CfP POLLEN20 – The Political Ecology of Crops: From Seed to State and Capital

Call for abstracts
The Third Biennial Conference of the Political Ecology Network (POLLEN 20)
Brighton, United Kingdom
24-26 June 2020

Session organizers

Klara Fischer, Department of Urban and Rural Development, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Jostein Jakobsen, Centre for Development and the Environment, University of Oslo, Bengt G. Karlsson, Department of Social Anthropology, Stockholm University & Ola Westengen, Faculty of Landscape and Society, Department of International Environment and Development Studies (Noragric), Norwegian University of Life Sciences

If you want to present in this session please send your 250 word abstract to before October 16 November 15. We will let you know before October 31 November 22 if your abstract is accepted in the session.

 Session abstract

Under capitalism, crops are commodities. Certain crops are hence entangled in transnational economic webs. The power of political-economic analyses for understanding these economies is indisputable, e.g. Tony Weis’ analysis of the industrial grain-oilseed-livestock complex (Weis 2013). But are there also characteristics intrinsic to some domesticated plants that predispose such entanglements? In Against the Grain (2017), James Scott argues that cereal grains have been particularly instrumental in state making projects. Generative of legible, taxable agrarian landscapes – providing the necessary but not sufficient preconditions for states to arise and grasp hold – cereal grains are ‘political crops’ par excellence. This political utility, Scott argues, crucially relates to these plants’ particular qualities, their ‘more-than-human’ natures, as it were. While Scott’s book remains focused on early state formation, the concept of political crops deserves greater scrutiny. Can we think of paradigmatic political crops and crop technologies in the contemporary capitalist world-system? What characterizes their political ecologies?

Seeking to bring Scott’s work into the present, we suggest that the notion of ‘political crops’ needs to be expanded. Whereas Scott thinks of such crops as entangled in state making, we also want to invite thinking about how crops might co-shape power relations across scales. In addition we want to explore the antithesis: political crops against the state, distinctly anticapitalist crops, crops that facilitate rebellion against authority. Thus, we invite presentations looking into (1) the political ecologies of particular crops in sustaining state making projects, capitalist accumulation and other patterns of domination, and (2) the political ecologies of particular crops in resisting, subverting and seeking to dismantle the state and capital, as well as relations of power at e.g. village or household levels.  Can we think – or provoke – with distinctly ‘neoliberal crops’ or ‘authoritarian populist crops’? Is it possible to imagine distinctly ‘rebellious crops’? What would it mean to think in such terms, in the face of the specter of essentializing the socionatures of crops?

We are particularly, but not exclusively, interested in contributions that combine attention to the political economy and ecology of crops with ‘more-than-human’ perspectives. We seek contributions that explore political crops at multiple scales, enmeshed in a multiplicity of power relations. Opening for conceptual experimentation and empirical specificities, including case studies at different scales, this panel thus invites discussions to foreground political crops and their entanglements in webs of worldmaking.


Scott, James C. Against the grain: a deep history of the earliest states. Yale University Press, 2017.

Weis, Tony. The ecological hoofprint: The global burden of industrial livestock. Zed Books Ltd., 2013.

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