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Peace Review: A Journal of Social Justice, 19:297304 Copyright # Taylor & Francis Group, LLC ISSN 1040-2659 print;

1469-9982 online DOI: 10.1080/10402650701524659

Globalization from the Subsistence Perspective


SHARON RIDGEWAY

Development discourse presents corporate-led globalization as the inevitable, natural evolution of the global economy into a New World Order where third world poverty will be eradicated by unparalleled economic growth driven by innovations in science and technology. Moreover, because poverty is posited as the cause of environmental destruction, once a sufciently rich point is reached, there will be enough money to address the harms done to the natural environment by unrestricted economic growth. The problem with this heavenly chorus, to roughly paraphrase E. E. Schattschneider, is that it sings with a distinctly economic elite accent. Growing voices of resistance to this chorus are emerging from the third world upon whom the New World Order has placed its boot. Rejecting the dominant Western formula for progress, they insist on their right to self-determination. hese voices of resistance are coalescing in the indigenous, subsistence, and semi-subsistence communities worldwide. The First Continental Meeting in 1990 of pueblos indios articulated an indigenous vision of a pluricultural state where they control their own land, decide what to produce, and conserve their natural environment through traditional means. As June Nash elucidates, their understanding of self-governance moves beyond political control and includes the consideration of the generative basis of culture encompassed in the indigenous understanding of autonomy . . . the rights of all people to dance to their own music. The spirit of this essay will follow the dictum of Arturo Escobar that we must reverse our eld of study from a focus on the purported failure of the third world economies to modernize and turn our gaze on the West. We must anthropologize the West in order to render visible the systems of knowledge and power embedded in the discourse of globalization that have privileged Western forms of rationality while dismissing all others. Arguing that economic globalization is the nal repressive stage in development discourse evolving since World War II, Escobar contends that reality has been colonized by development discourse. Third world people have

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been reduced to statistics devoid of agency or culture in order to limit the scope of poverty to insufcient income per capita with the rationality of neoclassical economics, separated from all other social relations, as the sole measure of success. Interventions can now be applied to statistically increase per capita income as a measure of something labeled, standard of living, allowing questions of justice to be replaced by economic growth while dismissing any queries into what a society may be living for. Discourse empowers some, generally at the expense of others, and determines who is granted the power to shape their own reality through the use of serious speech acts. In development discourse, the voices of subsistence cultivators have been denied the right to serious speech acts by depicting them as existing someplace out there in another primitive time. By constructing them as unable to comprehend modern ideas, development experts are tasked with studying these primitives through abstract theories. From the raried heights of neoclassical economic theory, the problem of third world poverty is constructed as the failure to enter into the same development stages as advanced capitalist nations, beginning with industrialization. A primary obstacle to industrialization is the lack of cheap labor. If subsistence cultivators can be forced off their land, the industrial sector will have a cheap source of labor, especially if the remaining farming is mechanized in large corporate farms to provide cheap food for the newly urbanized laborers. Subsistence cultivators, cradled in a rich tradition of community norms, do not leave their land without the use of force. Historically, when they have raised their voices in resistance, the development discourse characterizes their speech acts as irrational, facilitating the employment of increased militarization to send them into the factories. Maria Mies contends that the real war of capital is not against unions, but rather the destruction of peoples ability to provide for their own needs, thereby rendering their labor totally and unconditionally in the power of capital. In order to hear these voices, we need to deconstruct development discourse, especially in its newest incarnation of corporate-led globalization. When we unmask the violence with which it pursues prot at the expense of peoples right to self-determination and the health of the natural environment, we may be able to better hear the melody of a more harmonious way of life between peoples and our home on this earth. evelopment discourse began to be constructed in the wake of World War II. The concept of development, which had generally been seen as a natural process emerging overtime, shifted to a meaning constructed during British colonialism in which government intervention was required to develop resources. Once underdevelopment was identied as the cause of poverty worldwide, governments were perceived to have an

