James Scott, The Art of Not Being Governed (New Haven: Yale
University Press, 2009).
15
Joan Martinez-Alier, “The EROI of Agriculture and Its Use by
the Via Campesina,” Journal of Peasant Studies 38, 1 (2011) 145-60.
16
Colin A. M. Duncan, “On Identifying a Sound Environmental
Ethic in History: Prolegomena to Any Future Environmental
History,” Environmental History Review (1991) 15.
17
Neil Brenner and Christian Schmid, “The ‘Urban Age’ in
Question,” this book, Ch. XX.
18 Kenneth Pomeranz, “Political Economy and Ecology on the Eve
of Industrialization: Europe, China, and the Global Conjuncture,”
The American Historical Review 107, 2 (2002) 425–46.
19 Walter Rodney, How Europe Underdeveloped Africa (Baltimore: Black
Classic Press, 2011).
20 As Moore insightfully argues, the expansion of the timber frontier
to the Baltic region was part of this process. For example see,
Jason W. Moore, “‘Amsterdam Is Standing on Norway’ Part II: The
Global North Atlantic in the Ecological Revolution of the Long
Seventeenth Century,Journal of Agrarian Change 10, 2 (2010) 188-
227, 196-211.
21
Jonathan Nitzan and Shimshon Bichler, Capital as Power: A Study of
Order and Creorder (Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge, 2009).
22
In three critically important works of comparative historical
sociology, Sandra Halperin makes clear that human or social
development in Europe was not the result of any “org anic” process
built into modernity but was, rather, the result of massive popular
mobilizations coinciding with preparations for war. See Sandra
Halperin, Re-Envisioning Global Development (London: Routledge,
2013); and Sandra Halperin, In the Mirror of the Third World: Capitalist
Development in Modern Europe (New York: Cornell University Press,
1997); Sandra Halperin, War and Social Change in Modern Europe
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004).
23 Timothy Mitchell, Carbon Democracy: Political Power in the Age of Oil
(London: Verso, 2011) 139.
24 Ibid.
25
Ibid; Farshad Araghi, “Food Regimes and the Production of Value:
Some Methodological Issues,” Journal of Peasant Studies 30 (2003)
41-70.
26 Matt Huber, “The Use of Gasoline: Value, Oil, and the ‘American
Way of Life’,” Antipode 41, 3 (2009) 465-486; Matt Huber, “Fueling
Capitalism: Oil, the Regulation Approach, and the Ecology of
Capital,” Economic Geography 89, 2 (2013) 171-194. On oil prices in
this era, see John R. Blair, The Control of Oil (New York: Pantheon
Books, 1976).
27
Duncan, “On Identifying a Sound Environmental Ethic in
History,” 16-22.
28
William E. Rees and Mathis Wackernagel, “Urban Ecological
Footprints: Why Cities Cannot be Sustainable and Why They are
a Key to Sustainability,Envir onmental Impact Assessment Review, 16
(1996) 223-48, 239.
29 Ibid, 225.
30 Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen, “Myths About Energy and Matter,”
Growth & Change 10, 1 (1979) 16; Herman E. Daly, “Myths About
Energy and Matter: Comment,” Growth & Change 10, 1 (1979) 24.
31
Larry Lohmann, “Capital and Climate Change,” Development and
Change 42, 2 (2011) 649-68.
32
Philip McMichael, Development and Social Change (Thousand Oaks:
Sage Press, 2011) xiv.
33 Joshua Farley and Herman Daly, “The Failure of the Free-Market
on a Full Planet,” Vortragsskript für ISEE/RC (2001). http://www.
utopia.uzh.ch/research/Farley_Daly_paper.pdf, 26.
34
See, among many critical studies of this phenomenon, Lorenzo
Cotula, Land Deals in Africa: W hat is in the Contracts? (London:
International Institute for Environment, 2011).
35
From a far more critical angle that claims to be skeptical of the
“grand narrative of power and people-decentred architecture that
dominate the iconic mega cities of today,” one still reads of how
Asia and Africa in particular are experiencing rapid rural to urban
migration.” See Wendy Harcourt, “Editorial: Designing Urban
Living,” Development 54, 3 (2011) 291-92, 292, 291. Such accounts
bracket the nature of the “push” factors that were creating that
rural-to-urban migration in the rst place.
36
One might object that much of the critical literature does in fact
note that massive rural-urban migration is an effect of structural
adjustment policies that make the countryside unlivable. But
such an objection does not hold. First, the push-pull factors that
produced massive and unsustainable urbanization preceded the
structural adjustment policies, and were instead rooted in other
kinds of unsustainable urban-biased policies—although those
same structural adjustment policies are indeed intensifying and
accelerating previous processes. Second, much of the literature
accepts and arguably naturalizes the ow of population from
country to city, since they accept the demographic projections
which presuppose the continuance of such ows—an odd ontology
that removes from consideration a range of possible scenarios that
Notes
19
would arrest or alleviate such ows.