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obligation to intervene in pursuit of the cure to underdevelopment, economic growth. Economic growth was to be pursued through a liberal, capitalist economy backed up by the Bretton Woods Institutions set up by the United States and Britain in 1944. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) was to facilitate world commerce by removing restrictions to foreign exchange and establishing a reserve of funds to aid countries in balance of payment problems to be able to continuing trading without interruption. The International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (World Bank) was tasked with providing loans to countries to develop the infrastructure needed for industrialization. These institutions were designed to meet the needs of the U.S. and Britains pursuit of a global capitalist economy. Three of their most basic needs were to locate opportunities to invest the capital that had been bottled up during the war, develop overseas markets, and secure control over sources of raw materials, including cheap labor. The newly independent former colonies of the European powers were the ideal fertile ground. But before intervention in these national economies by the World Bank and IMF could be initiated, a nal step in development discourse was necessary to justify the intervention by dening them as underdeveloped. In a magnicent at of statistical wizardry, the World Bank, in 1948, dened any country with an annual per capita income below $100 dollars as poor. With no recognition of the widespread existence of subsistence economies in these countries, two thirds of the worlds people living in Asia, Africa, and Latin America were instantly classied as living in underdeveloped countries justifying government intervention into their backward economies to reduce the poverty that, was argued, made them prone to social unrest and therefore prey to communist sympathies. The organizing premise was that modernization was the only principle that could drag these superstitious relics of the past into the modern reality that material advancement was the path to progress. The World Bank could now proceed to work with the elite of these countries to facilitate Western capital investment into the infrastructure Western experts deemed necessary for this progress. Development discourse had constructed the problem of underdevelopment and the solution of economic growth, but it still had to suppress the resistance anticipated from the recipients of their largess. As Escobar so clearly elucidated, peasants have been socially constructed in relation to development experts in a way that places all knowledge and power on the side of the latter. The preliminary step in this institutionalization of power was to construct labels for those who are to be rendered voiceless. A label is not neutral; it embodies a concrete relationship of power and inuences the categories with which we think and act. Once these labels are embedded in the institutional routine work practices, the unequal power relationship is

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normalized and made invisible. The subsistence cultivators who had been able to provide for their needs through rich cultural traditions that gave meaning to their communities were now constructed as illiterate, malnourished innocents who required the intervention of Western experts to rescue them from their poverty and their backward ways of life. When World Bank and IMF experts, as well as development experts from the country who were trained in the Western tradition, all adopted these labels, a deafening roar from a development discourse echo chamber drowned out the voices of those labeled peasants. Their own ways of knowing were rendered invalid, denying them the right to dene their own reality; it had been colonized by the development discourse. By the 1980s, these development programs had thrown many third world countries into a mounting burden of debt. Dependent on international capital and the powers that represented it in the U.S., Europe, and the United Nations, the countries had little choice but to accept the draconian structural adjustment programs (SAPs) dictated by the IMF. SAPs, based in liberal economic theory, put increasing pressure on countries to dismantle any remnants of subsistence economies. A priority was to privatize all indigenous and peasant communal lands. Additionally, trade liberalization policies removed tariff barriers that had protected small cultivators from heavily subsidized crops from the U.S. and Europe. With these barriers removed, commodities were dumped in third world countries, causing the price of commodities to collapse. Unable to compete, small cultivators and semi-subsistence cultivators were driven off their land. Additional local food production was undercut by the chase for foreign currency prompting local governments to design incentives that forced cultivators of food for local consumption to switch to export cash crops. s increasing numbers of countries chased these same cash crops, the international markets were soon glutted, leaving the cultivator with not enough money from the cash crop to buy the imported food that was now selling at internationally determined prices. Vandana Shiva, for example, documents the impacts of producing cash crops for export at the expense of food for local consumption. In India during the late 1980s and early 1990s, the export of agricultural products rose 71 percent; in the same time period, food prices rose 63 percent, leading to a drop in daily food consumption. Unable to feed themselves, many local economies collapsed, requiring additional foreign investment. The bulk of foreign investment, however, came only in extractive industries and export-oriented agriculturethe most destructive forms of development to local economies and the natural environment. Although the elite of these countries often managed quite