37
The instant-classic reference is Mike Davis, Planet Of Slums
(London: Verso, 2006). I take issue with this important landmark
due to its normalization of existing rural-urban migration
tendencies, and due to its downplaying of the role of rural
organizing in the world’s anti-systemic movements.
38 Paul Collier and Stefan Dercon, “African Agriculture in 50 Years:
Smallholders in a Rapidly Changing World?” Expert Meeting on
How to Feed the World In (2009) 24-26. http://iis-db.stanford.edu/
evnts/7365/Collier_Dercon_Africa_2013_world_development.
pdf.
39
Under very different circumstances, agro-export financed
substantial industrialization in late nineteenth century Russia and
early nineteenth century Egypt. On the latter, see Jean Batou,
“Nineteenth-Century Attempted Escapes from the Periphery: the
Cases of Egypt and Paraguay,” Review (Fernand Braudel Center) 16,
3 (1993) 279-318. But price volatility for agricultural commodities
makes creating a development model around them chancy at best.
40
Miguel A. Altieri, “Applying Agroecology to Enhance the
Productivity of Peasant Farming Systems in Latin America,”
Environment, Development and Sustainability 1, 3-4 (1999) 197-217.
41
Jack Ralph Kloppenburg, First the Seed: The Political Economy of Plant
Biotechnology (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2005). The
point about 70 percent of the planet’s food is a commonplace in
the critical literature. As one report notes, the “ETC Group notes
that there are 1.5 billion small farmers on 380 million farms; 800
million more growing urban gardens; 410 million gathering the
hidden harvest of our forests and savannas; 190 million pastoralists
and well over 100 million peasant shers. At least 370 million of
these are also indigenous peoples. Together these farmers make up
almost half the world’s peoples and grow at least 70 per cent of the
world’s food” (footnote no. 8 in Fairtrade Foundation, Powering up
Smallholder Farmers to Make Food Fair (Fairtrade Foundation, 2013)
44); Nick Minot, “Transmission of World Food Price Changes to
Markets in Sub-Saharan Africa,” Washington, IFPRI 34 (2011); and
Jacques Morisset, “Unfair Trade? The Increasing Gap Between
World and Domestic Prices in Commodity Markets During the
Past 25 Years,” The World Bank Economic Review 12, 3 (1998) 503-26.
42 Marc J. Cohen and James L. Garrett, The Food Price Crisis and Urban
Food (in)Security (London: IIED and UNFPA, 2009) 6.
43
Joseph Baines argues that these prices are also the product of
politically instituted markets, engineered to concentrate prots
in some hands and not others. See Joseph Baines, “Food Price
Ination as Redistribution: Towards a New Analysis of Corporate
Power in the World Food System,” New Political Economy (2013)
1-34.
44
David Satterthwaite, Gordon McGranahan, and Cecilia Tacoli,
“Urbanization and Its Implications for Food and Farming,”
Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 365
(2010) 2809-20.
45 Tom Lavers, “‘Land Grab’ as Development Strategy? The Political
Economy of Agricultural Investment in Ethiopia,Journal of Peasant
Studies 39, 1 (2012) 105-32; and Silvia Federici, “The Debt Crisis,
Africa and the New Enclosures,” Midnight Notes 10 (1992) 10-17.
46
Alain de Janvry and Elisabeth Sadoulet, “Subsistence Farming as
a Safety Net for Food-price Shocks,Development in Practice 21, 4-5
(2011) 472-480. In Latin America, for example, the remaining rural
population is living amidst the aftermath of centuries of colonial
land concentration and a mid-century interlude of capitalist
agrarian reforms, and rural semi-proletarianization and functional
dualism in agriculture remain the dominant modes of production
and social reproduction.
But the question of what follows from
the social organization of production is an inherently political
question. On semi-proletarianization, see Cristóbal Kay, “Rural
Poverty and Development Strategies in Latin America,Journal of
Agrarian Change 6, 4 (2006) 455-508; and on functional dualism,
Alain de Janvry, The Agrarian Question and Reformism in Latin America
(Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1981).
47
María Elena Martínez-Torres and Peter M. Rosset, “La Vía
Campesina: the Birth and Evolution of a Transnational Social
Movement,” Journal of Peasant Studies 37 (2010) 149-75; and Wendy
Wolford, This Land Is Ours Now: Social Mobilization and the Meanings
of Land in Brazil (Durham: Duke University Press, 2010).
48 Collier and Dercon, “African Agriculture in 50 Years.
49 John Vandermeer, Gerald Smith, Ivette Perfecto, Eileen Quintero,
Rachel Bezner-Kerr, Daniel Grifth, Stuart Ketcham, Steve Latta,
Brenda Lin, Phil McMichael, Krista McGuire, Ron Nigh, Diana
Rocheleau, and John Soluri, Effects of Industrial Agriculture on Global
Warming and the Potential of Small-scale Agroecological Techniques to
Reverse Those Effects. www.viacampesina.net/downloads/DOC/
ViaNWAEG-10-20-09.doc.
50 Rees and Wackernagel, “Urban Ecological Footprints,” 237.
51 Sieferle, The Subterranean Forest.
52
Helmut Haberl, Fridolin Krausmann, and Simone Gingrich,
“Ecological Embeddedness of the Economy: a Socioecological
Perspective on Humanity’s Economic Activities 1700-2000,”
Economic and Political Weekly 41, 47 (2006) 4896, 4903.
53
James Lovelock, “Nuclear Power is the Only Green Solution,”
The Independent (2004). http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/
commentators/james-lovelock-nuclear-power-is-the-only-green-
solution-6169341.html
54
Colin A. Duncan, The Centrality of Agriculture: Between Humankind and
the Rest of Nature (Montreal: McGill Queens University Press, 1996).
55 Ibid, 47.
56
Duncan makes this point with reference to the example of wooden
versus metal furniture, writing, “Perfectly cheap and protable
projects are refused a hearing in our type of modern economy
if they are very long-term. This explains why along the shores
of Lake Ontario you see nuclear electric power plants instead of
oak forests. Oak forests have quite negligible start-up costs but
are extremely slow at growing. The commitments we make in
these elds are pervasive and include expensive feed-back loops.
For instance, schools and universities in Ontario have hardly any
more oak furniture. Instead they have mostly steel furniture. Steel
production facilities are enormous consumers of electric power, as
Ontario citizens were recently reminded (December, 1989) when
the electric power authorities shut various factories down for a
period. Inattention to long-term projects, makes our lives now, and
later, simply more expensive than they need be.” Duncan, “On
Identifying a Sound Environmental Ethic in History,” 21.
57
David R. Montgomery, Dirt: the Erosion of Civilizations (Berkeley:
University of California Press, 2012).
58
The debate about whether or not nature is a useful term is rich
and contentious, and makes specic citation here useless. I use
“nature” and “the environment,” interchangeably to refer to non-
human material world around us, which includes both the ecology
as well as the human built environment. For that reason, I think it
is a reasonable claim to say that the environment can be arranged
in such a way as to allow different maximal human populations.
59
Duncan, “On Identifying a Sound Environmental Ethic in
History,” 9.
60 Mumford, The City in History.
61
Fernand Braudel, The Structures of Everyday Life (Berkeley: University
of California Press, 1981), 430-31; and Stephen A. Marglin,
“Farmers, Seedsmen, and Scientists: Systems of Agriculture and
Systems of Knowledge,” Decolonizing Knowledge, eds. Frédérique
Apffel-Marglin and Stephen A. Marglin (Oxford: Oxford University
Press, 1996) 185-248.
62
Peter Kropotkin and George Woodcock, Fields, Factories, and
Workshops (Montreal: Black Rose Books, 1993 [1898]); and
Ebenezer Howard, Garden Cities of To-Morrow (London: Routledge,
2013 [1898]).
63
Mindi Schneider and Philip McMichael, “Deepening, and Repairing,
the Metabolic Rift,” Journal of Peasant Studies 37 (2010) 461–484.
64 New York City, for example, needs a massive hinterland to supply
its 8 million people with food. In the long run, such imbalances
ought to be xed through collective processes of decision-making
and society-wide planning.
65 Lewis Mumford, “Garden Cities and the Metropolis: a Reply,The
Journal of Land & Public Utility Economics 22, 1 (1946) 67.
66
Sharanbir S. Grewal and Parwinder S. Grewal, “Can Cities Become
Self-reliant in Food?,” Cities 29, 1 (2012) 1-11.
67
John Friedmann, “Basic Needs, Agropolitan Development, and
Planning from Below,” World Development 7, 6 (1979) 607-613.
68 Kirkpatrick Sale, Human Scale (New Catalyst Books, 2007).
69
Stephen Marglin, “Development as Poison: Rethinking the Western
Model of Modernity,” Harvard International Review 25, 1 (2003) 70-
75, 73.
70
Masanobu Fukuoka, The One-Straw Revolution: an Introduction to
Natural Farming (New York: New York Review Books Classics,
2009). This example is taken from Duncan’s The Centrality of
Agriculture.