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well, massive starvation began to spread. If subsistence cultivators had not already had their land privatized or been forced to grow cash crops, they often became embroiled in ethnic strife as people tried to survive the development policies setting their economies on re. Rather than recognize the harms done to third world economies, the proponents of corporate-led globalization institutionalized the liberal trade policies in the 1995 creation of the World Trade Organization (WTO), which evolved out of the General Agreement of Tariffs and Trade (GATT) of 1947. Under the WTO, the liberal trade policies have gone on steroids accelerating the massive transfer of wealth from the third world to the core industrial nations. This is especially true for agricultural trade that had been exempted under GATT in countries, not under SAPs. Public Citizen Global Trade Watch, a nonprot citizen group, maintains that the new WTO rules were written under the inuence of the worlds largest multinational corporations and it is continuing to conduct proceedings in nontransparent green room sessions limited to representatives of the wealthiest nations and their hand picked allies. There had been an ongoing struggle between third world countries and Western powers for nearly a decade when the voices of resistance nally were able to break out in Seattle 1999. Blocs of African, Latin-American, and Caribbean countries joined longtime opponents of WTO expansion such as India and Malaysia to reject a take-it-or-leave-it proposal developed by the United States and her allies. Wary of promises made that they would have increased access to Western commodity markets if they accepted this round, these voices raised up to join the protests in the streets of Seattle to say No! Since then, they have largely succeeded in resisting major new expansions of the liberal trade policies, but have been unable to reverse the ones already in place. Their future success and rights of self-determination are reliant on the peoples of the Western core industrial countries hearing what they have to say. It is not the peoples of the third world that have to deconstruct development discourse; it is the peoples of the core industrial nations that have been blind to the harms done. hrough the anthropologization of the West, we can begin to recognize the violence with which corporate-led globalization is pursuing a very narrow denition of progress. Perhaps now we can turn to these voices of resistance to explore additional understandings of progress that may be less harmful to peace and the natural environment. One of the greatest benets of exploring other cultures with different worldviews is that it gives a perspective through which to appraise ones own culture. Cultures are not static and, as Kay B. Warren contends, engaging in conict can actually transform a culture. As indigenous, subsistence, and semi-subsistence cultures resist the

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forces of globalization, they are also evolving, creating many opportunities for Western cultures to learn from these struggles. One of the most important insights we could gain would be a clear recognition that corporate-led globalization is neither natural, nor inevitable, especially for agriculture. The alternative pursued by a majority of the worlds population is some mixture of a subsistence and market economy. Maria Mies has hewn together what she calls a subsistence perspective from below by drawing on the insights of people engaged in the practices and way of life. Mies and Bennholdt-Thomsen write that the subsistence perspective enables people to produce and reproduce their own life, to stand on their own feet and to speak in their own voice. Included in this subsistence perspective is any work not done for wages that directly contributes to maintaining ongoing life, ranging from housework in the industrial core nations, to peasant labor in the South, and to the marginalized in the so-called informal sector worldwide. Often their work is taken from them through violence, or is very poorly paid for. People without shoes may have to walk barefoot, but people without food die, which is why subsistence economies generally begin with securing agricultural production. Peasant agriculture is specically all those who have direct access to the land and do not receive agricultural wages, which can even include anyone with a backyard garden. The farm economy is an ecological community where people help one another, conscious that the community is a living force to be nurtured and cared for. The importance of the community is richly presented by Stephen Gudeman in his anthropological critique of globalizations sole reliance on a market economy in which money is the only measure of value. He helps us understand that there are two economic realms interacting dialectically, a market economy based in abstract exchange and a community economy that is local and specic, constituted through social relationships and contextually dened values. We all live in overlapping communities that can range from small groupings to imagined communities that never meet such as members of human rights groups or third world peasants. These communities provide identity and predictability embedded in a commons composed of shared interests or values. The shared interests of the commons can include physical resources (land or water), knowledge, customs, skills, and whatever is sacred to the community. This could be cultural practices or, in the case of the United States, it could be the Constitution or the ag. The use of the commons is mediated through social relationships that are maintained for their own sake, but are critical to the central process of the community economy that is caring for the commons, because it is the commons that facilitates innovation