71 Davis, Planet of Slums, 1-19, 55-61.
72
There is an important debate within circles concerned with rural
development between land reforms which are redistributive and
involve minimal or no compensation for large landholders, and
“market-friendly” land reform, which involves compensation for
land-holders at market rates. See Saturnino M. Borras, Pro-poor Land
Reform: a Critique (Ottawa: University of Ottawa Press, 2007).
73 Jörg Friedrichs, “Global Energy Crunch: How Different Parts of
the World Would React to a Peak Oil Scenario,” Energy Policy 38,
8 (2010) 4562-69.
74
Michael Levien, “The Land Question: Special Economic Zones and
the Political Economy of Dispossession in India,” Journal of Peasant
Studies 39, 3-4 (2012) 933-969. See also John Friedmann, “Becoming
Urban: On Whose Terms?” this book, Ch. XX.
75 I do not mean to sidestep the question of people being forced to
stay in the countryside or being pushed there and dying as a result.
For example, see Ben Kiernan, “The Demography of Genocide
in Southeast Asia: the Death Tolls in Cambodia, 1975-79, and
East Timor, 1975-80,” Critical Asian Studies 35, 4 (2003) 585-97.
However, there is a sharp difference between inclusive, democratic
modes of planning and authoritarian ones, and it was obviously the
latter—not the return to the countryside as such—which produced
mass death in the Cambodian context.
76
Jacob Songsore, The Urban Transition in Ghana (IIED, 2009). http://
pubs.iied.org/pdfs/G02540.pdf.
77
Carmen Diana Deere, Niurka Pérez, and Ernel Gonzales, “The
View from Below: Cuban Agriculture in the ‘Special Period in
Peacetime’,” The Journal of Peasant Studies 21, 2 (1994) 194-234.
78
Kirkpatrick Sale, Dwellers in the Land (Athens: University of Georgia
Press, 2000).
79
James C. Scott, Seeing Like a State (New Haven: Yale University
Press, 1999).
80 Ivan Kremnev, “T he Journey of My Brother Alexei to the Land of
Peasant Utopia,” The Journal of Peasant Studies 4, 1 (1976) 63–108.
81
P. Orlovskii, “Foreword,” The Journal of Peasant Studies 4, 1 (1976)
69, 70.
82
Industrialization worsened human welfare indicators in England
and elsewhere. See John Komlos, “Shrinking in a Growing
Economy? the Mystery of Physical Stature During the Industrial
Revolution,” Journal of Economic History 58 (1998) 779-802.
83
Giovanni Arrighi, Beverly J. Silver, and Benjamin D. Brewer,
“Industrial Convergence, Globalization, and the Persistence of the
North-South Divide,” Studies in Comparative International Development
38, 1 (2003) 3-31.
84 Duncan, The Centrality of Agriculture, 182.
85
Paul Collier, “The Politics of Hunger: How Illusion and Greed Fan
the Food Crisis,Foreign Affairs 87, 6 (2008) 67-79, 69, 70.
86
I borrow the phrase “Victims of Our Visions,” from Piero
Gleijeses’s review of Richard Drinnon’s “Facing West,” Washington
Post (Washington) 28 September 1980.
19
would arrest or alleviate such ows.
37
The instant-classic reference is Mike Davis, Planet Of Slums
(London: Verso, 2006). I take issue with this important landmark
due to its normalization of existing rural-urban migration
tendencies, and due to its downplaying of the role of rural
organizing in the world’s anti-systemic movements.
38 Paul Collier and Stefan Dercon, “African Agriculture in 50 Years:
Smallholders in a Rapidly Changing World?” Expert Meeting on
How to Feed the World In (2009) 24-26. http://iis-db.stanford.edu/
evnts/7365/Collier_Dercon_Africa_2013_world_development.
pdf.
39
Under very different circumstances, agro-export financed
substantial industrialization in late nineteenth century Russia and
early nineteenth century Egypt. On the latter, see Jean Batou,
“Nineteenth-Century Attempted Escapes from the Periphery: the
Cases of Egypt and Paraguay,” Review (Fernand Braudel Center) 16,
3 (1993) 279-318. But price volatility for agricultural commodities
makes creating a development model around them chancy at best.
40
Miguel A. Altieri, “Applying Agroecology to Enhance the
Productivity of Peasant Farming Systems in Latin America,”
Environment, Development and Sustainability 1, 3-4 (1999) 197-217.
41
Jack Ralph Kloppenburg, First the Seed: The Political Economy of Plant
Biotechnology (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2005). The
point about 70 percent of the planet’s food is a commonplace in
the critical literature. As one report notes, the “ETC Group notes
that there are 1.5 billion small farmers on 380 million farms; 800
million more growing urban gardens; 410 million gathering the
hidden harvest of our forests and savannas; 190 million pastoralists
and well over 100 million peasant shers. At least 370 million of
these are also indigenous peoples. Together these farmers make up
almost half the world’s peoples and grow at least 70 per cent of the
world’s food” (footnote no. 8 in Fairtrade Foundation, Powering up
Smallholder Farmers to Make Food Fair (Fairtrade Foundation, 2013)
44); Nick Minot, “Transmission of World Food Price Changes to
Markets in Sub-Saharan Africa,” Washington, IFPRI 34 (2011); and
Jacques Morisset, “Unfair Trade? The Increasing Gap Between
World and Domestic Prices in Commodity Markets During the
Past 25 Years,” The World Bank Economic Review 12, 3 (1998) 503-26.
42 Marc J. Cohen and James L. Garrett, The Food Price Crisis and Urban
Food (in)Security (London: IIED and UNFPA, 2009) 6.
43
Joseph Baines argues that these prices are also the product of
politically instituted markets, engineered to concentrate prots
in some hands and not others. See Joseph Baines, “Food Price
Ination as Redistribution: Towards a New Analysis of Corporate
Power in the World Food System,” New Political Economy (2013)
1-34.
44
David Satterthwaite, Gordon McGranahan, and Cecilia Tacoli,
“Urbanization and Its Implications for Food and Farming,”
Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 365
(2010) 2809-20.
45 Tom Lavers, “‘Land Grab’ as Development Strategy? The Political
Economy of Agricultural Investment in Ethiopia,Journal of Peasant
Studies 39, 1 (2012) 105-32; and Silvia Federici, “The Debt Crisis,
Africa and the New Enclosures,” Midnight Notes 10 (1992) 10-17.
46
Alain de Janvry and Elisabeth Sadoulet, “Subsistence Farming as
a Safety Net for Food-price Shocks,Development in Practice 21, 4-5
(2011) 472-480. In Latin America, for example, the remaining rural
population is living amidst the aftermath of centuries of colonial
land concentration and a mid-century interlude of capitalist
agrarian reforms, and rural semi-proletarianization and functional
dualism in agriculture remain the dominant modes of production
and social reproduction.
But the question of what follows from
the social organization of production is an inherently political
question. On semi-proletarianization, see Cristóbal Kay, “Rural
Poverty and Development Strategies in Latin America,Journal of
Agrarian Change 6, 4 (2006) 455-508; and on functional dualism,
Alain de Janvry, The Agrarian Question and Reformism in Latin America
(Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1981).
47
María Elena Martínez-Torres and Peter M. Rosset, “La Vía
Campesina: the Birth and Evolution of a Transnational Social
Movement,” Journal of Peasant Studies 37 (2010) 149-75; and Wendy
Wolford, This Land Is Ours Now: Social Mobilization and the Meanings
of Land in Brazil (Durham: Duke University Press, 2010).
48 Collier and Dercon, “African Agriculture in 50 Years.
49 John Vandermeer, Gerald Smith, Ivette Perfecto, Eileen Quintero,
Rachel Bezner-Kerr, Daniel Grifth, Stuart Ketcham, Steve Latta,
Brenda Lin, Phil McMichael, Krista McGuire, Ron Nigh, Diana
Rocheleau, and John Soluri, Effects of Industrial Agriculture on Global
Warming and the Potential of Small-scale Agroecological Techniques to
Reverse Those Effects. www.viacampesina.net/downloads/DOC/
ViaNWAEG-10-20-09.doc.
50 Rees and Wackernagel, “Urban Ecological Footprints,” 237.
51 Sieferle, The Subterranean Forest.
52
Helmut Haberl, Fridolin Krausmann, and Simone Gingrich,
“Ecological Embeddedness of the Economy: a Socioecological
Perspective on Humanity’s Economic Activities 1700-2000,”
Economic and Political Weekly 41, 47 (2006) 4896, 4903.
53
James Lovelock, “Nuclear Power is the Only Green Solution,”
The Independent (2004). http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/
commentators/james-lovelock-nuclear-power-is-the-only-green-
solution-6169341.html
54
Colin A. Duncan, The Centrality of Agriculture: Between Humankind and
the Rest of Nature (Montreal: McGill Queens University Press, 1996).
55 Ibid, 47.
56
Duncan makes this point with reference to the example of wooden
versus metal furniture, writing, “Perfectly cheap and protable
projects are refused a hearing in our type of modern economy
if they are very long-term. This explains why along the shores
of Lake Ontario you see nuclear electric power plants instead of
oak forests. Oak forests have quite negligible start-up costs but
are extremely slow at growing. The commitments we make in
these elds are pervasive and include expensive feed-back loops.