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often drawn on by the market economy. The people of many countries, for instance, have a shared interest in assuring that future generations are able to carry on the society so they offer public education as part of a commons. This commons then provides a resource, an educated populace, upon which the market economy can draw. Gudeman is arguing that corporate-led globalization is breaking down the community economies worldwide. In the case of Guatemalan weavers, a commons had been continually renewed by generations of weavers handing down traditional patterns and techniques from which future weavers may draw. When globalization creates enclave economies in which weavers produce cloth designed to meet Western tastes and is never seen in the community, the commons of the community is not being nurtured, thus limiting future innovation. he destruction of the community economy can be seen very clearly in subsistence agriculture that is guided by what Mies and BennholdtThomsen characterize as the nite basis of economic activity in land, water, forest, plants and animals and the need to operate with corresponding care and restraint. The primary value in subsistence farming is thrift in which all areas of the farm are integrated into caring for the land. Whereas production of a cash crop requires vast amounts of land dedicated to one crop, necessitating large amounts of chemicals and water, in subsistence farming crops are rotated, insuring micronutrients are returned to the soil and a diverse range of food to provide a balanced diet. Fertilizers are freely provided by farm animals that graze on the least productive land. Under WTO rules, international seed corporations can go into countries, take seeds developed over generations, change them only slightly, and patent their new variety. In this biopiracy, the corporations can turn around and sue the original farmers if they try to use their own seeds, because they are now too close to the patented seed. Farmers are accused of stealing what they had freely shared as something sacred, thus nurturing a rich genetic variety of seeds. The commons of a subsistence community including the health of the land, the seeds gathered and carefully selected for next years crop, and the community of shared interests that develops around the subsistence economy are destroyed by corporate-led globalization of agriculture. Corporate-led globalization is certainly not natural, nor is it inevitable. If the voices of resistance to globalization are allowed to be heard, it will be clear that there are many denitions of progress that are not dependent on the material accumulation that is so harmful to the natural environment. All peoples of the world deserve the right to develop whatever combination of community and market economy they desire and the autonomy to dance to their own music.

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RECOMMENDED READINGS

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Bennholdt-Thompsen, Veronika, Nicholas Faraclas, & Claudia Von Werlhof (eds.). 2001. There is an Alternative: Subsistence and Worldwide Resistance to Corporate Globalization. New York: Zed Books Ltd. Bunker, Stephen G. 1985. Underdeveloping the Amazon: Extraction, Unequal Exchange, and the Failure of the Modern State. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Escobar, Arturo. 1995. Encountering Development: The Making and Unmaking of the Third World. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. Chossudovsky, Michel. 2003. The Globalization of Poverty and the New World Order. Pincourt, Canada: Global Research. Gudeman, Stephen. 2001. The Anthropology of Economy: Community, Market, and Culture. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishers, Inc. Mies, Maria, & Veronika Bennhold-Thompsen. 1999. The Subsistence Perspective: Beyond the Globalised Economy. New York: Zed Books Ltd. Nash, June C. 2001. Mayan Visions: The Quest for Autonomy in an Age of Globalization. New York: Routledge. Pyle, George. 2005. Raising Less Corn, More Hell: The Case for the Independent Farm and Against Industrial Food. New York: Public Affairs. Wallach, Lori, & Patrick Woodall. 2004. Whose World Trade Organization? New York: The New Press. Warren, Kay B. (ed.). 1993. The Violence Within: Culture & Political Opposition in Divided Nations. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.

Sharon Ridgeway is a professor of political science at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. She teaches environmental policy, and her research focuses on nontraditional means of achieving sustainability, with special concern for the role of women. Correspondence: Department of Political Science, University of Louisiana at Lafayette, P.O. Box 41652, Lafayette, LA 70504, USA. E-mail: sridgeway@louisiana.edu