For instance, schools and universities in Ontario have hardly any
more oak furniture. Instead they have mostly steel furniture. Steel
production facilities are enormous consumers of electric power, as
Ontario citizens were recently reminded (December, 1989) when
the electric power authorities shut various factories down for a
period. Inattention to long-term projects, makes our lives now, and
later, simply more expensive than they need be.” Duncan, “On
Identifying a Sound Environmental Ethic in History,” 21.
57
David R. Montgomery, Dirt: the Erosion of Civilizations (Berkeley:
University of California Press, 2012).
58
The debate about whether or not nature is a useful term is rich
and contentious, and makes specic citation here useless. I use
“nature” and “the environment,” interchangeably to refer to non-
human material world around us, which includes both the ecology
as well as the human built environment. For that reason, I think it
is a reasonable claim to say that the environment can be arranged
in such a way as to allow different maximal human populations.
59
Duncan, “On Identifying a Sound Environmental Ethic in
History,” 9.
60 Mumford, The City in History.
61
Fernand Braudel, The Structures of Everyday Life (Berkeley: University
of California Press, 1981), 430-31; and Stephen A. Marglin,
“Farmers, Seedsmen, and Scientists: Systems of Agriculture and
Systems of Knowledge,” Decolonizing Knowledge, eds. Frédérique
Apffel-Marglin and Stephen A. Marglin (Oxford: Oxford University
Press, 1996) 185-248.
62
Peter Kropotkin and George Woodcock, Fields, Factories, and
Workshops (Montreal: Black Rose Books, 1993 [1898]); and
Ebenezer Howard, Garden Cities of To-Morrow (London: Routledge,
2013 [1898]).
63
Mindi Schneider and Philip McMichael, “Deepening, and Repairing,
the Metabolic Rift,” Journal of Peasant Studies 37 (2010) 461–484.
64 New York City, for example, needs a massive hinterland to supply
its 8 million people with food. In the long run, such imbalances
ought to be xed through collective processes of decision-making
and society-wide planning.
65 Lewis Mumford, “Garden Cities and the Metropolis: a Reply,The
Journal of Land & Public Utility Economics 22, 1 (1946) 67.
66
Sharanbir S. Grewal and Parwinder S. Grewal, “Can Cities Become
Self-reliant in Food?,” Cities 29, 1 (2012) 1-11.
67
John Friedmann, “Basic Needs, Agropolitan Development, and
Planning from Below,” World Development 7, 6 (1979) 607-613.
68 Kirkpatrick Sale, Human Scale (New Catalyst Books, 2007).
69
Stephen Marglin, “Development as Poison: Rethinking the Western
Model of Modernity,” Harvard International Review 25, 1 (2003) 70-
75, 73.
70
Masanobu Fukuoka, The One-Straw Revolution: an Introduction to
Natural Farming (New York: New York Review Books Classics,
2009). This example is taken from Duncan’s The Centrality of
Agriculture.
71 Davis, Planet of Slums, 1-19, 55-61.
72
There is an important debate within circles concerned with rural
development between land reforms which are redistributive and
involve minimal or no compensation for large landholders, and
“market-friendly” land reform, which involves compensation for
land-holders at market rates. See Saturnino M. Borras, Pro-poor Land
Reform: a Critique (Ottawa: University of Ottawa Press, 2007).
73 Jörg Friedrichs, “Global Energy Crunch: How Different Parts of
the World Would React to a Peak Oil Scenario,” Energy Policy 38,
8 (2010) 4562-69.
74
Michael Levien, “The Land Question: Special Economic Zones and
the Political Economy of Dispossession in India,” Journal of Peasant
Studies 39, 3-4 (2012) 933-969. See also John Friedmann, “Becoming
Urban: On Whose Terms?” this book, Ch. XX.
75 I do not mean to sidestep the question of people being forced to
stay in the countryside or being pushed there and dying as a result.
For example, see Ben Kiernan, “The Demography of Genocide
in Southeast Asia: the Death Tolls in Cambodia, 1975-79, and
East Timor, 1975-80,” Critical Asian Studies 35, 4 (2003) 585-97.
However, there is a sharp difference between inclusive, democratic
modes of planning and authoritarian ones, and it was obviously the
latter—not the return to the countryside as such—which produced
mass death in the Cambodian context.
76
Jacob Songsore, The Urban Transition in Ghana (IIED, 2009). http://
pubs.iied.org/pdfs/G02540.pdf.
77
Carmen Diana Deere, Niurka Pérez, and Ernel Gonzales, “The
View from Below: Cuban Agriculture in the ‘Special Period in
Peacetime’,” The Journal of Peasant Studies 21, 2 (1994) 194-234.
78
Kirkpatrick Sale, Dwellers in the Land (Athens: University of Georgia
Press, 2000).
79
James C. Scott, Seeing Like a State (New Haven: Yale University
Press, 1999).
80 Ivan Kremnev, “T he Journey of My Brother Alexei to the Land of
Peasant Utopia,” The Journal of Peasant Studies 4, 1 (1976) 63–108.
81
P. Orlovskii, “Foreword,” The Journal of Peasant Studies 4, 1 (1976)
69, 70.
82
Industrialization worsened human welfare indicators in England
and elsewhere. See John Komlos, “Shrinking in a Growing
Economy? the Mystery of Physical Stature During the Industrial
Revolution,” Journal of Economic History 58 (1998) 779-802.
83
Giovanni Arrighi, Beverly J. Silver, and Benjamin D. Brewer,
“Industrial Convergence, Globalization, and the Persistence of the
North-South Divide,” Studies in Comparative International Development
38, 1 (2003) 3-31.
84 Duncan, The Centrality of Agriculture, 182.
85
Paul Collier, “The Politics of Hunger: How Illusion and Greed Fan
the Food Crisis,Foreign Affairs 87, 6 (2008) 67-79, 69, 70.
86
I borrow the phrase “Victims of Our Visions,” from Piero
Gleijeses’s review of Richard Drinnon’s “Facing West,” Washington
Post (Washington) 28 September 1980.
... Therefore, we submit that digital agriculture must be understood as addressing a specific set of crisis tendencies that have emerged at a particular juncture in the social, ecological, and spatial history of capitalism. This juncture is defined by interlocking moments of ecological disaster; enormous advances in information production, gathering, and processing; and "hypertrophic" urbanization (Ajl 2014). ...
... Historically, the growth of the city went hand in hand with enclosure, commodification, and ongoing reorganization of operational landscapes surrounding the city that resulted in dispossession and proletarianization of populations inhabiting these areas (Ajl, 2014;Sevilla-Buitrago, 2014). Within Global South perspectives on urbanism, these spaces have long been understood as "constitutive outsides" of cities (Dussel, 1998;King, 1990;Roy, 2015). ...
Article
This paper discusses how critical urban theory can understand spatial justice in the context of a planetary stage of capitalist urbanization. Empirically, it focuses on urban growth, dispossession, and mandatory resettlement of peri-urban populations triggered by coal mining in Tete, Mozambique. It analyzes how resettlement sites inhabited by the dispossessed-by-mining populations are constituted by the growth of the urbicidal city that explodes into space by subsuming natural resources for its continuous growth, as well as results in urbicide – a deliberate erasure of urban infrastructures and social life. In order to address the question of spatial justice within these resettlement sites, the article focuses on the widely used Lefebvrean notion of the “right to the city”. However, modifying the claim, it argues for the “right against the urbicidal city”, demonstrating how this articulation of spatial justice establishes the “true politics of encounter” in a continuous struggle for spatial justice in the unevenly urban(ized) world.
... 5 It defended a peasant path to modernity and development, and focused on 'decent jobs with fair remuneration and labour rights for all, and a future for young people in the countryside' (La Via Campesina 2007). It insisted on the rural world's centrality, contradicting urban-developmentalist narratives positing the countryside's end as necessary for the global South's development (Ajl 2014;Bernstein 2006;Moyo, Jha, and Yeros 2013). ...
Article
Full-text available
The article examines the weakness of discourses around food sovereignty in Southwest Asia and North Africa, and examines some older currents resembling the food sovereignty discourse. The author first historically situates the emergence of food sovereignty. He discusses agro-ecology – the ‘technics’ (or social embeddedness of technology) of food sovereignty – and its national-popular content, before then developing elements of the delinking paradigm. He goes on to discuss Tunisian national-popular and Third Worldist agronomists’ and economists’ efforts to develop technics and frameworks for food sovereignty in the 1970s and 1980s. The article compares the food sovereignty paradigm with auto-centred, self-reliant development proposals, and the proposals of the Tunisian economists and agronomists.
Article
Full-text available
The COVID-19 pandemic has focused renewed public attention on the risks and harms generated by a globalized, industrialized, and corporatized food system. This crisis reinvigorates the need for a research agenda that identifies compelling ways of holding key actors in the corporate food regime accountable for creating and profiting from systemic risk in the food system. We draw upon theoretical conceptions of “risk,” “rights,” and “(ir)responsibility” to raise questions about how to move beyond narrow liberal notions of responsibility for postpandemic recovery. Redefining responsibility could be transformative in the pursuit of corporate accountability for past and present harms, and in financing pathways towards less risky, more resilient, and more just food systems of the future.
Book
Full-text available
Uncertain Regional Urbanism in Venezuela explores the changes cities face when they become metropolises, forming expanding regions which create both potential and problems within settlements. To do so, it focuses on three metropolitan areas located in Venezuela’s Center-North region: Caracas, Maracay and Valencia, designated as "Camava." Considering three core topics, government and territorial administration, infrastructure and environment, as well as looking at the reciprocal impact, this book describes and analyzes the determinant variables that characterize the phenomenon of regional urbanization in this area and in the wider Global South. It includes documentary research, semi-structured interviews and Delphi methodology, involving a total of forty experts from different disciplines to build a comprehensive outlook on the situation. This book presents a broader understanding of the region to encourage a more sustainable and knowledge-based development plan, moving away from the exploitation of natural resources, with six future-oriented scenarios to consider. This is a much-needed study in the urban regions of Venezuela, which will be of interest to academics and researchers in Latin American studies, the Global South, architecture and planning.
Book
Full-text available
The Routledge Companion to Rural Planning provides a critical account and state of the art review of rural planning in the early years of the twenty-first century. Looking across different international experiences-from Europe, North America and Australasia to the transition and emerging economies, including BRIC and former communist states-it aims to develop new conceptual propositions and theoretical insights, supported by detailed case studies and reviews of available data. The Companion gives coverage to emerging topics in the field and seeks to position rural planning in the broader context of global challenges: climate change, the loss of biodiversity, food and energy security, and low carbon futures. It also looks at old, established questions in new ways: at social and spatial justice, place shaping, economic development, and environmental and landscape management. Planning in the twenty-first century must grapple not only with the challenges presented by cities and urban concentration, but also grasp the opportunities-and understand the risks-arising from rural change and restructuring. Rural areas are diverse and dynamic. This Companion attempts to capture and analyse at least some of this diversity, fostering a dialogue on likely and possible rural futures between a global community of rural planning researchers. Primarily intended for scholars and graduate students across a range of disciplines, such as planning, rural geography, rural sociology, agricultural studies, development studies, environmental studies and countryside management, this book will prove to be an invaluable and up-to-date resource.
Article
In this article comments by politician Boris Johnson and economist Edward Glaeser exemplify narratives of global urbanization that portray rural villages as redundant and perpetuate outdated notions of urban–rural division. Simultaneously, traditional urban–rural dialectics are distorted by divisive new urban projects like gated communities styled as villages. This paper argues for development models that acknowledge the vital environmental and economic roles played by rural villages, and opposes artificially created “villages” in cities. In so doing, alternative readings of rurality and villages by Rem Koolhaas, Brazilian land reformers, Mahatma Gandhi, and critics of contemporary Indian literature and urbanism are considered.
Article
Full-text available
In the face of recurrent global food crises, institutions of the corporate food regime propose a new Green Revolution coupled with a continuation of neoliberal economic policies. Because these are causes of the crises to begin with, this approach can worsen rather than end hunger. Building a countermovement depends in part on forging strong strategic alliances between agroecology and food sovereignty. Agroecologists face important choices between reformist and radical versions of agroecology. The former version attempts to co-opt agroecology into the Green Revolution; the latter centers agroecology within a politically transformative peasant movement for food sovereignty.
Article
Abstract In the Global North, Urban Agriculture (UA) is being considered as a way to overcome malnutrition and promote local, ethical production. UA can be understood through two phenomena integral to the capitalist mode of production: capital centralisation and rent. Centralisation explains why capitalist agriculture industrialises, while rent provides a theoretical framework for understanding how social and spatial relations structure urban land uses. Urban farming can occupy niches of the capitalist marketplace; however, its prospects for replacing large-scale agriculture and providing similar use-values are limited. Its expansion is bounded by rising land values expressed in rent, as Detroit’s urban farm, Markham’s food belt, Los Angeles’s community garden, and initiatives in other cities demonstrate. The key tasks for political ecologists are two-fold: situating UA within capital’s drive to accumulate and proposing strategic perspectives that challenge these inherent tendencies.
Article
The food crisis could have dire effects on the poor. Politicians have it in their power to bring food prices down. But doing so will require ending the bias against big commercial farms and genetically modified crops and doing away with damaging subsidies-the giants of romantic populism, bolstered by both illusion and greed.
Article
For economic development to succeed in Africa in the next 50 years, African agriculture will have to change beyond recognition. Production will have to have increased massively, but also labor productivity, requiring a vast reduction in the proportion of the population engaged in agriculture and a large move out of rural areas. The paper questions how this can be squared with a continuing commitment to smallholder agriculture as the main route for growth in African agriculture and for poverty reduction. We question the evidence base for an exclusive focus on smallholders, and argue for a much more open-minded approach to different modes of production. To allow alternative modes and scale of production to emerge, new institutional and policy frameworks are required. A rush to establish “mega-farms” with government discretionary allocation of vast tracts of land is unlikely to be the answer. Allowing a more dynamic agriculture to develop will require clear institutional frameworks, and not just a narrow focus on smallholders.